The global concern about environmental degradation and its impact on people and planet creates a question about development and poverty reduction. The question is how can a country achieve sustainable development goals. This is because environmental degradation poses both direct and indirect threats to human rights, including the right to food, right to water and sanitation, access to affordable commercial energy and the broader right to development.[i]It also affects the right to health and livelihood, and thus by implication the rights to life and dignity.
The Agenda 2030 for sustainable development is a universal roadmap for developed and developing countries. Though it is a non-binding roadmap for development, it is important for the people and the planet. It is far-reaching to achieve 17 goals and 169 targets. This article, however, deals with peace, justice and strong institutions. Without promoting peaceful and inclusive societies, a country cannot develop. The sustainable development goals aim to provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels, That is, strengthening the rule of law. In order to achieve sustainable development goal of peace, justice and strong institutions, global institutions should also focus on the concept of environmental justice. Improving access to environmental justice, Promotes environmental rule of law, sustainable development and green economy around the world. ‘Environmental justice is the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, colour, national origin, or income, with respect of the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations and policies.’[ii]It is a way to protect human rights and environmental protection. It deals with all people and provides justice to poor and vulnerable communities. ‘A foundation for environmental justice may be sought and found in the links between environmental protection and human rights, both being ways of maximizing human dignity and wellbeing.’[iii]
The focus of this article is on access to justice for the protection and conservation of the environment and to implement sustainable development goals. In this perspective, developed and developing countries can enforce Constitutional Environmental Rights because it facilitates stronger environmental laws, improve implementation and enforcement, strengthen accountability, address environmental justice, and increase environmental performance. But some constitutions have no express provision, the rights to a healthy environment,such as; India, Bangladesh, Pakistan have no express provision of rights to a healthy environment. But these constitution have provision of right to liberty and right to life as indirectly involving the right to a protected healthy environment. Through a recent concept, the judicial interpretations of fundamental rights have broadened this provision and promoted environmental justice. For instance, the constitutional fundamental right ‘right to life’ which encompasses the protection and preservation of the environment, ecological balance that free from pollution of air and water, the Indian Constitution states it is the basic human right of every Indian citizen to live in a healthy environment,[iv]and it is the obligation of everyone to protect the environment.[v]The government has found it is a growing problem of balancing the freedom of trade and commerce and the right to a clean healthy environment. Article 19(1)(g) of the Constitution provides for freedom of trade and commerce but, at the same time, it takes Article 19(6) into consideration, which states that freedom of trade and commerce is subject to reasonable restriction. In the case of M.C. Mehta v. Kamal Nath (2000),[vi]the Supreme Court held that any business or trade that is offensive to the environment or human beings cannot be allowed to be carried on in the name of fundamental rights.
On the other hand, the Sri Lankan Constitution has no explicit provision for the right to life to include the right to live in a healthy environment. However, it does contain some constitutional provisions relevant to environmental protection. The Sri Lankan government has also improved its institutional arrangements and has also developed its laws and policies to ensure environmental justice. A large body of Sri Lankan law has interpreted and extended the specific rights that are contained in the Constitution, including principles of environmental justice. In Sri Lanka, there is a liberal constitutional body that permits the representative to establish fundamental rights litigation on environmental issues. Though there is a restriction on filing fundamental rights petitions under the Sri Lankan Constitution, Article 126(2), in that only an aggrieved party may sue for violation of rights.[vii]Sri Lanka has developed its fundamental rights jurisprudence over the last three decades in relation to environmental rights and development. The Supreme Court of Sri Lanka has played a vital role in developing these rights. It interpreted Article 12 of the Constitution— the equality provision—and defined human rights as including environmental rights and development policies.[viii]The Supreme Court stated that the petitioners, as individual citizens, had a constitutional right under Art 17, read with Arts 12, 14 and 126, to be heard before the court and were not disqualified because their rights are linked to the collective rights.[ix]The Sri Lankan Supreme Court has followed the concepts of equity and equality before law from the USA[x]and linked it to Article 12 of their own Constitution to ensure environmental justice.
This article has described the paths taken by two developing countries to ensure environmental justice. Other Countries Could follow these paths if need be. The Constitution of India is quite exceptional in the region since it encompasses specific provisions on environmental protection and it implicitly includes the national obligation to protect and improve the environment. On the other hand, Sri Lankan Constitution has no express provision but the judiciaries of both countries are playing an important role in interpreting the concept can promote environmental justice and implementation of Agenda 2030 leading to sustainable development goal of justice and peace on the planet.
[i]Samir Saran and Vidisha Mishra, Climate Change and Human Rights: Securing the Right to Life (Global Policy, 2015), <http://www.globalpolicyjournal.com/blog/17/11/2015/climate-change-and-human-rights-securing-right-life>.
[ii]Environmental Justice, United States Environmental Protection Agency, < https://www.epa.gov/environmentaljustice>
[iii]D. Sheldon, ‘Environmental justice in the postmodern world’, in K. Bosselmann and B. J. Richardson (eds) Environmental Justice and Market Mechanism (Kluwer Law, 1999). Cited in Amado S. Tolentino Jr. and Ana Maria E. Tolentino, ‘Environmental Law and Justice: Developments and Reforms’ (2011) 42(3), Environmental Policy and Law152.
[iv]The right to live in a healthy environment under Article 21 of the Constitution of India was first recognized in Rural Litigation and Entitlement Kendra V. State AIR 1988 SC 2187.
[v]The Constitution of India (Forty- Second Amendment) Act of 1976, Article 51A(g).
[vi]M.C. Mehta v. Kamal Nath AIR  SCI 1997.
[vii]Constitution of Sri Lanka, art 126(2): ‘any person who alleges that his or her fundamental rights have been infringed or are about to be infringed by executive or administrative action, must himself or by an Attorney-at-Law on his behalf file an action’.
[viii]Camena Guneratne, ‘Using Constitutional Provisions to Advance Environmental Justice: Some Reflections on Sri Lanka’ (2015) 11(2) Law, Environment and Development Journal 74.
[ix]Bulankulama v The Secretary, Ministry of Industrial Development and Others (‘Eppawela Case’)  3 Sri L R 243.
[x]Camena Guneratne, ‘Using Constitutional Provisions to Advance Environmental Justice: Some Reflections on Sri Lanka’ (2015) 11(2) Law, Environment and Development Journal 74.