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Sunderbans left to fend for itself despite being on receiving end of climate change

LSE report shows that India lags behind the rest of the world in filing climate cases

The Plurals News Network | Published 05.07.22, 03:40 PM
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Climate litigation has seen an upward trend all over the world, but India is yet to pick up pace despite the presence of highly climate-vulnerable areas such as the Sunderbans, which bore the brunt of Cyclone Aila and more recently Amphan.

The US continues to have the major share of the climate cases filed globally, but such cases are on the rise in other countries as well, according to a recently released report by the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at London School of Economics and Political Science.


Prepared by Joana Setzer and Catherine Higham, the report titled 'Global trends in climate change litigation: 2022 snapshot' shows that more than two-thirds of a total of 475 cases filed globally between January 1, 2020, and May 31, 2022, were filed in the US.

“As of May 31, 2022, 1,426 (cases) have been filed before courts in the US ... Outside the US, Australia (124 cases), the UK (83) and the EU (60) remain the jurisdictions with the highest volume of cases,” reads the report, which is based on the database of the Climate Change Laws of the World.  

The overall number of climate cases has risen sharply since 2015, the year when the landmark Paris Climate Agreement was signed by countries to reduce carbon emission. While the annual number of such cases globally crossed 100 for the first time in 2015, it was above 150 in 2017 and 210 in 2020 and 2021.

Overall, 2002 such cases — both current and previous  — were filed in 44 countries and 15 international or regional courts and tribunals, including in EU courts, out of which “nearly a quarter were filed since the start of 2020”, points out the report that shows India has altogether six to 10 such cases.

“The Sunderbans, located in the lap of the Bay of Bengal on the southernmost point of West Bengal, is a fit case for lodging a climate case. Despite generating negligible amounts of greenhouse gases, the area gets severely impacted by various climate change drivers like cyclones and sea level rise,” said Harjeet Singh, a senior advisor of Climate Action Network (CAN). 

“There should be more climate litigation in India, particularly for highly vulnerable areas like the Sunderbans. But I feel that our legal system is not adequately prepared to handle such cases,” said Sanjay Vashist, the director of Climate Action Network South Asia.

Ian Fry, the United Nations (UN) special rapporteur on human rights and climate change, recently submitted a six-point plan to the UN for addressing the human rights aspects of climate change. 

In his proposal, Fry stressed the need to adapt and take financial action to address the menace of climate change with special emphasis on loss and damage and supporting climate change litigation. 

In the context of climate change, loss and damage refers to the impact of climate change that exceeds the adaptive capacity of countries, communities and ecosystems.  

“There is no doubt that the Sunderbans has extremely high loss and damage impact due to climate change. The mangrove forests should be supported both nationally and internationally. If it’s not done, litigation is an option that we can consider,” said green activist Subhas Datta, who has filed the highest number of public interest cases on environmental issues in the country.

Last updated on 05.07.22, 03:46 PM

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