Nine-year-old Indian girl sues government over environmental failures

Ridhima Pandey is challenging the Indian authorities for not addressing climate change

Nine-year-old Indian girl sues government over environmental failures

Residents look out from their balconies at the damage caused by flooding in Uttar Pradesh state, where 200,000 people had moved to relief centers after their homes were submerged in 2016 [NurPhoto/SIPA USA/PA Images]

In the battle to tackle climate change, an Indian girl goes to show that it’s never too young to start.

Ridhima Pandey recently filed a lawsuit against the Indian government for its failures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The legal petition argues that Indian authorities have not done their part in protecting younger citizens from the environmental harm caused by traffic, industry and agriculture.

“My government has failed to take steps to regulate and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which are causing extreme climate conditions,” Pandey said in a statement.

“This will impact both me and future generations.”

Environmental law

Pandey filed her petition with India’s National Green Tribunal, a special court charged with cases concerning environmental law. The case targets the Ministry of Environment, Forestry & Climate, as well as the Central Pollution Board of India.

As the world’s most populous country and the third biggest carbon emitter, India has already witnessed the effects of climate change. The northern state of Uttarakhand, where Pandey lives, has seen heavy rainstorms, flash flooding, and landslides claim thousands of lives in the last three years.

Elsewhere in the country, monsoon rainfalls have declined and heat waves have become more common, leading to food shortages.

Pandey argues that India has failed to follow through on the promises it made in signing and ratifying the Paris Agreement on climate change.

“As a young person, [Pandey] is part of a class that amongst all Indians is most vulnerable to changes in climate, yet are not part of the decision-making process,” says the 52-page legal brief filed in court.

Generation game

The nine-year-old is the daughter of an environmental activist, and is not the first young person to launch legal proceedings in order to challenge India’s environmental stance; last year, six teenagers in New Delhi filed their own lawsuit about the city’s air pollution, where the air is so smoggy it ranks as the worst city in Asia.

In January, a Greenpeace report estimated that nearly 1.2 million Indians die yearly due to high concentrations of airborne pollutants such as dust, mould spores, arsenic, lead, nickel and chromium, a carcinogen.

Pandey’s petition to the court asks the tribunal to order the government to prepare a carbon budget and a national climate recovery plan.

“Children in India are now aware about the issues of climate change and its impact,” her attorney Rahul Choudary said in a statement. According to her counsel, Pandey is “simply asking her government to fulfil its own duty to protect the vital natural resources on which she and future generations depend on for survival.”

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