Author – Prakriti Chaurasia ,Student at New Law College, Pune



In this article, we embark on a detailed exploration of the evolving discourse surrounding human rights in the context of environmental protection, delving into the pivotal legal cases of M.K. Ranjitsinh vs. Union of India, the conservation efforts concerning the Great Indian Bustard (GIB), and Ridhima Pandey’s advocacy on climate change. Through an exhaustive analysis, we scrutinize the nuanced differentiation between constitutional and fundamental rights, highlighting their significance in climate change litigation. By examining these cases, we illuminate how judicial recognition of climate rights as fundamental rights has redefined environmental jurisprudence. Additionally, we explore the broader global implications of these legal decisions, emphasizing their potential to catalyze international action on climate change. This article serves as a comprehensive roadmap for understanding the intricate interplay between human rights and environmental protection, offering invaluable insights for addressing the complex challenges posed by climate change on a global scale.


As the global community faces the unprecedented challenges posed by climate change, the discourse around human rights is expanding to include environmental protection. This shift necessitates a clear understanding of the distinction between constitutional rights and fundamental rights, particularly when advocating for new rights.

Constitutional rights are enshrined in a country’s constitution and encompass a broad spectrum of protections, including civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights. In the United States, these rights are found in the Bill of Rights and subsequent amendments, covering freedoms such as speech, due process, and bearing arms.

Fundamental rights are a critical subset of constitutional rights, deemed essential for individual well-being and democratic integrity. In India, fundamental rights include equality, freedom, protection against exploitation, religious freedom, cultural and educational rights, and the right to constitutional remedies, as outlined in Part III of the Indian Constitution. These rights are considered paramount, offering stronger legal protections and more stringent amendment procedures.

People often get confused between constitutional rights and fundamental rights, but they are distinct concepts within a legal framework.

Constitutional Rights: These are rights enshrined in the constitution of a country. They include a broad range of rights that the constitution guarantees to the citizens. Constitutional rights can encompass a wide array of rights, including civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights.

Examples: In the United States, constitutional rights include the right to free speech, the right to bear arms, and the right to due process. These rights are primarily found in the Bill of Rights and subsequent amendments.

Fundamental Rights: are a subset of constitutional rights that are considered essential for the well-being and protection of individuals. These rights are often seen as the most basic and inalienable rights. While all fundamental rights are constitutional rights, not all constitutional rights are fundamental rights. Fundamental rights are typically those that are essential to the individual’s freedom and democracy.

Examples: Fundamental Rights ranging from article 14 to 32, which includes the right to equality , right to freedom, right against exploitation, right to freedom of religion, cultural and educational rights, right to the Constitutional remedies. 

Key Differences

Hierarchy and Importance: Fundamental rights are considered more critical than other constitutional rights because they are essential for the individual’s dignity and democracy.

Legal Protection: Fundamental rights often have stronger legal protections and remedies associated with them. Violations of fundamental rights can be challenged directly in higher courts, like the Supreme Court in India.

Amendability: Constitutional rights can be amended through the legislative process, but fundamental rights typically have stricter procedures for amendment to ensure they are not easily altered or removed.

Examples of Confusion

Terminology Overlap: People might use the terms interchangeably because fundamental rights are part of the constitution, leading to confusion.

Legal Context: In legal discussions, the specific rights being referred to might not be clear unless the context is fully understood, leading to potential misunderstandings.


As the global community increasingly recognizes the severe impacts of climate change, there is a growing discourse on whether the right against climate change should be recognized as a constitutional right.

The urgency of the climate crisis has propelled the right against climate change to the forefront of human rights discussions. Recognizing this right as a constitutional right would provide robust legal frameworks to address environmental degradation and climate injustice. Such a constitutional guarantee would emphasize the essential nature of a stable and healthy environment, ensuring that environmental protection is not merely a policy choice but a legally enforceable right.

