Forests are very important to preventing and mitigating the effects of climate change. They are important “carbon sinks”, which means they absorb more carbon from the atmosphere than they emit. Sometimes, certain activities such as biomass burning, and intensive agriculture can have knock-on effects on both forest health and climate change. The destruction and degradation of forests usually results in the emission of significant quantities of carbon dioxide and therefore contributes to climate change. It is estimated that deforestation causes 25% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.
The positive impact of forests on combatting climate change and the negative impacts of deforestation/forest degradation can sometimes be used when taking legal action to stop deforestation.
Case Example: National Green Tribunal in India
In a landmark judgment, the Supreme Court ruled that the National Green Tribunal has powers to initiate legal action and take up environmental issues on its own accord. The decision will allow the tribunal to have greater flexibility to address environmental damage and climate change.
Forests play a crucial role in mitigating the effects of climate change and protecting human and ecosystems from the impacts of rising greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. When considering what type of claim to bring to prevent deforestation, consider the climate impacts of the concerned activities. You may be able to use the negative climate change implications of deforestation to compel governments to take action or stop corporations from damaging forest land.
A number of courts have recognised the duty of national governments to address activities that contribute to global GHG emissions and climate change. These obligations are found in both national and international laws, such as the Paris Agreement.
A group of youths challenged the Colombian government for its failures to reduce deforestation in the Amazon and ensure compliance with a target for zero-net deforestation in the region by 2020. This target was agreed under the Paris Agreement and the Colombian National Development Plan 2014-2018. The plaintiffs argued these failures contributed to climate change and violated their fundamental rights to a healthy environment, life, health, food and water.
The Supreme Court ruled that the Colombian Amazon was entitled to protection, conservation, maintenance and restoration. It also ordered the Colombian government to design and implement plans to address deforestation in the region.
Key Example: Álvarez et al. v. Peru
In 2019 a group of youths filed a complaint against the Peruvian government for its alleged failure to halt deforestation in the Amazon. The youths have argued that this failure means the government has not taken sufficient action to address climate change. The claimants have also argued that their human and constitutional rights to a healthy environment, life, water and health have been violated.
The claimants are seeking an order that requires the Peruvian government to take mitigation and adaptation measures as well as establish concrete plans to reduce and prevent further deforestation in the Amazon.
Key Example: Sheikh Asim Farooq vs. Federation of Pakistan etc.
Civil society petitioners filed a petition against a number of government departments for their failure to implement laws, policies and strategies regarding the protection of Pakistani forests. Their petition was based on the Forest Act 1927, the Punjab Plantation and Maintenance of Trees Act 1974, and the National Climate Change Policy 2012. They also sought for the enforcement and protection of their fundamental rights.
The Court relied on principles of international environmental law (including sustainable development, precautionary principle, the doctrine of public trust and inter- and intra-generational equity). It directed the departments to take action as required by law to grow forests and plant trees in urban cities.
Governments are not the only potential defendants you can bring a case against. You may also be able to bring a case against corporations that are conducting unauthorised deforestation or engaging in activities such as extractive industries that are damaging forest land.
There have also been recent cases involving transnational corporate liability for environmental damage and climate change. These cases involve parent corporations where their subsidiaries abroad cause environmental damage. In theory, these cases could apply to deforestation.
For further information on the impacts of climate change and the types of climate litigation that you can take, see the A4J Climate Change Litigation Module.
 S Varvastian and F Kalunga, ‘Transnational Corporate Liability for Environmental Damage and Climate Change: Reassessing Access to Justice after Vedanta v. Lungowe’ 9 Transnational Environmental Law 323
REDD and REDD+ is a mechanism developed in International Climate Change negotiations. It stands for “Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation”. The + stands for the additional commitment to foster conservation, sustainable management of forests, and enhancement of forest carbon stocks. Click here and here for more information about REDD/REDD+.
Whilst a country’s domestic legal frameworks govern the delivery and implementation national REDD+ strategies, there are also international rules under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
Key Resource: UNFCCC REDD+ Web Platform
The UNFCCC platform was established to provide information on the outcomes of REDD+ activities. It contains useful fact sheets and submissions from State parties as well as relevant organisations and shareholders. The info hub also contains country-specific data and documentation.
This is a helpful guide that outlines the UNFCCC REDD+ rules regarding national strategies, implementation, monitoring and more. It also gives an overview of and guidance on non-UNFCCC REDD+ mechanisms. Appendix 1 contains a ‘Guide to Other REDD+ Guides’ for further information on specific REDD+ topics.
REDD/REDD+ projects must abide by relevant national laws and international obligations relevant to your country – including the need to protect customary rights, the livelihoods of forest communities, and local biological resources. These projects must also adhere to the rules on free, prior and informed consent and public participation.
Although REDD+ projects may help conserve forests and forest ecosystems, these projects are sometimes abused through weak implementation practices and by people who are interested only in the financial benefits. There are also problematic REDD+ schemes that have no positive impact on forests and may even result in the abuse of the Indigenous and forest peoples who live in the forest and rely on forest resources.
