Individuals in Bolivia have not brought cases against private actors for operations that contribute negatively to climate change.

Private actors have an obligation to protect the environment (article 247 of the Bolivian Constitution) by meeting the requirements of environmental regulations (i.e. completing EIAs and ensuring public participation). When private actors breach these environmental regulations, individuals could file a claim before an administrative or judicial body against these actors for non-compliance of their statutory requirements.

In some cases, private actors’ operations are permitted to contribute to air pollution within a set limit written in environmental regulations. However, even if this limit is not breached but still causes environmental harm, individuals have the right to file a constitutional action (Popular Action) based on every persons’ right to a healthy environment or the duty to “protect and defend the environment suitable for the development of living beings.”

The non-compliance with the environmental regulation could give rise to administrative, civil and criminal responsibilities, depending on the seriousness of the breach. It could also result in

administrative sanctions (i.e. fines, stoppage of activities or withdrawal of authorization until the requirements are met), reparation and compensation for environmental damages, and even imprisonment of the legal representatives of the operator. Importantly, article 347.I of the Constitution provides that “[l]iability will be declared for historic environmental damages, and liability for environmental crimes shall not lapse”.

To date, individuals in Bolivia have not brought cases against the State or a government department for a specific project that contributes to aggravate climate change.

In Bolivia, any public or private actor who intends to develop a project that could negatively impact the environment needs to obtain an environmental permit prior to the commencement of its activities. National environmental legislation (Law 1333 and its regulation) establishes rules of procedures for Environmental Impact Assessments for such infrastructure projects. Project developers are required to evaluate the potential risks or impacts of the activities. This EIA has to be submitted to the competent environmental authority before an environmental license is given.

Environmental Regulation also states that an applicant is required to engage in a consultation process to publicise the characteristics of the project and its potential impacts as well as the mitigation measures to be adopted. This is consistent with the Bolivian constitution stating that “the population has the right to participate in environmental management, and to be consulted and informed prior to decisions that could affect the quality of the environment.” (Article 343, Bolivian Constitution).

If an environmental permit is granted to a project that does not meet the environmental legislation’s requirements, and therefore creates risks for the environment and population, an individual could file a claim against the public actor who authorised the infrastructure project through the competent administrative authority or judicial body, demanding its annulment and the author´s responsibility (Law 1333 and its regulation).

Also, collective rights (such as environmental rights) could be used as legal grounds to bring a popular action against an agreement or permit granted by public authorities that threatens or violates these rights, as established in articles 34, 135 y 136 of the Bolivian Constitution. If granted, this action could lead to the suspension of the project.

However, though within their rights, these kinds of initiatives have been hindered in the past by the government’s actions. For instance, several policies and regulations have been adopted which allow for hydrocarbon, mining, energy, and transport projects and have resulted in socio-environmental conflicts around numerous projects, such as the TIPNIS Highway and Chepete-El Bala and Rosita hydroelectric developments. NGOs and affected indigenous communities strongly opposed these developments for their environmental and climate change implications as well as their impact on indigenous and local populations’ rights and filed legal actions (acciones populares) against them. However, the government defended these projects, considering them necessary to the country’s socio-economic development and the legal actions resulted fruitless.

Individuals in Bolivia have not brought cases against the State for its overall climate policy yet.

Such cases could be filed on human-rights arguments through article 33 of the Constitution of the Plurinational State of Bolivia (Bolivian Constitution) which recognizes the right to a healthy, protected, and balanced environment. In this regard, a broad approach to standing in environmental issues is recognized in the Bolivian Constitution: according to article 34 “[a]ny person…is authorized to take legal action in defence of environmental rights”. Thus, anyone in the country can file judicial, administrative or constitutional actions to protect the rights to the environment. To do so, the Bolivian Constitution includes a mechanism of ‘popular action’ (Acción Popular) for guaranteeing the protection and implementation of collective rights and interests, including environmental rights. The Acción Popular can be filed against any action or omission of public and private actors, as established by articles 135-136 of the Bolivian Constitution.

Cases can also be filed by individuals or groups on behalf of Mother Earth against any actor who offends Mother Earth’s rights, especially her right to adapt naturally to climate change (Law No.071 of the Rights of Mother Earth). The current legislation (Framework Law no. 300 of Mother Earth and Integral Development for Living Well) states that such cases should be brought only by individuals or groups directly affected by the violation of the rights of Mother Earth. However, this restricted standing approach is in conflict with the broader right of standing established in the Constitution with regard to the defence and enforcement of the environmental right and the rights of Mother Earth.