Non profit organisations, civil society groups and individual citizens, who are motivated by the public interest, have played a decisive role in law and politics. They have democratised the process of decision making, by voicing their disagreements and alternatives on issues ranging from child rights and female genital mutilation to prisoner’s rights and right to education. Their role is not only important; but essential for the pursuit of a better regulation of law in society. International law has increasingly come to recognise this and therefore organisations like Amnesty International now have advisory status in the United Nations.
Unlike International law, the domestic law in many countries has been slow to embrace NGOs and citizens in comparison to the welcoming gestures of international law. The relevance of such entities was realised in India, however, in the early 1980s through the S.P.Gupta Case. The Court in the S.P.Gupta Case liberalised the requirements for locus standi/standing (laws regulating who can bring a legal dispute to the Court). It recognised the socio-economic challenges that faced India: the widespread poverty, illiteracy and the inaccessibility of the legal system. With this case the Supreme Court flagged off what is now called ‘Social-Action Litigation’, more commonly known as Public Interest Litigation. As a result of this judgement anyone, citizen or organisation, can bring a claim to the Indian Supreme Court for legal redress. What does all this mean for the environment? A lot.
One of the primary hurdles for environmental litigation in any legal system are restrictive standing rules. To put it simply, when you bring a problem to the court, it must involve the violation of a legally recognised right as a result of a legally recognised injury. However, unlike a stolen car, pollution of the air is not a violation of anyone’s personal right. Why? Simply because unlike the car, the air belongs to no one. As Late Supreme Court Justice Scalia would have said: What’s it to you? Therefore, in the early days of the Indian Republic, environment cases were brought only if there was some particular injury to an individual, as in cases of nuisance or tort. But why is that a problem? It is a problem because the law viewed a citizen’s interests from the perspective of private law. Therefore, if ‘it’ (in this case—air) does not belong to you, how can it bother you? These standing rules did not recognise that the abuse of the natural environment cannot be legally addressed from the view of private law.
The air does not belong to anyone, because it belongs to everyone. And, therefore, anyone and everyone should be able to bring a claim to the Court to protect and preserve the environment. As a result of this law, NGOs and public spirited citizens in India have worked towards the closing of limestone quarries, installation of environmental safeguards and closure of pollution tanneries on the river Ganges. In what was the most well known decision by the Court in India, an entire fleet of diesel-powered buses in Delhi were converted to compressed-natural gas.
But does this mean India’s environment is any better? Yes and no. While judicial decisions have been result-oriented in the Court, the conversion of diesel buses to CNG led to the significant reduction of pollution levels in India’s capital. These gains made, however, were neutralised by the rising needs of a growing economy and later Delhi pollution only became worse. Judicial intervention is crucial, but its impact is limited if other organs of state machinery are not responsive. The environmental judicial activism of the Indian Supreme Court was one such result of unresponsiveness.
The Indian Supreme Court has created an efficient avenue for addressing environmental wrongs. However, in so far as the agenda of environmental protection is preservation is concerned, the judiciary is but one participant. Without a committed government and administration these efforts will not be enough to promote sustained environmental improvements. The advantage that India has as a result of being an activist judiciary will be lost without such a collaboration The judiciary of India, however, is not waiting. It continues to prioritise environmental concerns. Just yesterday, for instance, the Court banned BS-III compliant vehicles, raising emission standards to check toxic emissions from heavy diesel vehicles. A united effort incorporating both the government and administration must utilise the increasing public support of such pro-environment decisions and contribute towards creating a better country for India, and a better planet for everyone.
Sugandha is a resident of the Indian capital of New Delhi, and a student of law at Durham University. Her love for the environment began when she came to this Northern English town, after being exposed to air she could finally breathe.
 See the role played by NGOs in human rights jurisprudence in Europe and on environmental obligations.
 The United Kingdom for instance in R. v Secretary of State for the Environment Ex p. Rose Theatre Trust Co (No.2)  1 Q.B. 504 (QBD). This does not represent the current state of the law, which has been more welcoming to citizens and organizations. See: Walton v Scottish Ministers  UKSC 44,  PTSR 51, R (ClientEarth) v Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 2013] UKSC 25,  3 CMLR 29. However, not only has this change been drastically slow, it comes with its own uncertainties. Unlike in India, the NGOs and citizens in the UK are not guaranteed the right to judicial redress, entrenched by the Right to a healthy environment under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. Furthermore, there have legislative proposals in UK which would neutralize all the progress in this regard.
 Here is a reliable summary of the case.
 While this looks like a simple explanation, the courts in the United Kingdom effectively accepted this concept only very recently in AXA and Walton
 Rural Litigation and Entitlement Kendra v State of Uttar Pradesh (Dehradun Quarrying Case) AIR 1985 SC 652.
 M.C.Mehta v Union of India (Shriram Gas Leak Case) AIR 1987 SC 965.
