"The right to a balanced environment”... How do the world's constitutions see the climate crisis

Writer: Salma Arafa - Translator: Amira Gawdat
الاحد 10 مارس 2024 | 06:50 مساءً

On the walls, stones, and primitive papers, humans in ancient times have codified the rules they set for organizing their societies, which have evolved gradually over time as crises have evolved to the laws as we know them today.

With the complexity of environmental problems until the climate change crisis, it is imperative that the world's different countries develop laws that confront the greatest threat to the Earth and those who try to disrupt survival efforts.

The location of environmental issues in the constitutions of countries, or what experts called the "Father of Laws", has also evolved over the years; While many constitutions contain environmental protection rules in their various components, others have gone on to explicitly include the climate change crisis.

Hispanic precedent

In September 2008, about 64% of the Ecuadorian people approved the country's new constitution. It was the first constitution in the world to provide for a climate protection article, before it was subsequently annexed by various countries.

Article 414 of the constitution of Ecuador states that the country must adopt adequate and comprehensive measures to mitigate climate change by reducing greenhouse gases, desertification, air pollution, taking measures to preserve forests and vegetation, and protecting endangered populations, as stipulated in the constitution.

The constitution carried another unprecedented step globally, namely to include the details of environmental protection under the chapter "Rights of Nature", and included nature's right to renovate and restore its status.

Although Ecuador's contribution to global carbon emissions was limited to less than 1% in 2022, its lands covered by indigenous forests are more than 50% central to the crisis, according to UNDP statistics.

One of the issues in which the importance of those texts emerged was in 2021, when the Ecuadorian judiciary ruled that the presence of gas flares in the Amazon forest region was unconstitutional, in a lawsuit filed by 9 of the region's children with their oldest of 14 years old, according to “Amazon Frontlines”, an NGO working with indigenous peoples in the Latin country to protect the Amazon region.

These flares are used to burn byproducts of fossil fuel extraction. The World Bank estimates that the burning of every cubic meter of gas associated with those processes emits 2.6 kg of carbon dioxide equivalent.

Arab efforts

If we move to the Arab world, we will find that the Tunisian constitution, which came to light in 2014, stipulated the principle of the country guaranteeing "the right to a healthy and balanced environment", and "contributing to climate safety", becoming the third country in the world to take that step. It is the same articles that continued to be applied in the constitution of 2022.

Speaking to “Green in Arabic”, Afaf Al-Hammami Marrakchi, a professor of higher education at the Faculty of Law at the University of Sfax in Tunisia, stressed the importance of constitutional enshrinement to the issue of climate change, and the contribution of this matter to strengthening the response to the crisis, noting that the matter took different forms and degrees of treatment; There are countries that have enshrined the term “climate”, and others have talked about the effects of climate change, or climate safety, as is the case in the Tunisian constitution.

The professor of higher education at the Faculty of Law at the University of Sfax in Tunisia added that such a matter has repercussions on the country’s duty to confront the climate crisis, on the rights of citizens in confronting it, and on the development of the legislative framework issued later; It enhances the constitutional monitoring of the laws that will be discussed in those countries, and the possibility of challenging them - for example - if they are not in line with the chapters related to the climate issue.

In the Tunisian case, “Afaf Al-Hammami Marrakchi” believes that the step of including the country’s role in achieving climate safety in the constitution is very important, and the matter goes back to before 2014 when thinking about issuing a legal text dealing with the issue of climate change was on the table.

The professor of higher education at the Faculty of Law believes that thanks to this constitutional enshrinement, there are new laws expected to be issued, including the “Environment Magazine”, which she contributed to drafting. This magazine brings together legislative frameworks related to the field, and is expected to be sent to Parliament. Based on that, it is clear that this enshrinement is not “a letter on a paper", but it has important consequences and repercussions in the development of the conflict and judicial level.

Limited development

Regarding the Arab world, “Al-Marrakchi” said that there are environmental laws in the broad sense have developed in the region, but the efforts is still minimal regarding climate-related obligations and resistance to the crisis resulting from climate change. Also, the responsibilities are not clear enough, and the possibility of individuals and NGOs resorting to judiciary remains unclear as well.

However, there is a negative paradox referred to by “Al-Marrakchi”, which is a decline in interest in the subject of environmental law in Tunisian law faculties than before. It is considered an optional subject, at a time when concern for the environment is increasing at the domestic and international levels.

According to the report of UNEP and “Sabine Center” for climate change law at the American Columbia University, the majority of the 2180 climate lawsuits in 2022 occurred in the United States of America.

But the relationship of countries around the world with environmental and climate issues, even the developed countries that have reached this stage of legal development, has gone through many stages.

Bouhania Qawi, professor of governance and former dean of the Faculty of Law and Political Science at the University of Ouargla in Algeria, pointed out in his interview with “Green in Arabic” that the world’s talk about the human right to a healthy environment is considered a recent one.

He noted that the beginning of international interest in environmental issues was at the UN International Conference on the Environment, which was held in 1972 in the Swedish capital, Stockholm, when a talk was made about a group of natural, cultural and social systems in which humans and other creatures live. Then a talk about this right followed, and interest continued later on. It was linked to several agreements, including the 1992 Framework Convention on Climate Change, considering that Arab countries are interested in environmental laws in light of the talk about sustainable development.

The professor of law drew attention to environmental issues in the Algerian constitutions, the most recent of which was issued in 2020, referring to Article 64 of the amendments, which stipulates that “the citizen has the right to a healthy environment within the framework of sustainable development.”

In that version as well, Algeria joined the countries that addressed the climate issue in the constitution. The new version described the Algerian people as “preoccupied with environmental degradation and the negative consequences of climate change.”

Professor “Bouhania Qawi” also referred to the establishment of the National Economic, Social and Environmental Council, whose tasks were defined by Article 210 of the constitution, which includes providing a framework for NGOs participation in national consultation on environmental development within the framework of sustainable development.

Regarding the awareness of environmental law, “Qawi” pointed out that all parties must play their important role in this field. The legislator has a very important role, and NGOs and the media must have TV shows on the environment, climate, and sustainable development.

Confronting environmental violations does not only affect current generations; The former dean of the Faculty of Law and Political Science at the University of Ouargla in Algeria believes that those who commit these crimes, such as crimes related to forests or illegal waste disposal, affect the rights of future generations.