Date of text
Sabin Center
Court name
National Green Tribunal
Reference number
Original Application No.: ___ of 2017
Climate Change

Ridhima Pandey, a nine-year-old from the Uttarakhand region, is the named plaintiff in a climate change case filed in March 2017 with the National Green Tribunal of India. Plaintiff’s petition argues that the Public Trust Doctrine, India’s commitments under the Paris Agreement, and India’s existing environmental laws and climate-related policies oblige greater action to mitigate climate change. It also argues that the term “environment,” as used in the Environment (Protection) Act 1986, necessarily encompasses the climate.

The case was brought pursuant to section 2(m) of the National Green Tribunal Act 2010, which authorizes claims that raise “a substantial question relating to the environment.” In addition to those legal provisions, the petition cites the principles of sustainable development, precaution, and intergenerational equity, as well as judicial decisions based on similar legal principles in the Netherlands (Urgenda Foundation v. Kingdom of the Netherlands), Pakistan, (Leghari v. Pakistan), and the U.S. (Juliana v. United States). Pandey argued that she, along with all children and future generations, had the right to a healthy environment under the principle of intergenerational equity. Pandey also argued that climate change affects children disproportionately. Children were more vulnerable to impacts like heat waves, displacement, diseases, and malnutrition. As climate was an inherent part of the environment, she asserted that safeguarding the environment and protecting forests was critical to addressing climate change.

The petition notes that India is the third-largest national emitter of greenhouse gases (behind China and the U.S.) and among those countries that are most susceptible to adverse climate change impacts. It identifies 1° degree Celsius or 350ppm of atmospheric carbon dioxide as the critical pair of thresholds for India (and the world) to avoid exceeding for the sake of avoiding severe climatic changes—facts described in the petition as rooted in “[t]he best climate science.” To remedy the alleged injury to the present and future climate, the petition asks the court to order the national government to undertake a variety of measures, including but not limited to inclusion of climate change in the issues considered by environmental impact assessments, preparation of a national greenhouse gas emissions inventory, and preparation of a national carbon budget against which particular projects’ emissions impacts can be assessed.

On January 15, 2019, the National Green Tribunal dismissed the case, reasoning that the climate change is already covered in the process of impact assessments under the Environment Protection Act of 1986, and therefore, "There is no reason to presume that Paris Agreement and other international protocols are not reflected in the policies of the Government of India or are not taken into consideration in granting environment clearances."

Key environmental legal questions

Adequacy of India's climate change mitigation efforts vis-a-vis Public Trust Doctrine and other legal obligations