27 Feb 2018 Story Environmental rights and governance

Tipping the scales for climate justice

Lahore/Bangkok, 26 February 2018 – Asghar Leghari was listed as an “aggrieved agriculturist” when he filed his petition in the Lahore High Court in 2015. The young farmer alleged that the Government of Pakistan’s inaction and delay in implementing its climate policy violated fundamental constitutional rights to life and dignity.

In his judgement, then Chief Justice of the Lahore High Court Mansoor Ali Shah stated that protection of the environment is an inalienable right. “A right to an environment that is not harmful to the health or well-being of the people and an environment that protects the present and future generations is an essential part of political and social justice and even more integral to the right to life and dignity under our Constitution,” the judgement said.

Environmental rights, especially those entrenched in constitutions, are also the focus of a meeting that opened today, coincidentally in Lahore, where more than 250 legal stakeholders comprised of judges, prosecutors, government officials, academicians and civil society representatives from across Asia Pacific and the world homed in on how these rights can be advanced to protect the planet and people.

“It is now clear that a healthy environment is necessary for the full enjoyment of a vast range of human rights. National courts and judges, like those attending this conference, are leading the way in bringing a rights-based approach to environmental issues," said John H. Knox, UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment.

Opening remarks by Ms. Elizabeth Mrema, Director of the Law Division, UN Environment.
Opening remarks by Ms. Elizabeth Mrema, Director of the Law Division, UN Environment.

Environmental rights range from explicit substantive rights to a clean, beneficial or healthy environment; to implicit rights to life, dignity or health; to procedural rights, such as the rights of access to justice and environmental information; to meaningful participation in environmental decision-making. Such rights are guaranteed in some 100 national constitutions around the world. Increasingly, courts, like the High Court in Lahore, are using these provisions to resolve environmental disputes, including those involving climate change.

Topics discussed during the Lahore meeting include trends in global environmental constitutionalism and climate litigation, links between climate change and human rights, and judges’ roles in recognizing environmental rights and advancing climate justice.

“The Asian Development Bank is excited to partner with UN Environment to support judiciaries in responding to climate change. This Colloquium highlights the capacity of Asian and Pacific judges to make climate justice part of the global discussion,” said Irum Ahsan, senior counsel at the Asian Development Bank.

The Colloquium is part of a larger programme under the leadership of Knox, and supported by UN Environment, to enhance judicial capacity in environmental constitutionalism, identify gaps and opportunities, and support judges worldwide. It also takes place within the framework of ongoing technical assistance by the Asian Development Bank to strengthen judicial capacity for adjudicating climate change and sustainable development issues under its Asian Judges Network on Environment initiative.

Helena Olsson from the Raoul Wallenberg Institute said: “The colloquium provides a unique opportunity for judges across the Asia Pacific to discuss the link between constitutionalism, climate change and human rights. We expect the input from speakers and discussion to offer useful insights and case examples from within the region, that can be built on in activities with judges and other stakeholders in the RWI programme over the next years."

The Colloquium is hosted by the Lahore High Court, and is co-sponsored by and organized in partnership with the Punjab Judicial Academy, UN Environment, the Asian Development Bank, the Raoul Wallenberg Institute, the World Commission on Environmental Law, the Global Judicial Institute on the Environment, the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment, and Widener University Delaware Law School.

The Colloquium also immediately precedes the launch of the Environmental Rights Initiative, which represents the next phase of UN Environment’s work on human rights and the environment. The initiative will be launched under the auspices of the 37th session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva in March.

For more information please contact Satwant Kaur, kaur@un.org, +66817001376

To learn about UN Environment Rights Initiative: Niamh Brannigan, niamh.brannigan@un.org.

Learn more about UN Environment’s work on human rights.

NOTES TO EDITORS

About the Environmental Rights Initiative

The UN’s Environmental Rights Initiative will bring environmental protection nearer to people by helping them to better understand their rights and how to defend them; by working with media to improve coverage of rights issues; by calling on the private sector to move beyond a culture of compliance to one where environmental rights are championed; and by assisting governments to implement environmental rights obligations.