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Editorial of the Day (7th May): Climate Change Verdict


  • The Supreme Court of India has recently affirmed the constitutional rights to life, equality, and the right to a healthy environment.
  • This decision is seen as a potential turning point amidst a severe ecological crisis as global temperatures continue to rise.

Key Aspects of the Climate Change Judgment

  • The judgement emphasised the need to mitigate the effects of climate change and suggests that action can help adapt to its impacts.
  • It highlighted the disproportionate effects of climate change on marginalised communities, suggesting that the ruling could lead to corrective measures.

Flaws in the Judgement

  • Classification of Energy Sources: The Court included large hydropower and nuclear plants under ‘non-fossil-fuel’ and ‘renewable’ energy sources.
    • These sources are far from benign, with large hydropower projects causing “destabilisation, biodiversity loss, and displacement of communities” in the Himalayas, and nuclear power leading to “forced displacement and fear of centuries of contamination by untreatable nuclear wastes.”
  • Environmental Impact of Large Solar and Wind Projects: The judgement supports large-scale renewable projects without adequate scrutiny of their environmental impacts.
    • Examples:
      • The Pavagada Solar Park in Karnataka has “taken away grazing and agricultural land, and destroyed wildlife.”
      • A proposed 13 GW solar project in Changthang, Ladakh, threatens over 20,000 acres of fragile ecosystem, crucial for unique wildlife and nomadic pastoralism.
      • Another project next to the Chhari Dhand Conservation Reserve in Kachchh, Gujarat, could “destroy an important bird area and the livelihoods of Maldhari pastoralists.”
    • Exclusion from Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA): Major renewable energy projects are excluded from EIA and clearance procedures.
      • The environmental and social impacts of these projects are not formally assessed, leading to potential ecological damage and social injustice.
    • Continued Investment in Coal: Despite significant investment in renewables, the government continues to approve new coal mining blocks.
      • This perpetuates environmental degradation and overlooks the ecological and social sensitivities of areas, especially those inhabited by indigenous and Adivasi communities.

Missed Opportunities

  • Lack of Alternative Considerations: The judgement does not sufficiently consider the potential of decentralised and distributed renewable energy solutions.
    • Alternatives such as rooftop solar could yield over 600 GW and have already brought “substantial benefits to millions of people in Indian villages” by addressing their energy needs in an environmentally friendly manner.
  • Inefficient Energy Use and Lack of Demand Management: The judgement overlooks the inefficiencies in energy transmission and the absence of demand management in India’s energy plans.
    • There is no critical appraisal of how much energy is wasted or how energy demand could be redistributed from luxury consumption by the wealthy to poorer sections.
  • Ignoring Rights of Nature and Indigenous Peoples’ Rights: The Court does not integrate the growing global jurisprudence on the rights of nature or fully comply with treaties on indigenous peoples’ rights.
    • Example: The recognition of the rights of the Ganga and Yamuna by the Uttarakhand High Court, although stayed by the Supreme Court, represents a legal framework that could protect ecosystems against damaging projects like big dams.

The Broader Context

  • India’s development model centred around mega-projects raises concerns about deforestation, displacement, and violation of constitutional rights
    • Example: Great Nicobar project threatening indigenous communities.

Way Forward

  • The Court has the opportunity to strengthen the judgement by:
    • Directing the government to explore alternatives to mega-projects, including decentralised renewable energy.
    • Encouraging a reevaluation of environmentally destructive development projects.

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