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SC on climate change: Protection against climate change identified as a fundamental right

Sneha Madan,

Lloyd Law College

Protection against climate change identified as a fundamental right

In a landmark judgment, the Supreme Court of India has held that the right to protection against all negative impacts of climate change is inherent in the rights to life and equality under Articles 21 and 14 of the Indian Constitution. It is a landmark judgment explicitly linking environmental sustainability with human rights, thereby setting a precedent for a new jurisprudence in India regarding the environment.

Environmental activists and conservationists brought a petition to the Supreme Court under the formal title In the case of Conservation of the Great Indian Bustard and Lesser Florican. The petitioners argued that the dangerous changes in climate have adverse effects on both these endangered species and human populations, particularly in ecologically sensitive and vulnerable regions. It was pointed out that the inability of the Government to abate the impacts of climate change is violative of fundamental rights guaranteed under the Constitution .

Article 21 of the Indian Constitution guarantees the right to life and liberty of a person. The Supreme Court has had various decisions where it interpreted this Article as embracing the right to a healthy environment. Elaborating on this decision, the court stated that clean and stable conditions couldn't be separated specifically from the right to life. Climatic change, which is derogatory to a good environment, is also a direct blow to this right because it seriously degrades the environment conditions​. Article 14 provides equality before the law and equal protection of the laws. The court emphasized how the impacts of climate change are non-uniform and fall disproportionately on disadvantaged and vulnerable communities, hence exacerbating the existing social and economic inequalities. By failing to address climate impacts, the state is also held guilty of perpetuating systemic discrimination against these communities​​.

Parliamentary Standing Committee, Directive of Government, and Policy Implications

The Supreme Court has directed the government of India to formulate a holistic climate policy appropriate to the promises expressed at the international level. It declares the necessity of a combined approach in climate governance via aggressive mitigation and adaptation approaches. The verdict calls upon the government to sufficiently integrate provisions to adequately ensure the safety of human and environmental health in its policy framework​.

The judgment has colossal repercussions for the most vulnerable sections of this country: indigenous and tribal communities. Indigenous and tribal communities, with high dependence on their natural systems for their livelihoods and cultures, are particularly exposed to growing climate change threats. The court agreed finally that not protecting the communities from the vagaries associated with climate change was a violation of their rights and policies must give due importance to their protection with the view of upholding environmental justice and equity.

The judgment is indeed a game-changer, but its enforcement faces several challenges.

There is a need for massive political will and coordination, which has to be coordinated between the centre, state, and local levels of governance to assimilate climate action. Available financial resources, technology for climate action, including but not limited to renewable energy, sustainable agriculture, and climate-resilient infrastructure

There is no unified comprehensive law on climate change in force in India. The judgment stresses that this is necessary to maintain uniformity in the field of climate governance.

The ruling is part of an international trend of recognizing the human rights implications of climate change. The United Nations has previously said that states are duty-bound to protect citizens from the foreseeable dangers of climate change. This decision by the Supreme Court fortifies India's obligations under various international treaty provisions, such as the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Paris Agreement​.

The Supreme Court verdict is, therefore, sooner or later, going to galvanize a change in India's environmental governance to pursue more sustainable development and more inclusive practices. That is, the court has indeed made environmental protection the fundamental right of the people and civil society organizations by empowering them to question the government through the PIL route. The legal empowerment will drive more stringent enforcement of environment-related regulations and policies into the bargain​

Perhaps what has been truly saved in the decision of the Supreme Court of India is the country's legal and environmental history in recognizing the right of protection from the adverse effects of climate change. The landmark judgment now not only sets the legal binding of climate action on a firmer footing but also underlines the main role of courts in the protection of constitutional rights in the face of an environmental challenge in a globalized world.

The ambitious execution of this judgment will become the sine qua non of a resilient and just life if India is to voyage into its potential. It brings out the imperative need for putting into action comprehensive Climate Policy, with integration of Human Rights Principles, in a way so that climate actions can benefit all sections of society, particularly those most vulnerable.

On this basis, this ruling will likely spur similar legal development worldwide, firmly linking the concept of environmental sustainability and human rights to climate justice.


●Cheema, J. (2024, May 6). Supreme Court of India bolts Right To Life with climate justice.

●PW Only IAS. (2024, April 11). Supreme Court recognizes right to be free from adverse effects of climate change - PW Only IAS. PW Only IAS.

● Right to Protection from Climate Change Impacts. (n.d.-b). Drishti IAS.

●Sinha, A. (2024, April 22). How Supreme Court’s verdict on climate change can push climate litigation in India. The Indian Express

BY Sneha Madan, Lloyd Law College



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