Ali v. Federation of Pakistan (Supreme Court of Pakistan 2016)
Side A: Rahab Ali (Individual)
Side B: Federation of Pakistan (Government)
Core objectives: Injunction against development of Thar Coalfield
SummaryRabab Ali, a 7-year-old girl who lives in Karachi, is the named petitioner in a challenge to various actions and inactions on the part of Pakistan’s federal government and on the part of the Province of Sindh (where Karachi is located). The Petition, filed directly with the country’s Supreme Court, alleges violations of constitutionally protected fundamental rights, of the Public Trust Doctrine as it relates to Pakistan’s atmosphere and climate, and of rights relating to the environmental degradation expected to result from burning coal to generate electricity. In support of these allegations, it highlights that Pakistan’s government has acknowledged the reality and consequences of climate change with the National Climate Change Policy of 2012 and the Framework for Implementation of Climate Change Policy of 2013.
Ali maintained that exploiting the coalfields would further destabilize the climate system and infringe citizens’ constitutional rights to life, liberty, dignity, information, equal protection before the law, among others. The right to life, she argued, included an “inalienable right to a stable climate system” void of dangerous levels of CO2. Ali noted that Pakistan committed to and was bound by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Paris Agreement. While she acknowledged that Pakistan could not solve climate change alone, she said that it must do its fair share to keep atmospheric CO2 concentrations within the safe level.
While the Petition alleges a variety of specific acts or omissions by Pakistan’s government, its chief focus is on the approval of a plan to develop coal fields located in the Thar desert region, located in the southeast corner of the country. That development is anticipated to increase Pakistani coal production from 4.5 to 60 million metric tons per year, with a commensurate increase in greenhouse gas emissions. The plaintiff argued that exploitation of the Thar coalfields would release approximately 327 billion tons of CO2, more than 1,000 times Pakistan’s previous estimate for annual GHG emissions. Coal mining in the Thar Desert would also worsen air pollution, impact water quality. It is also expected to displace residents in that region, and to lead to environmental degradation both directly (through water quality impacts) and indirectly (through air quality impacts from coal combustion). She claimed that thousands of Thari people were driven from their land in violation of their right to property, dignity, and equal protection before the law. The petition argued that Pakistan could potentially use renewable energy to power all of its energy needs, including in the transport, industrial, and agriculture sectors. Ali also sought protection for mangroves for sequestering carbon and protecting against sea level rise. As the Petition notes, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor is the source of investments of $1.2 billion for both coal field development and for the development of multiple coal-fired power plants in Pakistan.