 M.C.Mehta v Union of India (Ganga Pollution (Tanneries) Case) AIR 1988 SC 1037.
 Which has had dubious infamy for being the most polluted city in the world.
 M.C. Mehta v. Union of India (1998) (No. 13029/1985).
 J.Mijin Cha (2005) 'A critical examination of the environmental jurisprudence of the courts of India', Albany Law Environmental Outlook Journal, p. 202.
 Rosencranz & Divan, Environment Law and Policy in India (2nd edn OUP 2002)
 See this article.
As someone who is passionate about environmental issues, reading the news the past several months has been particularly discouraging. The newly appointed Trump administration has been making it very clear to the world that combatting climate change is not at all a priority or even a part of the political agenda of the United States. Furthermore, the administration’s actions and appointments has offered strong indications that we are going to see a rollback of environmental protection policies. The newly appointed head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Scott Pruitt, recently said that he does not believe that carbon dioxide is a primary contributor global warming. This statement contradicts the consensus among many scientific international organizations and agencies, including the agency that Pruitt has been appointed to run. Pruitt’s statement, besides being demonstrably false, reflects the sentiment in the Trump administration that we can expect to see very little being done to combat climate change by the executive branch of government. In the first budget draft put out by the White House, the EPA’s budget was reduced by more a quarter, which would severely limit the funds with which the agency can carry out its valuable work.
One of Trump’s campaign promises was to remove the U.S. from the Paris Climate Agreement signed in 2015. This agreement, signed by most of the world’s nations at COP 21 in 2015, is a pledge to combat climate change. One of its main goals is to keep global temperatures from rising more than 2°C above pre-industrial temperatures, and in striving to do so implies that human contributions to carbon dioxide must be cut drastically. The agreement went into effect after the 55 countries that produce 55% of global greenhouse emissions signed the pledge, the United States included. It has now been signed by 134 countries. Having a coordinated and collaborative effort from most of the world’s countries towards reducing environmental impacts is essential in combatting climate change and its effects, as no single country can do it on its own. If the U.S. withdraws from the agreement, the plan loses a main source of legitimacy and influence from a country that contributes to a significant portion of global greenhouse gas emissions. And if the U.S. does so, other countries may likely withdraw from it as well. However, it is not certain that the U.S. will withdraw from the Paris Agreement, as there are fears of potential diplomatic conflicts with members of the Paris Agreement.
Although it often seems discouraging and at times can feel like a helpless situation, it’s not! Because the federal government is choosing to ignore the very real and imminent threat posed by climate change, it falls upon individuals and communities to do something about it. Luckily, the administration’s denial of man-made climate change is not a view held by worldwide, by both the scientific and non-scientific communities alike. There are so many things that we as individuals and communities can do to make a difference!
Even though I am often discouraged by the current challenges posed to environmental policies by the U.S. federal government, I know that local change and coordinated efforts by groups of people can make huge differences. We cannot afford to wait around for a new administration, or for a change in policies to take action—we must do something now. The future truly is in our hands, so let’s get out there and make a difference!
Nathan was born in Colorado but grew up in Sofia, Bulgaria from ages 6-18. He is now studying at University of Northern Colorado and hopes to live overseas once again, whilst teaching at international schools around the world.
The existence of refugees goes back almost as far as humanity itself. Our history is full of displaced people, escaping persecution and conflict. The European refugee crisis conjures up images of war, bombs, boats, lives, deaths, hardship and suffering. It has destroyed and divided countries, cities, families and friendships around the world. It has been in the headlines almost non-stop since 2015, and Europe has subsequently experienced the greatest mass movement of people since WWII. The result of events both within and outside of Europe, the refugee crisis seems overwhelmingly complicated. Today, it is estimated that nearly 60 million (the highest number on record and by some estimates 1 in every 122 humans on the planet) of the global population are currently displaced due to conflict, individual or collective persecution, environmental disaster, and denial of their human rights.
Many refugees undertake long and deeply, perilous journeys in order to reach safety, covertly crossing conflict zones, deserts, seas and multiple countries in various states of (non)governance, often on foot with scarce resources. Of those who make it safely to Europe, many are forced to wait to be accommodated for food, healthcare, and most importantly for their asylum applications to be processed by systems overwhelmed by demand. Refugees who stay in neighbouring countries to their own, which are many times already experiencing economic and political challenges, often suffer local persecution, limited rights and economic challenges. Compounded globally by widespread misinformation, prejudice to the point of racism, and apathy, the harmonious and safe resettlement of refugees becomes even more difficult.
I, along with many others, have followed the refugee crisis from my computer and television screens for the last couple of years, finding information in news reports, charity websites and on-the-ground reports. I’ve often wondered about the human beings being affected by policies made in London, Brussels and Washington, and wondered if I would ever be able to make any sort of contribution to the solution to this ongoing challenge. My interest was sparked further during my year abroad, where I spent time in a French asylum seekers’ centre and met a number of asylum seekers.
