HomeOpinion & AnalysisHow are climate lawsuits possible in developing countries

How are climate lawsuits possible in developing countries


By Peter Makwanya

ONE of the most fascinating scenarios in the developing world is that there are so many established legal bodies with a focus on environmental issues, which articulate what needs to be done in terms of environmental law. What is very disturbing is that they have not taken the governments together with their environmental saboteurs to task.

Environmental activists, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), associations with legal mandates seem to be there either for noise making or to grease their palms. Environmental activists in many developing countries have come of age but lack legal teeth outside government legislation.

Politicians together with their proxies commit environmental atrocities but these bodies keep quiet, continue to be funded while the environment continues to be poisoned, polluted, degraded and intoxicated year-in year-out.

It is not uncommon in developing countries to read or hear about environmental disputes being safely settled in the courts without governments being rebuked.

Only Kenya has come of age and has recently enacted the environmental laws that takes the government to task.

Among countries that are nearer to getting environmental disputes settled legally, only South Africa has managed to resort to arbitration.

In many other African countries, Zimbabwe included, no known incidents have been witnessed of suing the government and companies to take action against climate change or other environmentally-related crimes.

Wetlands have been degraded, rivers polluted by industrial discharge and mining has taken place in protected game parks including attempts to displace communities from their land in order to mine with no one being taken to task.

In terms of enacting environmental laws and the legal bite that accompany them, the turning point is not yet near.

Not many environmental legal battles are being fought, even protests or engaging the politicians and their proxies, who are the main culprits, have been witnessed and hope seems to have been lost.

There are so many youth-driven climate change and environmental organisations in this country but while their mandate is championing the environmental needs of the youths, enhance action and increase visibility, they cannot take the perpetrators to court. As they lack the mandate to do so, there are simply children looking forward to the elders taking the lead in guidance and inspiration which are not forthcoming and their activities remain mirages and pipe dreams for quite some time as their hopes and future are being taken away.

From the environmental legal institutes and bodies, youth and other climate change action groups need rejuvenation and a fresh sense of optimism.

Instead of the country amending the Constitution on who should fund political parties or not, it is better for environmental NGOs, youth activists and concerned institutions to push for enactment of laws that take the government, its proxies and other environmental saboteurs to task.

It is the duty of every government to protect the climate for future generations. Politicians need to be pressured to take legal action against climate change.

This is not because of a negative attitude towards politicians but because politicians are instrumental in their capacity as legislators, in making environment and people-friendly laws instead of toxic ones.

With all the climate change discourses and actions firmly in the public domain, there must be strong environmental court rulings in the developing world.

If there is a rise in environmental lawsuits against perpetrators, these would pave way for stricter enforcement of environmental laws while giving activists a new sense of hope.

Because scientific evidence points out that climate change is human induced, people should be made to change their behaviour and responsible authorities should be made accountable.

Environmentally-based litigations are not difficult for environmental lawyers to argue and prove in court.

It is in the public domain that climate change is real and has reached a point of no return.

Narratives of how society perceives climate change should also shift from climate chaos and ignorance to climate literacy.

Although climate change is science-driven, it is the human side of it which is being ignored which makes people, the government and other authorities cast a blind eye on human consequences and impacts. People’s concerns on climate change should be at the heart of environmental sustainability and government legal protection.

Governments should be seen leading the way in taking emission intensive corporations to court in order to lead by example and being sincere about environmental litigation.

It is also the duty of the government to check if every emission-based company is complying with environmental statutes. The other challenge is that these local environmentally-based legal organisations face is inadequate funding and little or no capacity at all to take the government or big corporations like Shell to court.

Sometimes active climate activism improves the organisations’ voices and once they are heard it becomes a good starting point.

  • Peter Makwanya is a climate change communicator. He writes here in his personal capacity and can be contacted at: petrovmoyt@gmail.com

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