The environmental governance is a key instrument to achieve sustainable development in the world, which requires sound information on the environment, coherent decision making process, enactment of laws and policies and their implementation according to the internationally recognized standards and norms. The environment or nature protection has been recognized as a very crucial global issue which has capacity to destroy the entire world and all species on it. The need for the environmental governance is not only limited to the international sphere, but all the countries, at their individual levels, must also play their vibrant role in such collective effort to keep the environment clean and consequently, the world safe.
The need for environmental governance can be seen primarily from the loss of biodiversity, climate change, severe use of land and natural resources, increase in population and pollution, emissions of gases destroying ozone layer, nuclear risks and socio-environmental conflicts. Since these changes and risks involve every nation on this planet, therefore a collective effort must be done by every nation for preserving the environment.
Pakistan can also be seen to play its role in preserving its environment through adoption of various adequate legal and institutional measures in order to contribute in the global and regional environmental cooperation and development, and to implement the environmental objectives underlining this cause. In Pakistan, a slow but visible growth of environmental consciousness had been gradually developed.
The Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan 1973 (the “Constitution”) itself contains no specific provisions regarding the rights and obligations of the State and its citizens with respect to the environmental protection. However, Article 9 and 14 of the Constitution deals with right to life and right to dignity respectively. These provisions were used in a landmark environmental law case decided by the Supreme Court of Pakistan titled Shehla Zia v. WAPDA, PLD 1994 SC 693. The honorable Supreme Court held in the said case that right to life means right to a healthy environment, free from pollution. This case became the basis for environmental jurisprudence in Pakistan.
If we look at the history of environmental law in Pakistan, firstly, the Pakistan Environmental Protection Ordinance, 1983 was promulgated to overcome the environmental problems and to protect the environment in Pakistan. It was the first clear-cut governmental commitment to environmental improvement in Pakistan and the supreme environmental policy-making bodies, namely the Pakistan Environmental Protection Council (PEPC) and the Pakistan Environmental Protection Agencies (PEPA), were established in the country for implementation of the provisions governing law in Pakistan.
However, this Ordinance was repealed and substituted by the Pakistan Environmental Protection Act, 1997 because of the need to update the existing laws with respect to the specialized tribunals and agencies. This Act provided a legal framework for the protection, conservation, rehabilitation and improvement of the environment and biodiversity, for prevention and control of pollution caused by motor vehicles, water, soil, marine and noise pollution, waste disposal and hazardous substances, and for the promotion of sustainable development.
After the Eighteenth (18th) Amendment of the Constitution, environment became a provincial subject, and all the provinces adopted their respective provincial laws in respect of the environment. Punjab adopted the exact replica of the Pakistan Act, whereby the Environmental Tribunals constituted under section 20 of the Act have exclusive jurisdiction to try serious offences and to hear appeals. However, their jurisdiction is limited to Sections 11 (prohibition of discharges), Section 12 (EIA), Section 13 (Hazardous waste) and Section 16 (EPO). Further, Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa also adopted their respective laws for this purpose. All the four High Courts of the provinces in Pakistan have also empowered the Magistrates to deal with the given offences under their jurisdictions.
The environmental Acts are quite comprehensive and therefore, the rules and regulations have been framed thereunder because nearly every section has to be read with the rules and regulations prescribed under it, which include, among others, the Pakistan Environmental Protection Agency Review of Initial Environmental Examination and Environmental Impact Assessment Regulations 2000; National Environmental Quality Standards (Certification of Environmental Laboratories) Regulations 2000; National Environmental Quality Standards (Self-Monitoring and Reporting by Industry) Rules, 2001; Environmental Samples rules, 2001; Provincial Sustainable Development Fund Board (Procedure) Rules, 2001; Provincial Sustainable Development Fund Board (Utilization) Rules 2003; Pollution Charge for Industry (Calculation and Collection) Rules, 2001; Environmental Tribunal Rules 1999; and Pakistan Bio-safety Rules 2005.
Not only the Pakistani government, but the Superior Courts in Pakistan have also played their role in protection of the environment through their various landmark judgments and judicial conferences. In March 2012, the honorable Supreme Court of Pakistan held the South Asian Conference on Environmental Justice in Bhurban. They, in support of the Asian Development Bank (ADB), United Nation’s Environment Program (UNEP) and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), brought together Chief Justices and their designees from the highest courts of several countries, including Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, Malaysia, and Indonesia. In this conference, they developed an Action Plan to strengthen specialised environmental tribunals and establish green benches for Environmental Justice and Governance, the Rule of Law and Sustainable Development in the countries which were participating.
This conference became the primary reason and source of establishing the green benches in the Courts in Pakistan at both national and provincial levels, i.e. in the Supreme Court and the High Courts under their respective Rules. It was also suggested in the conference that Pakistan should have a clear fundamental right to environment in its Constitution, however Pakistan has yet not been successful in this effort.