It was with this in mind that in January 2017 I decided to volunteer with an organisation running a newly established refugee camp in Paris (following the demolition of ‘the jungle’ in Calais). The organisation’s main work in the camp was to do with receiving, cleaning, organising and distributing clothing donations, as well as regulating the queue outside the camp, where we distributed tea, food, blankets and offered any support we could. The camp functions as a holding centre for up to 400 male refugees and migrants, women are taken to private accommodation on their arrival, paid for by the charities supporting the camp, and children are taken into separate accommodation managed by the Red Cross. Each day, a coach-load of people departed from the camp to be transported to an asylum-seekers centre in another part of France, freeing up more places inside the Paris camp. Once they arrive at their designated centre, the refugees and migrants are supposed to be provided with food and accommodation. However, these resources are often woefully scarce; one young man walked to the Paris camp from Dijon after being told there was no space to accommodate him. Due to the Paris camp’s limited capacity there was a constant queue of at least 100 men waiting to enter; they slept in line, on the freezing ground, many for up to a week and some for longer, before they could even hope to reach the front. Bearing in mind that most of these men had already journeyed for months from their countries, and many had simply walked from the point at which they first reached Europe. So one can imagine the psychological, and not to mention physical impact of being forced to sleep in the streets of Paris in sub-zero temperatures with no guarantee of admission to the camp, nor of being granted asylum. Every morning at 7am the gates of the camp were opened to admit a small number, inevitably forcing scenes of conflict and occasionally violence.
I arrived for my first evening shift with some trepidation, and was immediately thrown into action making and distributing milky, sugary tea to those waiting in the queue. I was immediately approached by a man asking for knife; he explained that he intended to use it to harm himself as he ‘didn’t want to live anymore.’ I had never encountered such a situation, and though my first response were tears pricking at my eyes, I forced them back, offered him tea and food and talked with him for as long as I could. It was a meagre and insufficient response; though I didn’t know what else to do.
Over the next few days I worked both inside and outside the camp, meeting men from a huge variety of countries – Afghanistan, Pakistan, Eritrea, Iran, Guinea, North and South Sudan, Libya, Syria, Algeria… Tackling familiar and less-familiar challenges: how to ask a person’s trouser size in Arabic, how to offer new underpants to men from conservative societies without embarrassing them, how to communicate with volunteers from a variety of European countries, how to mass-make sandwiches at triple-speed, how to try to answer as to why the French police were removing people sleeping in the streets around the camp, and how to explain that sorry, there just aren’t enough shoes for everyone to have a new pair. I also spent a considerable amount of time accompanying individuals to the hospital for medical attention in order to translate between English, French and Arabic, through which I was able to find out some more about those whom I accompanied. Farwan from Afghanistan ran out of fingers when I asked how many countries he had come through to get to Paris. Mohamed paid to travel in the back of a lorry to arrive here, but was unable to elaborate much between bouts of asthmatic wheezing. And 16 year old Assadiq from Sudan told me about his journey, which had begun three months prior, during which he travelled through Chad, Libya, across the Mediterranean ‘river’ (as he said the traffickers called it) to Sicily, where he was briefly detained before crossing to Italy and walking to Paris. There he slept rough for 10 days under a bridge near the camp before being taken to the Red Cross, encouraged to do so by his brothers in the UK who had made the journey before him.
The opportunity to get to know Farwan, Mohamed and Assadiq also provided some of the most challenging moments; I accompanied Farwan and Mohamed back to the camp at the end of the day knowing that they had not gained admission to the camp would be sleeping outside whilst I travelled back to my warm, safe accommodation on the other side of Paris. Finding somewhere for them to stay served little purpose as they would consequently lose their places in the queue to enter the camp and would have to start the process all over again. From what I have heard from Assadiq since I left the camp, he is still sleeping on a camp bed in a school gymnasium managed by the Red Cross, and has not yet gotten even close to submitting an asylum application or transfer to join his brothers in the UK.
In light of these brief but impressionable experiences, I was devastated at the decision of the UK government to close down the Dubs’ amendment scheme, through which just a few hundred child refugees were able to join members of their families in the UK. Other events in the world, borne of prejudice and fearmongering, make a quotation by German pastor Martin Niemöller (1892-1984) come to mind:
‘First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.’
We may no longer commonly speak of the persecution of socialists and trade unionists, but Niemöller’s sentiment remains pertinent to this day. Our individual humanity is bound to each other’s, and we can only progress as far as we all reach together. There can be no sustainable peace within the walls we have built to keep people out, if those walls have been built on unjust and uncompassionate grounds. Today, in this life, we are on this side of the wall. Tomorrow, who knows? If I ever find myself on the other side, I hope there is justice, compassion and kindness there to receive me.
