Environmental law experts have praised Tunisia’s new constitution for what they say is one of the most-progressive references to climate protection in history.
With the passage of the new constitution in January, Tunisia joins efforts in Ecuador (2008) and the Dominican Republic (2011) to mention climate change in the constitution.
Carl Bruch, an American attorney who has worked with the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) and the Environmental Law Alliance Worldwide (E-LAW), called the environment clause in Tunisia’s constitution “pioneering.”
He pointed out that Ecuador’s and Dominican Republic’s constitutions only make references to “rights of nature,” whereas Tunisia has been much bolder talking about climate change even more explicitly.
“The state guarantees the right to a healthy and balanced environment and contributes to climate security,” Article 45 reads.
“We [Tunisians] are victims of climate change,” said National Constituent Assembly member Dhamir Mannai, a sponsor of the text. “It is a global problem, but people don’t want to take responsibility.”
Bruch said that while it is not necessary for climate law to be enshrined in the constitution, it helps.
“A constitution is the articulation of a country’s highest beliefs and it is another tool for advocates to use,” he said.
Wassim Chabaane, the president and founder of “Association Tuniso-Méditerranéenne de l’Environnement” and technical coordinator at GIZ/Sweep-Net says that climate change is a lower priority in Tunisia compared to the more-immediate challenges of bin sorting, industrial and marine pollution, and water scarcity. Investors are waiting for a new legal framework in order to propose new environmental projects, he said.
Also impatient to see developments, Hasedh Hentati, founder of the Tunisian local network FTED (Fédération Tunisien de l’Environnement et du Développement), is confident that Tunisians will embrace new environmentally friendly plans. “It is rather extraordinary!” he says. He warns however that the government and the Tunisian people must implement the text. “It is important to use the right tools, particularly education” to develop Tunisia’s environmental protection policies.
Dhamir Mannai told Tunisia Live of two environmental measures in the think tank: a 30 percent quota for renewable energy and allowing only eco-friendly businesses to trade with Tunisia. The country’s poor economy, however, could pressure these initiatives, he admitted.
The weeks-old constitution is still fresh from its landslide approval. However, Tunisians are impatient to see real measures materialize. The presence of constitutional laws does not necessarily mean that the environment will be respected, let alone climate change.
Different countries’ environments have been protected by their constitutions for years. Kenya outlined environmental provisions back in 1964 and even China, the world’s biggest carbon dioxide emitter, states “a clean and healthy environment is everyone’s right.”
According to Bruch, however, the rights spelled out in the constitution can now be used to further more ambitious protection laws.
Photo: Wind generators in al-Haouaria, Nabeul, Tunisia. Source: Tunisia Live.