Today's Editorial

Today's Editorial - 01 July 2024

Court on climate right and how India can enforce it

Relevance: GS Paper II

Why in News?

Because India is still developing, the country needs a comprehensive law that facilitates progress towards low-carbon and climate-resilient development.

More About News

  • In its recent ruling in M.K. Ranjitsinh and Ors. vs Union of India & Ors., the Supreme Court of India has significantly impacted India’s emerging climate change legal framework.
  • The Court has interpreted the Constitution of India to include the right to 'be free from the adverse effects of climate change'. This new right is derived from both the right to life and the right to equality.
  • As a new government considers its priorities and agenda, the Ranjitsinh case provides an opportunity to consider and potentially implement more systematic governance around climate change.

A new right around climate

  • The issue before the Court was whether and how electricity transmission lines can be built through the habitat of the critically endangered Great Indian Bustard.
  • The government claimed that a previous court order protecting the bird's habitat had affected the country's renewable energy potential.
  • Modifying this order, the Court prioritised transmission infrastructure to enable accelerated development of renewable energy to address climate change.
  • The more seismic aspect of the judgment was the newly minted 'climate right' rooted in the constitutionally guaranteed right to life (Article 21) and right to equality (Article 14).
  • Reading this right into the Constitution potentially opens the door to climate litigation, empowering citizens to demand from the government that this right be protected.
  • The judgment leaves unresolved questions about overstating large-scale clean energy as the main pathway to avoiding climate harms and understating adaptation and local resilience.
  • It's unclear how this right against the adverse effects of climate change will be protected and what it means for the new government's agenda.
    • One way forward is the slow accretion of judicial decisions around this right.
  • Another is new legislation to actively realise a right against the adverse effects of climate change.
  • The proliferation of court-based action may lead to an incomplete patchwork of protections.
    • Using courts to address climate claims may create an incomplete patchwork of protections, reliant on subsequent policy actions and lacking a cohesive framework for future policies.
  • Climate legislation might be a preferred approach to protect climate rights.
  • The judgment states there is no 'umbrella legislation' in India relating to climate change.
  • Framework legislation can bring several advantages, including setting vision, creating institutions, and establishing processes for structured governance.

Indian context is important

  • These are important advantages and good reasons for India to consider climate legislation, But it is essential that Indian climate legislation not blindly copy other countries, and is tailored to the Indian context. 
  • Transitioning to a low-carbon energy future is not enough to enforce a right against adverse effects of climate change.
    • Climate legislation should address sustainable cities, buildings, transport networks, enable adaptation measures, climate-resilient crops, ecosystem protection, and social equity.
    • It should mainstream climate change considerations into India's development.
  • A single, omnibus law covering all areas is not feasible due to existing legal frameworks.
    • It is impossible to anticipate upfront all the ways in which society can and should prepare for climate change
  • India can learn from international experience about what to avoid and what directions to follow.
    • Climate laws in many countries, often following the example of the United Kingdom, focus narrowly on regulating carbon emissions, 
      • For example, by setting regular five-yearly national carbon budgets and then putting in place mechanisms to meet them. 
    • This sort of approach, which has unfortunately become somewhat of a template for countries to follow, is ill-suited to India.

Regulatory Approach vs. Enabling Law:

  • India needs a law that enables progress toward both low-carbon and climate resilient development.
  • India is still developing, is highly vulnerable, and yet to build much of its infrastructure, the country needs a law that enables progress toward both low-carbon and climate resilient development.
  • The distinction between a regulatory law and an enabling law is important.
    • A regulatory law narrowly targets emissions reduction. 
    • An enabling law encourages development across various sectors urban, agriculture, water, energy by assessing if decisions advance low-carbon growth and climate resilience. This approach prioritizes both mitigation and adaptation strategies.
      • An enabling law is likely to be a more procedurally-oriented law, one that systematically creates the institutions, processes and standards for mainstreaming climate change across diverse ministries and different parts of society.

The factor of federalism

  • Another essential dimension for a climate law tailored to India is ensuring it works effectively within Indian federalism.
  • Many areas relevant to climate action fall under the authority of sub-national governments States or local levels, with electricity being a concurrent subject.
  • An Indian climate law must set a framework for coherent national action while decentralising sufficiently to empower States and local governments.
  • It should enable sub-national governments with information and finance to take effective action.
  • The enabling role should extend beyond government.
    • Business, civil society, and communities, particularly those on the frontlines of climate impacts, have essential knowledge to bring to energy transition and resilience.
    • Finding ways of enabling participation in decision making would allow all sections of society to contribute their knowledge in addressing climate change.
  • An effective Indian climate law based on enabling procedures would provide opportunities for diverse segments of society to have a voice.


The Supreme Court's recognition of a right against climate change offers an unprecedented opportunity to advance climate governance in India. Enacting comprehensive climate legislation, tailored to India's unique context and needs, can provide a robust framework for realizing this right and addressing the multifaceted challenges posed by climate change.

Book A Free Counseling Session

What's Today