Leghari vs. Federation of Pakistan
Ashghar Leghari, a farmer and lawyer, sued the Pakistani government for inaction vis-a-vis climate change, claiming that this inaction, “delay, and lack of seriousness” violated the fundamental rights of life provided by the Constitution, since climate change posed a serious threat to water, food, and energy security in Pakistan. Further, Leghari argued the “effects of climate change can be addressed through mitigation and adaptation.”
The defendants claimed that the constitutional challenge was moot considering that Pakistan had adaptation measures in place. However, the Court rejected these arguments, finding that the defendants “could not satisfactorily show that adaptation measures as listed in Pakistan’s Framework for Implementation of Climate Change Policy were seriously afoot.” Instead, the court held that the Framework was a living document, subject to change, as Pakistan continues to deepen its understanding of the magnitude of climate change’s impact on the country.
The Court highlighted the precarious nature of Pakistan with regards to climate change. It found that climate change represents a “defining challenge of our time.” It also recognized that Pakistan specifically faces the effects of it through “heavy floods and droughts,” which destabilize water and food security.
The Court found power in the fundamental rights provided for by the Constitution to afford Pakistani people protection from the ravages of climate change, writing that the “environment and its protections have taken center stage in the scheme of constitutional rights.”
Additionally, the Court found that the Constitution had to be interpreted or “fashioned” to “meet the needs of climate change” as an “urgent and overpowering” phenomenon. The Court found the “toolkit” to address this by reading the right to life, right to human dignity, right to property, and right to information under the Pakistani Constitution alongside the constitutional values of political, economic, and social justice.
Considering the weight that fundamental rights afford environmental protections, the Court found that the “lethargy and delay” of the Pakistani government in addressing climate change violated the Constitution.
The High Court of Lahore ordered the Defendants to present a list of adaptation action points, to be achieved within four months of the judgment.
The High Court also ordered the creation of a Climate Change Commission to effectively implement the National Climate Change Policy and the Framework for Implementation of Climate Change Policy. The Commission is composed of various cabinet members from across the Pakistani government, including from the Ministry of Climate change, Ministry of Finance, Revenue and Planning and Development, as well as the Agricultural Department of the Government of Punjab, among many others. The Commission was obligated to submit interim reports when directed by the court.
Between 2015 to 2018, the Commission met twelve times in order to structure the implementation priorities of the Framework. They divided the priorities into four categories, including timelines for implementation: (1) priority actions, within 2 years; short term, within 5 years; medium term, within 10 years; and long term, within 20 years. The Commission also created sub-committees, including (1) water resources management; (2) agriculture; (3) forestry, biodiversity and wildlife; (4) coastal and marine areas; (5) disaster risk management; and (6) energy.
The Commission submitted its final report to the Court in 2018, which the court accepted. The report found that during the period from September 2015 to January 2017, 66% of the priority actions from the Framework for Implementation of Climate Change Policy had been implemented. The court then dissolved the Commission and set up a more long-term Standing Committee on Climate Change, to facilitate future work on climate change. The Committee is made up of one Chairperson and five other members, including Governmental representatives.
Leghari v. Pakistan sets a positive precedent for future human rights based climate change litigation and was one of the first cases to signal a ‘rights turn’ in climate change cases. It is the first time that a Court in Pakistan uses the concept “climate justice” in the context of calling for more government action to combat climate-change. Positive judgements like this one can spur more climate litigation on human rights grounds and could eventually lead to change in policies that more effectively regulate state activities vis-a-vis the climate. As lawyer Ahmad Rafay Alam states with respect to property rights: “Leghari v. Federation of Pakistan opens up the possibility that the legal system, which is essentially derived to protect private property rights, does have a function beyond that.”
Leghari is also significant because of who the plaintiff was in this case. Global North members have tended to dominate climate litigation, both in the Global North as well as in the Global South. However, in this case, Leghari was a farmer and a lawyer representing himself and his family. He was able to frame and develop a legal strategy informed by his personal lived experience. This ensured that the narrative and the demands were coming from those who are experiencing the worst of the climate crisis, heavily induced by Global North States and corporations. Petitioning for the enforcement of his fundamental rights, gave Leghari control of the narrative instead of relying on a Global North organization to advocate on his behalf, especially considering the power-dynamics and imbalances of that type of litigation structure.