Deforestation is a key issue in the fight against climate change. In all areas of the world, forests are being transformed for different uses, all leading to a loss of forest cover “from 31.6 percent of the global land area to 30.6 percent between 1990 and 2015”. Recently, the Amazon fires have caused concern around the globe, not only because of their scale but also because of the importance of the Amazon for everyone, as one of the largest rainforests in the world, and therefore crucial for both mitigating climate change and hosting millions of species. Much concern has been raised at why such fires had intensified compared to previous years. Human-driven deforestation has been shown to be the main reason for the fires, and with less environmental oversight from the current Brazilian government, different political actors have pointed fingers at its responsibility. Brazil is not the only country where important forests are threatened. Other major forested areas in Western and Central Africa and South-East Asia are not spared from large-scale deforestation. The few original forests in Europe are also under threat.
Between legal and illegal deforestation, more forested territory is converted for various uses, from agriculture to mining. Moreover, many areas of major forests are inhabited by indigenous peoples, who suffer directly from the consequences of deforestation. President Bolsonaro has been very clear that he intends to use the land for economic prosperity as he claims that it is his sovereign power to do so. The tension between economic development and environmental protection is not specific to the Amazon and struggles over how to achieve economic development in the forested lands, with people already living and using those lands exist elsewhere too.
One rhetorical question arising from this dramatic situation is whether there are avenues to use the international judicial system to try to hold the states accountable for the deforestation happening in their territory. Is there a chance for interstate litigation to succeed?
Other examples of climate litigation were cited in the article.
In April 2018, Colombia’s highest court found that the government had a duty to protect the Amazon, and that it had breached that duty by failing to address the problem of deforestation.
Earlier this year, in September 2019, the Lahore High Court had found in favour of plaintiffs that had argued that the government was in breach of obligations under national environmental protection laws.