Elevating the right against climate change to a constitutional status underscores its fundamental importance for present and future generations. It aligns with the growing recognition that environmental sustainability is integral to human dignity, health, and survival. This move would empower individuals and communities to seek legal recourse against climate-related harms, reinforcing the imperative for immediate and sustained action to combat climate change.

 In India it means to be free from the adverse effects caused by the climate change conditions in the Indian sub-continent. This was recognised and was formulated by the 3 judge-bench of Supreme Court of India led by Chief Justice of India ,sir D.Y. Chandrachud on 21st of march 2024, expanding the scope of the FRs 21( the right to life and personal liberty) and 14(the right to equality). While the right against climate change is not explicitly listed as a fundamental right in the Indian Constitution, it has been interpreted as an essential component of the right to life under Article 21 because Chief Justice said that the rights to life and equality cannot be enjoyed or cannot fully function without a proper habitable, stable and clean environment “The right to health (which is a part of the right to life under Article 21) is impacted due to factors such as air pollution, shifts in vector-borne diseases, rising temperatures, droughts, shortages in food supplies due to crop failure, storms, and flooding. The inability of underserved communities to adapt to climate change or cope with its effects violates the right to life as well as the right to equality… If climate change and environmental degradation lead to acute food and water shortages in a particular area, poorer communities will suffer more than richer ones,” the judgment said. In India, the right against climate change is recognized through a combination of constitutional provisions and judicial interpretations, making it a de facto fundamental right within the broader framework of constitutional rights.


This judgment was declared in the case of M.K. Ranjitsinh sought vs Union of India on 21 march , 2024. M.K. Ranjitsinh a Wildlife Conservationist, he is an author and the authority on wildlife and nature conservation of India. He filed a writ petition under the Article 32 which is the right to the Constitutional remedies of the Indian constitution in the Supreme Court where:

Case Background

Petitioner: MK Ranjit Singh

Respondent: Union of India

Court: Supreme Court of India

The petition under the writ wanted the measures to be taken and implemented for the conservation and preservation of the endangered-on the edge of extinction bird species called the GIB ( The great Indian Bustard).These species are on the verge of extinction due to various reasons like hunting and habitat loss, but climate change and high tension overhead transmission lines being one of the lead causes of their extinction. In a previous judgement on 19 April, 2021 Supreme Court passed the interim directions on restricting of the installations of the over head high-tension lines and submerging them under the ground in the area spanning about 99k sq. km relevant for the Great Indian Bustard , bird species.

In 2017, a nine-year-old named Ridhima Pandey from Uttarakhand filed a petition with the National Green Tribunal (NGT) of India regarding the adverse effects of climate change. Pandey’s argument was rooted in the principle of intergenerational equity, which advocates for fairness and justice across different generations. She claimed that both current and future generations, particularly children, are entitled to a healthy environment. Highlighting the disproportionate impact of climate change on children, she pointed out their increased vulnerability to heatwaves, displacement, diseases, and malnutrition. As climate change is intrinsically linked to environmental health, she emphasized the importance of protecting the environment and forests to combat climate change effectively.

However, on January 15, 2019, the NGT dismissed the case. The tribunal explained that climate change concerns are already integrated into the environmental impact assessment process as mandated by the Environment Protection Act of 1986. The tribunal stated that there is no reason to assume that the Paris Agreement and other international protocols are not considered in India’s environmental policies or in the process of granting environmental clearances.