After a civil society monitoring mission, a report was released concluding that REDD+ activities on the ground were failing to adhere to national and international standards. Local community rights of free, prior and informed consent were violated, and local communities were often excluded from the opportunity to participate in activities that would improve their land rights. Communities often did not receive promised REDD+ benefits and no grievance mechanisms were put in place.
Example: REDD+ in Paraguay
Forest Peoples Programme and the Federación por la Autoderminación de los Pueblos Indígenas released a set of reports in 2015 regarding the situation faced by Indigenous Peoples in Paraguay in relation to their land, natural resources and territories. The reports found that despite the government’s promotion of UN-REDD+ and other conservation funds, Indigenous Peoples are unlikely to see the benefits of climate change and conservation programmes.
It may be possible to take legal action if there is a REDD+ scheme that is planned or implemented in a way that violates your constitutional, human or land rights, breaks national and/or international law, or goes against established REDD+ rules.
Some countries have also developed or are working to develop their own REDD+ Grievance Mechanisms. If there is a grievance mechanism in your country, you may be able to file a complaint if you are having issues with a REDD+ project, there is a dispute or you think a REDD+ project is negatively impacting your rights or causing harm to forest land. Check the REDD+ laws in your country to see if there is a REDD+ grievance or complaint mechanism.
This report was created with the aim of developing a REDD+ Grievance Mechanism for Suriname. It outlines current practices and proposals for design of a mechanism and grievance redress office.
In order to bring a claim through the international legal instruments, you must have “standing” (the legal right to bring a claim).
See Sub-Page 4 of this Guide for more information on standing.
The case should be brought against:
Example: COONAPIP v. Panama
In 2013, the National Coordinator of Indigenous Peoples in Panama (COONAPIP) announced its intent to sue the Panamanian government to shut down the country’s REDD+ programme. COONAPIP argued that Indigenous People sin Panama have not been properly engaged in the REDD+ process.
For further information, see the relevant sections of the A4J Climate Change Module. For more general information, see “Who Can I Bring Legal Action Against” in the A4J Going to Court Guide.
In public law actions, it is the claimant (e.g. you) who has the “burden of proof”. This means the person bringing a civil claim needs to bring evidence to prove their case.
One of the first things you need to do to bring a successful claim is gather evidence that will be accepted in court. You must have a set of facts that describes what happened and evidence that supports your “version of events” (i.e. what you are saying happened). This is called “factual evidence” and will be used to support your claim.
If you are bringing a complaint or case about a REDD/REDD+ project, you will also need to provide details on:
For further information on evidence, including the scope of evidence you will need to provide, see the section on “Evidence and Information” in Sub-Page 11 of this Guide.
For general information on evidence, see the section on “How Can I Prove My Case” in the A4J Going to Court Guide.
If you are bringing a complaint or dispute to the REDD/REDD+ Grievance mechanism in your country, you will need to check the relevant procedures of the mechanism.
If you are bringing a lawsuit, these claims are usually taken in national administrative or constitutional courts.
The procedure that you must follow will depend on whether you live in a “common law country” or “civil law country”. The law in your country will outline a judicial review, constitutional petition or amparo process, so that you can bring a claim to the courts and the court may review the situation and provide a remedy.
Focus Point: Limitation Periods
A limitation period imposes a time limit within which a claimant may bring a case. The limitation period depends on the precise cause of action and will dictate the amount of time you have to file your case in court. If you do not file your case within the relevant limitation period, you may be prevented from bringing the claim.
Research the law in your country to determine the relevant limitation period for your claim. You will also need to identify when the time starts running for the limitation period. Time may start running from one of the following:
The date the harm occurred (e.g. when the forest fire happened);
The date you learned about the harm; or
The date the government made the specific policy decision or took an action that you are challenging.
In some cases, it may be possible to apply for the limitation period to be extended.
For more information, see “What Procedural Steps Do I Need to Take” in relation to Administrative, Constitutional and Human Rights Cases in the A4J Going to Court Guide.
If you bring a successful claim against the government or corporation, you may be entitled to one or more of the below “remedies”. The outcome of a successful case will depend on your cause of action and specific claim:
It is important to remember that the affected individuals and communities should lead on deciding which remedies are appropriate, as opposed to NGOs or lawyers. Consider the community impacts of each possible remedy.
For more information on remedies and climate change litigation, see the details “Remedies” in the relevant sections of the A4J Climate Change Guide.
For information on remedies generally, see our page, “What Remedies Are Available?” in the A4J Going to Court Guide.
Winning in court is only the start of the process. Many successful complaint responses and court judgements are either not enforceable or are not enforced in practice.
You may be able to go back to court and ask for the judgement to be defined and enforced. See the general page on “How Can I Enforce a Court Order” in the A4J Going to Court Guide.
In addition to all the factors above, there are further practical issues you need to consider.
One set of issues relates to the resources you will need by way of general support for you, and the case, legal and expert advisers, finance, logistics (such as transport), translation and printing.
Another set of issues is on the safety and security of you, witnesses and your information.
For general guidance on these, see the relevant headings in Sub-Page 11 “Going to Court” of this Guide.