Turning The Tide : How Environmental Laws Are Addressing The Climate Change  

Author  : HARMAN ANTTAL, a student at Maharishi Markandeshwar ( Deemed To Be) University. 


Nowadays, the special report on any news channel revolves around a similar pattern of the statements that are happening in the world as a whole. The statements are dreadful for the ears and the mind to consume that the global temperature is rising, the ocean is getting warmer, the ice sheets are shrinking, the glaciers are retreating, snow cover is decreasing, the sea level is rising etc. and these statements make a conclusive impact that there is a  change in the climate of the globe and introduces the audience to the main headline “The Climate Change: A Latest Major Threat To The World”

Therefore, the question springs to the mind of the people about the climate change occurrence, the major sources and causes that resulted in this major threat to the world. These sources are not irrelevant to the activities of mankind, however, the primary sources are related to human activities that increase the concentration of greenhouse gases (GHGs) in the atmosphere. Burning of fossil fuels, deforestation, usage of fertilizers, wildfires etc. are some of the sources that release the gases that are harmful to the environment. 

So, whenever there is a need to balance damage that is created by people, laws come into force. Therefore that particular damage has to be corrected by making certain laws. Likely, the damage here is done by human activities in the atmosphere and consequently to control this nuisance in the environment various environmental laws are implemented. 

Historical Context :

The developments in the legislation regarding environmental laws have always been enlightening to the required needs and circumstances. The foundation of the environmental laws is laid down by the awareness and urgency to protect Mother Earth. 

The timeline of the evolution of environmental laws is mostly dependent on the equation of centuries. This is apparent with the various shifts in the understanding of the protection of the atmosphere depending on the geographical limitations which can be seen during the 19th to early 20th century and the present.

 It starts with the creation of various legislations like the United States Forest Service in 1905 to protect public land; the other act that addressed industrial pollution, the British Alkali Act of 1863, which regulated emissions from chemical factories. During the mid-20th century, the emergence of concern Related to air and water pollution was evident. This concern shifted its focus from a particular region’s problem to the globe’s as a whole during the 1980s. The various International Agreements like:

• Kyoto Protocol (1997, enforced 2005): Committed industrialized countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

• Paris Agreement (2015): An international treaty aimed at limiting global warming to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels.

• European Green Deal (2019): Aimed at making Europe climate-neutral by 2050.

So, these are operating to tackle the major causes of climate change and preserve natural resources, keeping in view the usage and advancement of laws and legislation with new challenges and hindrances that aim for a more sustainable futuristic approach.

Core Legislative Measures : 

Key legislation and laws that govern the causes and outcomes of the climate change span across various sectors and regions. Here is a comprehensive overview based on geographic outlining :

International Legislations and Agreement : At present there are a number of laws that overpowers the governing state of activities that concludes to the situation of climate change . This includes :

  1. United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change ( UNFCCC) 1992 : It is an international environmental treaty that is established to combat dangerous human interference with the climate system. 
  2. Kyoto Protocol (1997, enforced 2005) : It includes committed industrialized countries and economies in transition to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 5% below 1990 levels during the first commitment period (2008 to 2012).
  3. Paris Agreement ( 2015 ) : A landmark agreement within the UNFCCC aimed at limiting global warming to well below 2°C , with efforts to limit it to 1.5°C.

United States Legislation and Policies : The major focus of Americans during the initial stage of climate change was highly on regulating the air emissions from stationary and mobile sources by introducing Clean Air Act ( 1963, amended 1970,1990 ). The other important acts are Energy Policy Act ( 2005) , Clean Power Plan ( 2015 ) which addressed the importance of circulation and continuation of laws that helps to achieve the goal of controlling the climate change. 

European Union Legislation and Policies : It includes European Green Deal (2019) which aims to make Europe the first climate – neutral continent by 2050 and Renewable Energy Directive ( RED) (2009, recast 2018) aims for at least 32% of the EU’s energy to come from renewable sources by 2030.

India Legislation and Policies : The subcontinent largely focused on working for the consequences of the changes in the climate from the central level. It includes various acts that supports this idea like National Action Plan on Climate Change ( NAPCC) 2008 : It outlines eight missions aimed at promoting sustainable development and addressing climate change, Energy Conservation Act (2001) : It promotes energy efficiency and conservation through standards and labelling for appliances and buildings, and mandates energy audits for large energy – consuming industries. 

Australia Legislation and Policies :

It enacted Renewable Energy ( Electricity) Act ( 2000) which establishes the framework for the Renewable Energy Target ( RET), which aims to ensure that 33000 GWH of Australia’s electricity comes from renewable sources by 2020.

China Legislation and Policies : 

China’s first policy National Climate Change Program (2007) document dedicated to addressing climate change, outlining targets for energy  efficiency and renewable energy development. They also launched regional pilot programs like Carbon Emissions Trading Pilot Programs ( 2013- 2017) for carbon emissions trading, paving the way for a national carbon market. 

