Pakistani farmer sues government to curb climate change

Asghar Leghari says climate change is reducing crop yields and his community to poverty.  

Muhammed Muheisen/AP
Pakistani farmer Enayat Mohammed, 65, splashes water on his buffalos to cool them off as the temperature rises, on the outskirts of Gujranwala, in Punjab province, Thursday, May 10, 2012.

Asghar Leghari, a 25-year-old farmer from the Rahim Yar Khan District of Pakistan’s South Punjab region, is taking his government to court after water scarcity and temperature changes from climate change repeatedly destroyed his family’s crops.

Mr. Leghari is currently a law student in Lahore, but his family is part of a community of small-scale farmers who are facing poverty because of unpredictable weather shifts caused by climate change. 

On August 31, Leghari filed a petition with the Lahore High Court claiming that the government of Pakistan failed to follow the objectives set in the country’s 2012 National Climate Change Policy, violating Leghari's fundamental rights by ignoring the impacts of climate change.

“My petition aimed to compel the concerned departments and ministries to take action and consider climate change and important issue before it is too late,” Leghari told Reuters. 

Leghari argues that the government is obligated to follow through with its 2012 policies, which include “to ensure water security, food security and energy security of the country in the face of the challenges posed by climate change,” “to foster the development of appropriate economic incentives to encourage public and private sector investment in adaptation measures,” and “to promote conservation of natural resources and long term sustainability.” 

But the farmer-turned-lawyer is not asking for financial compensation. Instead, he wants the government to take serious action on the problem of climate change, now. 

“Direct relief would be insufficient in scope to compensate me or other farmers against future grievances,” he said. “Climate change is an issue that is here to stay if adequate measures are not taken.” 

And while some skeptics initially equated his lawsuit to a quixotic campaign, albeit one supportive of windmills, one Pakistani farmer has proved individuals are capable of encouraging governments into action.

After hearing Leghari’s argument, Judge Syed Mansoor Ali Shah agreed that climate change “is a defining challenge of our time…it is a clarion call for the protection of the fundamental rights of the citizens of Pakistan…like the right to life which includes the right to a healthy and clean environment and right to human dignity.”

The judge then ordered government ministries to explain before the court what progress has been made under the 2012 framework to tackle climate change. 

The joint secretary of the Ministry of Climate Change admitted “by and large the response of various departments…has not been positive,” as representatives from a number of departments, including agriculture and forestry, were unable to show progress. Government representatives assured the court that 734 action points would be addressed, with 232 completed by 2016.  

“The judge is pushing the government departments to take action,” Hameed Naqi, director general of WWP-Pakiston, told Reuters. “The commission is a ray of hope for us.”

In 1950, Pakistan's government reported water availability in the country at 5,300 cubic meters per person per year, but by 2011 the government reports this figure has dropped to less than 1,000 cubic meters.

A 2013 study by the Notre Dame Global Adaptation Index, ranked Pakistan with low overall readiness, at 139th out of 184 countries. And Pakistan’s water score, the country’s vulnerability of fresh water supplies to climate change, was among the worst 15 of all 191 countries indexed.

The World Bank released a report earlier this month warns that more than 100 million people could fall into extreme poverty because of global warming, The Christian Science Monitor reported. Because climate change will have destructive effects on agriculture, crop production is expected to decrease by 5 percent through 2030, leaving millions of families – like Leghari’s – without food or money. 

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