The case of M.K. Ranjitsinh vs. Union of India represents a landmark victory in climate rights litigation, establishing a transformative legal precedent that redefines the relationship between human rights and environmental protection. By embedding the right against climate change within the framework of fundamental rights, the Indian Supreme Court has pioneered a new path for environmental justice, with far-reaching implications for national and global climate action. This recognition bridges the gap between environmental protection and human rights, emphasizing that a healthy environment is not merely a policy goal but a fundamental human right essential for the enjoyment of life and equality. It sets the stage for more comprehensive and robust environmental legislation, mandating that future laws and policies align with the fundamental right to a stable and healthy environment, fostering stringent environmental standards and proactive climate policies. The judgment empowers the judiciary to play a more active role in overseeing climate-related issues, ensuring that governmental actions and policies comply with constitutional mandates and promoting greater accountability and transparency. The recognition of climate rights as fundamental rights strengthens public participation in environmental governance, providing a clear legal avenue for citizens to challenge environmental violations and hold authorities accountable, thereby fostering increased civic engagement and grassroots mobilization. Furthermore, the Indian Supreme Court’s progressive stance serves as an influential model for other nations, encouraging global harmonization of climate rights and inspiring countries to integrate environmental protections within their constitutional frameworks, leading to more coordinated and effective international climate action. By elevating the right against climate change to a constitutional level, the court underscores the critical importance of sustainable development, ensuring that economic and developmental activities are conducted within the bounds of environmental sustainability, promoting a resilient economy that can better withstand the impacts of climate change. This landmark decision paves the way for a more resilient and sustainable approach to climate action, offering a visionary blueprint for integrating environmental rights into constitutional frameworks and inspiring a global movement towards more robust and legally enforceable climate protections. It exemplifies the critical role of the judiciary in championing environmental justice, affirming the fundamental right to a healthy and stable environment for all generations.


1.What are climate rights?

Climate rights refer to the recognition and protection of the rights of individuals and communities in the context of climate change. These rights encompass the right to a safe and healthy environment, access to clean air and water, protection from environmental harm, and the right to participate in environmental decision-making processes.

2.How are climate rights related to human rights?

Climate rights are closely linked to human rights as climate change affects the enjoyment of various human rights, including the rights to life, health, food, water, housing, and self-determination. Recognizing climate rights ensures that individuals and communities are protected from the adverse impacts of climate change and that their fundamental rights are upheld.

3.What is climate litigation?

Climate litigation refers to legal proceedings initiated to address climate change-related issues. This can include lawsuits against governments, corporations, or other entities for failing to take adequate action to mitigate or adapt to climate change, as well as litigation aimed at holding polluters accountable for environmental harm.

4.What are some landmark climate litigation cases?

Examples of landmark climate litigation cases include M.K. Ranjitsinh vs. Union of India, which recognized the right against climate change as a fundamental right in India, and Juliana v. United States, where young plaintiffs sued the U.S. government for violating their constitutional rights by promoting fossil fuel use.

5.How can individuals and communities advocate for climate rights through litigation?

Individuals and communities can advocate for climate rights through various legal avenues, including filing lawsuits against governments or corporations for environmental violations, petitioning international human rights bodies, engaging in strategic litigation to challenge climate-harming policies, and supporting legal efforts to hold polluters accountable.

6.What role do courts play in advancing climate rights?

Courts play a crucial role in advancing climate rights by interpreting and enforcing environmental laws, holding governments and corporations accountable for climate-related harm, and establishing legal precedents that recognize and protect climate rights. Judicial decisions can have significant implications for climate policy and environmental justice.

7.How does climate litigation contribute to climate action?

Climate litigation can contribute to climate action by raising awareness about the urgency of addressing climate change, holding governments and corporations accountable for their actions (or inactions) on climate issues, driving policy change through legal rulings, and empowering individuals and communities to advocate for climate justice.

8.What are the challenges facing climate litigation?

Some challenges facing climate litigation include legal barriers such as standing requirements and the political nature of climate issues, resource constraints for pursuing litigation, the need for scientific evidence to support legal claims, and the complexity of climate change impacts and legal frameworks.

9.How can climate litigation be used to address environmental injustice?

Climate litigation can be used to address environmental injustice by advocating for the rights of marginalized communities disproportionately affected by climate change, challenging environmental racism and inequitable distribution of environmental burdens, and seeking remedies to address historical and ongoing environmental injustices.

10.What are the prospects for future climate litigation?

The prospects for future climate litigation are significant, as the impacts of climate change continue to worsen, public awareness of climate issues grows, and legal frameworks evolve to address environmental challenges. Future climate litigation is likely to focus on holding governments and corporations accountable for climate-related harm, advancing climate justice, and promoting policies and actions to mitigate and adapt to climate change.

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