International Environmental Law and Pakistan’s climate conduct:

Diary of a young lawyer...
5 min readJan 11, 2022

The rapid industrialization and urbanization, along with the increased use of fossil fuels and the resulting air and water pollution, overpopulation, and other factors, are putting tremendous stress on the Earth’s natural life-support system. This has led to a pressing need for global environmental law, which aims to preserve the planet’s resources for present and future generations. As the world faces these challenges, it is increasingly recognized that the health of the global environment is a shared responsibility for all humanity.

Around the world, International Environmental Law is the pillar of protection for people to have a high quality of life today without sacrificing the living standard of future generations.

International Environmental Law constitutes a comprehensive framework of treaties, conventions, and principles designed to safeguard the global environment. It encompasses a wide range of environmental concerns, including issues such as global warming, ozone depletion, and the decline of wildlife populations. The aim of this field of law is to regulate the actions of both states and international organizations in order to preserve and protect the environment.

Almost, 110 countries around the world guarantee the right to a healthy environment in their constitutions.[ii]

Considering this, one may wonder where Pakistan stands globally with regards to International Environmental Law?

© Published in Dawn, Nov 15th, 2017, infographics designed by Nabeel Ahmed.[iii]

According to a global think-tank focused on climate change, Pakistan is ranked 8th among countries with the most severe consequences from the effects of climate change. The country is also deemed to be one of the most susceptible nations in the world to the impacts of climate change.[iv]

Not only Pakistan ranks third in the list of countries deeply affected by water shortage[v] but also Freshwater reserves are projected to run out by 2025.[vi] Similarly, Pakistan ranked 153rd in terms of greenhouse gas emitting countries.[vii]

According to rough estimates, Pakistan is producing 55 billion non-degradable plastic bags annually despite periodical bans.[viii]

Around more than two decades ago Sindh government for the very first time in 1994 banned the production, purchase, sale and use of non-degradable plastic bags[ix] followed by repeated similar attempts by other provincial governments and successive federal governments.

In the year 1995, Punjab’s Institute for Conservation of Environment banned the manufacturing of non-degradable plastic bags across the province. Around the same time, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s department of Industries also placed a similar ban. Comparably, The Baluchistan government also promulgated an ordinance namely, the Baluchistan Prohibition on Use and Sell of Polythene Bags Ordinance 2001.

Likewise, In 2013 Capital territory Islamabad banned the use and sale of plastic bags. Another attempt was made, On Aug 14 2019, Current Federal Government once again imposed a ban on single-use plastic bags in the capital territory and its surrounding areas.[x] In the same way, The Sindh Government repeated these attempts in the year 2014, and 2018 and eventually in 2019 provincial government once again announced a ban on plastic bags across the province to protect the environment.[xi]

Bans on plastic bags are spreading across Pakistan. There are too many laws in the statute book and “notifications issued” in this regard. But unfortunately despite everything, all this did little to change the reality on the ground.

Besides these periodical bans, Pakistan Environmental Protection Act was enacted in December 1997. It established a complete regulatory structure for the protection, preservation, conservation and rehabilitation of the clean environment along with the prevention of pollution and promotion of sustainable development.[xii]

Prior to the Environmental Protection Act 1977 the law applicable to the environment was Environment Protection Ordinance 1983. There were only some piecemeal provisions and it was not comprehensive enactment. Hence, it was repealed and replaced by the Environmental Protection Act 1977.

Whereas, after the 18th Amendment, the subject of the environment had been delegated to the provinces. So each province promulgated its own Environmental Protection Act respectively under the 18th Constitutional Amendment.

As a result of the 18th Amendment, the Punjab Environmental Protection Act 2012, The Sindh Environmental Protection Act, 2014, The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Environmental Protection Act, 2014 and The Balochistan Environment Protection Act, 2012 came into force.

In addition to these legislations, in the year 2013, the Federal Government at the time introduced a comprehensive National Climate Change Policy (NCCP) because Climate change is multi-dimensional so the federal body to do necessary coordination among the provinces was much needed.

For Now, Climate Change Act 2017 is enforced in the country. It established a policy-making Climate Change Council, as well as Climate Change Authority to prepare and supervise the implementation of projects to help Pakistan adapt to climate impacts and hold the line on climate-changing emissions.[xiii]

Under the rules, the decision-making body “Climate Change Council” is chaired by either the prime minister or a person nominated by him[xiv]. As per the last available reports, the Climate Change Council hasn’t met once.[xv] Need I say more?

Despite being a signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and many other international conventions Pakistan has not recognized the right to health as a fundamental constitutional right yet.[xvi] That being the case, the right to a healthy environment as a Constitutional and fundamental right is too much to ask for.

However, Article 9 of the Constitution of Pakistan provides the right to life. Though, the right to a healthy environment is not fundamental and spelt out right yet the right to a healthy environment is implied as an integral element of the right to life.

It is important to mention that, the landmark case of Shehla Zia vs. WAPDA [xvii] has elucidated the matter. The Honorable court expanded the scope of Article 9 and Article 14 of the Constitution of Pakistan by elevating the right to a healthy and clean environment as part of the right to life and dignity to a constitutional right. This Case set down the foundational principles for environmental protection in Pakistan’s judiciary.

To sum up, the laws and policies are in place. I don’t think there’s a law regarding the environment we haven’t put in the statute books. The problem is with implementation, social awareness and civic responsibility.

References:

[i] https://earthcharter.org/wp-content/assets/virtual-

[ii] https://ecojustice.ca/case/right-to-a-healthy-environment/

[iii] https://www.dawn.com/news/1370462

[iv] https://www.thenews.com.pk/print/787130-pakistan-among-top-10-countries-affected-due-to-climate-change

[v] https://tribune.com.pk/story/1667420/1-pakistan-ranks-third-among-countries-facing-water-shortage

[vi] https://www.dw.com/en/water-crisis-why-is-pakistan-running-dry/a-44110280

[vii] https://www.thenews.com.pk/print/793634-response-to-climate-change#:~:text=Pakistan%20ranked%20153rd%20in%20a,%2C%20soil%20erosion%2C%20heatwaves%20etc

[viii] https://tribune.com.pk/story/1912781/1-55-billion-plastic-bags-used-annually-country

[ix] https://www.thenews.com.pk/print/508417-pakistan-will-become-128th-country-to-ban-use-of-plastic-bags-on-14th

[x] https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia_pacific/pakistan-moves-to-ban-single-use-plastic-bags-the-health-of-200-million-people-is-at-stake/2019/08/12/6c7641ca-bc23-11e9-b873-63ace636af08_story.html

[xi] ibid.

[xii] https://wwfasia.awsassets.panda.org/downloads/review_of_existing_environmental_laws.pdf

[xiii] https://policy.asiapacificenergy.org/sites/default/files/Pakistan%20Climate%20Change%20Act%2C%202017.pdf

[xiv] https://climate-laws.org/geographies/pakistan/laws/pakistan-climate-change-act-2017

[xv] https://tribune.com.pk/story/1900567/climate-council-yet-hold-first-meeting

[xvi] https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2008/04/pakistan-ratifies-key-un-human-rights-treaty-20080418/

[xvii] https://www.escr-net.org/caselaw/2015/ms-shehla-zia-v-wapda-pld-1994-sc-693

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Diary of a young lawyer...

I'm Abdul Qadeer, Student of Law by day and a writer by night. My talent is words. I am an aspiring writer with a huge passion for writing and researching.