These legislative measures and policies represent significant steps taken globally and locally to address climate change by reducing emissions, promoting renewable energy, and enhancing resilience to climate impacts. 

Public Participation and Advocacy : 

Whenever a decision of making a ruling comes on the table, the basic understanding of following it by all the people at the roots follows. Therefore, every law is a success when it is followed by all the civilians. Likely, local people participation and advocacy are crucial for effective environmental law and climate change action. Community – Based Organisations ( CBOs) are formed to address specific environmental issues, such as water quality, deforestation or air pollution. Government and regulatory bodies often hold public consultations to gather input on proposed environmental laws and projects. Local people contribute to scientific research by collecting data on environmental parameters such as air quality, water levels, or biodiversity. 

   Local campaigns and movements that raise awareness and push for stronger environmental laws and climate action. Local communities and advocacy groups can file public interest litigation ( PILs) or other legal actions to enforce environmental laws and challenge environmentally harmful activities. Various education and awareness campaigns were started that aimed at educating the public about environmental issues and climate change. Partnerships between local communities, NGOs, and government agencies to implement sustainable development projects. 

  There are various example of local participation and advocacy like Chipko Movement ( India ) a grassroots movement in the 1970s where villagers, particularly women, hugged trees to prevent logging, leading to significant policy changes in forest management. 

Local participation and advocacy are essential components of effective environmental governance and climate change action. They ensure that the voices of those most affected by environmental issues are heard and that solutions are sustainable and just. 

Challenges and Obstacles in Law and Climate Change : 

There is no straight and smooth path in any field. Everything comes with a price and here, in environmental law a number of challenges and obstacles come across to tackle the problem of climate change. The key issues are like inconsistent political support, politicians may prioritize short- term economic gains over long-term climate goals due to electoral cycles, climate change requires coordinated global action which is challenging due to differing national interest, climate change laws can be complex and difficult to implement effectively at national and local levels, and for implementation of various laws hindrances can occur by people due to lack of awareness regarding climate change’s impacts. So, there are many obstacles that come across but these can be solved with positivity and unity. 

Future Directions and Innovations in Environmental Law and Climate Change : 

To effectively address climate change, future directions and innovations in environmental law and policy need to focus on integrated, forward thinking approaches. It require a comprehensive approach that combines technological advancements, robust legal frameworks, inclusive policies, and active community participation. By focusing on these areas, we can create resilient, and sustainable societies capable of effectively addressing the challenges posed by climate change. 

Landmark Case Laws :

  1. Massachusetts v. Environmental Protection Agency (2007)
  • Summary: The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has the authority to regulate greenhouse gases as pollutants under the Clean Air Act.
  • Significance: This case established that states have standing to sue the EPA to enforce regulations on greenhouse gas emissions, recognizing the potential harm of climate change and the necessity of regulatory action.
  1. Leghari v. Federation of Pakistan (2015)
  • Summary: The Lahore High Court ruled in favor of a farmer who sued the Pakistani government for failing to implement its climate policies, ordering the creation of a Climate Change Commission to ensure the enforcement of climate action.
  • Significance: This case reinforced the government’s duty to protect citizens from climate change and emphasized the role of judicial oversight in environmental governance

Conclusion :

The evolving body of environmental law is essential in addressing the multifaceted challenges posed by climate change. Therefore, judicial decisions have not only enforced regulatory compliance but have also expanded the scope of legal arguments to include human rights and intergenerational equity. As the impacts of climate change become more pronounced, the legal system will continue to be a crucial arena for advancing climate action, ensuring that both governmental and corporate entities complete their responsibilities to protect the environment and public health. The ongoing development in this field reflects a broader recognition of the interconnectedness of legal, environmental, and societal imperatives in the fight against climate change.

Frequently Asked  Questions (FAQs) :

  • What is Environmental Law? 

Environmental Law is a statute, treaties and regulations that govern the human activities related to environment. Its purpose is to protect the environment from depleting its resources by mankind. 

  • What is Climate Change?

Climate Change refers to long-term alterations in temperature, precipitation and wind patterns and other aspects of Earth’s atmosphere. It is largely affected by greenhouse gases (GHGs) like carbon dioxide and methane, which are emitted by human activities. 

  • What are greenhouse gases ( GHGs)? 

These gases trap heat in the atmosphere, contributing to greenhouse effect. These gases include carbon dioxide ( CO2), methane(CH4) etc. 

  • How is climate change addressed in environmental law? 

Climate Change can be addressed through :

  1. International Agreements: Such as Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Agreement, which largely focuses on less emission of the greenhouse gases. 
  1. National Legislation : A country makes laws related to environmental changes to limit the greenhouse gases emissions, promote renewable energy, and increase energy efficiency. 
  1. State and Local Initiatives : Regional efforts also play a vital role in addressing the climate change. 

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