I am a 4th year student of French & Arabic at Durham University, hoping to soon be pursuing an MA in Conflict Development. Since returning to Durham I have been involved with local refugee work in the County Durham and Middlesbrough areas through Durham for Refugee and Durham City of Sanctuary. I hope to return to Paris to volunteer this summer. Many thanks to Mariama for the opportunity to share my experiences.
 Many of whom have not yet submitted asylum applications – therefore their refugee/migrant status is undetermined.
ANNOUNCEMENT: We here at LDSB are excited to announce the 'No-Plastic-April Challenge'! In honor of Earth Day, we are challenging our readers to say no to plastic this April. During the month we will share tips, updates and photos related to how to cut down plastic from the people who pledge to do so, as well as blog posts from these people too!
If you want to get involved with this exciting project, please comment below or contact us through our online contact form for more information. Additionally, get involved with sharing your tips through tagging any photos on social media with #NoPlasticApril. This project will be an eye-opening experience for everyone involved, and will help us to see just how much plastic is unnecessarily integrated into our everyday lives.
We hope you are as excited about this project as we are. Please join us in taking up the No-Plastic-April Challenge, and always remember that together we can do something BIG!
Watch these if you need a little bit more incentive:
When I was 16, I left Alaska for the first time. I traveled completely across the United States to attend a college-prep program with one of my classmates. We were the only two students from Alaska. This experience is the one that really jump-started the development of my ability to share my experiences and advocate for my land and culture. In the years since then, I’ve continued to share my story as it’s become more relevant to others.
The truth is, and anyone from Alaska will tell you this, the land around us is changing rapidly and changing our everyday lives. Within the past 6 years, our seasons have also changed pretty dramatically, as our winters are getting somewhat shorter and less consistent. Our permafrost is also melting, shifting the land, and messing with some valuable infrastructure. As glacier melt continues to accelerate, the sea levels continue to rise and more coasts are being threatened. Ocean acidification and the impact of rising ocean temperatures is also posing a huge threat to our ecosystems and food sources.
All these things have a massive impact on life here in Alaska. Many rural Alaskans live off of the land for food. It’s vital, considering the lack of job availability in many communities and high grocery costs. It also has a big impact on our culture, as subsistence hunting is such a big part of it and many values are taught to young people through hunting and gathering resources from the land.
Currently, the United States holds the chairmanship of the Arctic Council, a body made up of international governments to address issues regarding the Arctic. I think that most people in the US often forget that we are an Arctic country and don’t know much, if anything, about Alaska or the Arctic. Throughout the past two years, the government has made a lot of effort in creating awareness about Arctic issues, a topic that’s becoming more popular among politicians. The Arctic Youth Ambassadors program was created to give young Alaskans a voice in all these discussions and to educate non-Arctic citizens about our experiences and challenges.
Despite all the attention and politics, there is still not enough effort going into finding solutions for the situation we are facing. Rural Arctic communities still receive little to no funding for infrastructure and little support when it comes to climate issues. Currently, there are a few small villages, like Shishmaref, that are being drastically threatened by coastal erosion and rising sea levels. Within the next few decades, Shishmaref will be washed away and the Inupiaq residents will be forced to relocate, leaving their homes and many traditional aspects of our culture behind.
I think the thing that most people don’t realize is that what is happening with Shishmaref will soon be happening everywhere else as well. With the Arctic warming at twice the rate of any other region in the world, what happens here sets a major precedent to what happens elsewhere. And what is happening is the rate of change in these areas is accelerating. These changes will happen more rapidly, and within the next century, other coastal cities in the rest of the United States will start facing similar threats.
Even though it’s still appears to be a big controversy, a majority of scientists have agreed that humans have contributed to the warming planet. How much man-made carbon emissions have contributed to that change is another debate. Either way, with the state of the planet currently, we cannot afford to continue to add fuel to this fire. We need to continue moving towards renewable energy sources by investing in them and divesting from the oil and gas industries. It’s also imperative that we reduce our waste in order to save our safe, natural food resources that will continue to be threatened as ocean acidification becomes a larger problem.
I will always talk about my home and I will always do what I can to protect it. Unfortunately, I cannot do this all by myself, nor solely with the twenty-one other Arctic Youth Ambassadors. It’s going to take a major global effort amongst individuals everywhere to create a change that will make a difference. So as an individual, I will continue to advocate for such sustainable changes with my knowledge and experiences to educate a broader audience and hope that they will be inspired enough to do their part. Let’s do something big, together.
Macy is a US Arctic Youth Ambassador and university student. She is from Kotzebue, Alaska, and has spent a large portion of her 20 years at her family camp in Sisualik, AK where she has grown in her culture, as well as in her love of the outdoors and the ocean.