The high court of justice in the capital city of Pakistan’s Punjab province, Lahore, recently ruled that the country must do more to protect its citizens from climate change, ordering the creation of a “climate council” to ensure that Pakistan’s climate commitments are followed. That makes Pakistan the second country in a matter of months to be compelled by a court to protect its citizens from the dangers of a warming climate.
The case was brought before the court by Asghar Leghari, a farmer who claimed that his “fundamental rights” had been violated by Pakistan’s lack of action on climate change. The country has suffered a series of extreme weather events in recent years, including three consecutive years of deadly floods and a heat wave this summer that claimed more than 800 lives. In a country where half of the population relies on agriculture for survival, extreme weather events, coupled with a shorter and more intense monsoon season, can quickly turn into large-scale disasters. According to the United Nations, Pakistan is one of countries most vulnerable to climate change.
In the ruling, judge Judge Syed Mansoor Ali Shah said that, “for Pakistan, climate change is no longer a distant threat — we are already feeling and experiencing its impacts across the country and the region.” The court ruled that the country had not taken sufficient steps to enact its national climate change policy, approved by the government in 2012.
To combat the “the delay and lethargy of the state in implementing the framework,” the court ordered the creation of a “climate council,” which would include representatives from various government ministries and departments overseen by an environmental lawyer. In a second ruling, the judge then named 21 people to the commission, according to the Toronto Star.
“Pakistan was nowhere in the list of my countries where I would have expected to see this kind of a ruling,” Michael Gerrard, an environmental lawyer and professor at Columbia Law School, told the Star. “To an American lawyer like me, that a court gave such specific direction to agencies and went as far as to establish the name and members of the commission — that was amazing.”
Whether the judge’s ruling will have any lasting impact on Pakistan’s climate policy is still unclear, however. As the Guardian points out, the country’s climate change action plan claims that Pakistan has “very low technical and financial capacity to adapt to [climate change’s] adverse impacts.” In addition to climate change, Pakistan faces issues like terrorism, government corruption, water shortages, and failing energy and health infrastructure.
Earlier this year, a Dutch court ruled that the country must cut greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent, compared to 1990 levels, by 2020. That ruling was the result of a lawsuit filed against the Dutch government by a coalition of more than 900 plaintiffs, who claimed that their government’s inaction on climate change was a human rights violation. Following the case in the Netherlands, which was hailed as a “landmark legal case” by the Dutch press, several other nations filed similar lawsuits hoping to compel their governments to act on climate change.
“We are seeing an increasing number of legal challenges because of a disappointment in the ineffectiveness of public and private commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” Laurent Neyret, a specialist in environmental law and professor at the University of Versailles, told Le Monde.