Date of text
Sabin Center
Court name
Lahore High Court
Seat of court
Reference number
(2015) W.P. No. 25501/201
Climate Change

Ashgar Leghari, a Pakistani farmer sued the national government for failure to carry out the National Climate Change Policy of 2012 and the Framework for Implementation of Climate Change Policy (2014-2030). Leghari argued that the government should pursue climate mitigation or adaptation efforts, and that the government’s failure to meet its climate change adaptation targets had resulted in immediate impacts on Pakistan’s water, food, and energy security. Such impacts offended his fundamental right to life.

On September 4, 2015, an appellate court in Pakistan granted the Leghari's claims, describing climate change as a defining challenge of our time. Citing domestic and international legal principles, the court determined that "the delay and lethargy of the State in implementing the Framework offend the fundamental rights of the citizens." The court reasoned that the constitutional rights to life and human dignity (under articles 9 and 14 of the constitution) included the right to a healthy and clean environment. Further, interpretation of these fundamental rights must be guided by (i) the constitutional values of democracy, equality, and social, economic, and political justice; and (ii) international environmental principles of sustainable development, precautionary principle, intergenerational and intragenerational equity, and the doctrine of public trust.

Although the government had formulated a climate change policy and implementation framework, the court concluded there had been no real progress with implementation. To oversee the execution of the policy, the court (i) directed several government ministries to each nominate "a climate change focal person" to help ensure the implementation of the Framework, and to present a list of action points by December 31, 2015; and (ii) created a Climate Change Commission composed of representatives of key ministries, NGOs, and technical experts to monitor the government's progress. On September 14, 2015, the court issued a supplemental decision naming 21 individuals to the Commission and vesting it with various powers.

On January 25, 2018, the court took note of the submission of a report from the Climate Change Committee noting that during the period from September 2015 to January 2017 66% of the priority actions from the Framework for Implementation Climate Change Policy have been implemented. After dissolving the commission, the court constituted a standing committee, creating an ongoing link between the court and the executive.

In its final order, the court nominated climate justice as the successor to environmental justice. Environmental justice—said the court—revolved around enforcing national laws, with decisions informed by international legal principles. It focused on shifting or stopping pollutive industries. Climate justice, as the court envisioned it, adopted a human-centered approach. It linked human rights with development. It sought to safeguard the rights of vulnerable peoples and share “the burdens and benefits of climate change and its impacts equitably and fairly.” Climate justice was “informed by science, responds to science and acknowledges the need for
equitable stewardship of the world’s resources”. However, realizing that climate justice was challenging, the court acknowledged that polluters often fell beyond national borders and were difficult to identify. Finally, the court outlined its vision for water justice as a human right to access clean water and a sub-concept of climate justice.

Key environmental legal questions

Farmer challenged government for failure to carry out core provisions of 2012 law