Updated: Jul 20
By Ria Das, Lawyer, Young Environmental Human Rights Defender (YEHRD), Member of the Asia-Pacific Youth Advisory Group on Environmental and Climate Justice from India anchored in YECAP
In India, the right to a clean environment is a basic human right.
I cannot remember a time when I was not interested in Environment and Climate change. Growing up in Delhi meant growing up with the air pollution. We live, eat and breathe in the air pollution. This painted my upbringing as a climate activist.
My urge to become a climate activist grew when I was 10 years old. I began to study about air pollution, green-house gas emissions and the ozone layer, and how it was impacting the lives and livelihoods of humans and other species. Every time I read about climate catastrophes, it broke my heart into a million pieces. It was at that moment when I decided to advocate for climate justice and human rights. But I did not know how to make an impact at that time, so I wrote articles for my school magazines and participated in local environment day essay competitions and realized that I was able to bring a change and influence people in my community, by sharing my voice. I also contributed as a climate activist through my participation at various national and international summits.
When I finished school, I wanted to bring together my interest in human rights and environment to better understand the climate issues. Therefore, I decided to pursue law so as to study climate issues with a human rights lens. Bringing my passion into academics was fulfilling.
During my study at law school, I studied the importance of a healthy environment for human life. I realized how important it is for States to adopt a human-rights based approach to mitigate the climate crisis. In India, the right to a clean environment is a basic human right. The right to a healthy environment as part of a fundamental right is recognized under the constitution. Although not explicitly, the right to clean environment has been recognized through a plethora of judicial pronouncements as “implicit in Right to Life under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution”. In M.C. Mehta versus Union of India, the apex court of India recognized the “right to live in a pollution free environment as a part of fundamental right to life.” This right extends to the right to enjoy pollution-free water and air, protection and preservation of the environment, sanitation, ecological balance, a wholesome environment and also a healthy environment at the workplace. This constitutional framework allows the courts in India to protect the human rights of people in cases of environmental issues. Moreover, these rights also bring together the environmental dimensions of economic, social, civil, political and cultural rights.
Over the past few months, I have also been working as a volunteer and policy researcher with a women-centric international non-governmental organization that works to empower women to take action and participate in peace-building processes. Our focus is on drafting policy papers and through our papers, we aim to study and recommend the role of gender and climate change in mitigating climate change. Personally, I advocate for equal participation for women in climate diplomacy and recognition of human rights.
For too long, people thought climate change was an issue that would affect our future. Unfortunately, climate change is affecting our present too. It is already here and we are already witnessing the repercussions of the climate crisis.
As a youth, I believe in communicating this reality in engaging ways such as speaking about it in panel sessions and talk shows, writing and publishing it, networking with like-minded youth and more. I was also recently recognized as ‘100 best Young Indian Writers’ by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) for my article studying the impact of COVID-19 on vulnerable groups. I chose this path because I do not want the future generations to go through what we are going through. I want them to see a world, where we respect each other, where there is coexistence between humans and species, and where the world is safer, greener and cleaner.
Currently, I am a member of the Asia-Pacific Youth Advisory Group on Environmental and Climate Justice. My mission is to design and drive climate solutions forward, and together with other experienced and dedicated young environmental human rights defenders and climate activists, towards strengthening the environmental rule of law for environmental justice for the Asia-Pacific region.
The most urgent action to combat climate change is to TAKE ACTION. The time to act is NOW, this is the time to turn our pledges into practice. We can no longer wait and watch because the longer we wait, the closer we get to the extinction of the planet that we call our home. Real change can be achieved only when we all join hands and come together.
I hope my story as a climate activist and stories of other youth in climate action will inspire and empower more young people to engage in the issues of climate change and motivate them to take action at multiple levels. I firmly believe that voices of youth must be heard, because it is the youth who are the most impacted by climate change. Therefore, youth must be included and involved in decision making processes, because no decision for youth should be made without youth. We all need to be on the same page so as to fight this global crisis.
The Youth Advisory Group on Environmental and Climate Justice, supported by UNDP Global Programme for ROLHR, is co-convened by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP ROAP), United Nations Human Rights Southeast Asia, and United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) RCC Bangkok within the Youth Empowerment in Climate Action Platform (YECAP).