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The concepts of a Sustainable Development

The idea of sustainable development is the core principle of environmental law. This concept
has undergone a long historical development. It lies at the heart of many significant
international legal instruments. The term was famously used at the Cocoyoc Declaration on
Environment in 1970s. Since then it has become the important issue of international
organizations dedicated to achieving environmental beneficial development. The term was
referred to in a treaty for the first time in 1992, in the preamble of the EEA agreement. Now
it is regularly used in international instruments which have various significant social and
economic implications. Many courts and tribunals also have recourse to this principle from
time to time.
The World Commission on Environment and development (the Brundtland Commission) in
its 1987 report, named “Our Common Future”, introduced the term of sustainable
development. Since then, it has been used commonly throughout the world as a prime
solution to growing environmental crisis. In the year 1983, the UN General Assembly
established The World Commission on Environment and Development. The Brundtland
Report has given a comprehensive definition of sustainable development in the following
Sustainable development can be defined as striking a balance between today's consumption
and tomorrow‟s needs.
According to Brundtland Report, the concept of sustainable development
The concept of „needs‟, in particular the essential needs of the world‟s poor, to which
overriding priority should be given; and
The idea of limitations imposed by the state of technology and social organization on the
environments ability to meet present and future needs.
So whenever a developed or underdeveloped country takes up development program, it
should ensure that it is sustainable. The idea of sustainable development is not a new one and
it does not indicate to any particular limits of growth. But the phrase has a different
dimension in economic context and bears a lot of relevance and significance at present. In
that context it means that all the policies a country adopts, to be it financial or agricultural,
are sustainable both socially and ecologically. It signifies that the government affairs, i.e.
foreign policy, energy policy, fiscal policy, are undertaken in a careful manner so as to ensure
that they don't have bad impacts upon the country in the future.
As reflected in various international agreements, four principles comprise the legal elements
of the concept of „sustainable development‟
the principle of intergenerational equity;
the principle of sustainable use;
the principle of equitable use and
the principle of integration
These four elements are interrelated and often used in combination but it cannot be said to
achieve the status of binding law. Article 33 of the 1989 Lomé Convention indicated how
some of the elements of the concept of sustainable development could be brought together in
the following words:
“In the framework of this Convention, the protection and the enhancement of the
environment and natural resources, the halting of the deterioration of land and forests, the
restoration of ecological balances, the preservation of natural resources and their exploitation
are basic objectives that the [states parties] concerned shall strive to achieve with community
support with a view to bringing an immediate improvement in the living conditions of their
populations and to safeguarding those of future generations”
Apparently the text does not speak of “sustainable development” directly but it has
successfully incorporated the elements that were identified by the Brundtland Report.
The principle of intergenerational equity
The theory of inter-generational equity is well known to international law, as we can see in
1893 by the United States in the Pacific Fur Seals Arbitration. The idea is also expressly
referred to in many of the early environmental treaties including the 1946 International
Whaling Convention. The 1968 African Conservation Convention and the World Heritage
Convention. Some of the recently established treaties have been able to preserve certain
natural resources and environmental assets successfully to ensure that both present and future
generations is benefited by them.
It is the duty of the present generation to leave something for the next generation as well. But
it must be remembered that there are some inherent problems within the socio-political
conditions of many of the countries of the world that can hinder any effort in this regard.
There are inequalities among people in terms of having the benefit of the resources of the
country. There is a corruption that enables a certain section of the society to control the
resources. More importantly there is maladministration and mismanagement on the part of
the government itself.
The Principle of sustainable use of natural resources
The second approach, which reflected in treaties adopting a „sustainable‟ approach, is to
focus on the adoption of standards governing the rate of use or exploitation of specific natural
resources rather than on their preservation for future generations. In order to meet the needs
on sustainable basis, it is absolutely necessary to use the Earth‟s natural resources with care
and the conservation as well as enhancement of natural resources must be sought.
The Maltese government, in 1967, framed a proposal before the UN general assembly that for
the well-being of the future generation, the present generation should exploit the natural
resources modestly. These words were widely acclaimed back then. It contended that there
was a common heritage of humanity and that this also required legal protection by the
international community. Principle 8 of the Rio Declaration stated that, to achieve sustainable
development and a high quality of life for all people, States should reduce and eliminate
unsustainable pattern of production and consumption. Thus use and conservation of natural
resources is an essential principle of sustainable development.
The Principle of Equitable use of natural resources
It's not that an individual or a country is partly affected by an environmental problem. Every
single environmental problem has a global dimension. So it must be dealt with globally on
the basis of mutual assistance. Where principle 3 of the Rio declaration mentions the „right of
development‟, it also says that the right must be exercised „equitably‟ and regards should be
had to the environmental needs of future generations. According to the Climate Change
convention, all the undertakings of the parties should be guided on „the basis of equity‟ in
their actions to achieve the objective of the convention.
The international environmental texts frequently refer to equitable remedies for complex
environmental crisis. This is flexible way of solving those intricate problems where so many
socio-political considerations are at stake. So often the obligations set out in the judgements
are means to be carried out at a later date when the time is appropriate. In the absence of
detailed rules, equity can provide a conveniently flexible means of leaving the extent of rights
and obligations to be decided at a subsequent date. That is why this remedy is frequently used
at UNCED. One of the significant problems in an environmental dispute is the disparity
between the economic and environmental needs. Rightly so, every UNCED instrument tries
to address this issue and gives priority to a country's ecological and developmental needs.
There is no doubt that in the future, equity will keep on playing a dominant role in ensuring
fair share of natural resources among different countries.

In the coming years equity is likely to play an important role in relation to the allocation of
shared natural resources. International Court Of Justice„s ruling in the Gabcikovo Nagymaros
case that Czechoslovakia had violated international law by unilaterally assuming control of a
shared resource and depriving Hungary of its right to an equitable and reasonable share of the
natural resources of Danube.
The principle of Integration
Principle 4 of the Rio Declaration provides that „environmental protection shall constitute an
integral part of the development process and cannot be considered in isolation from it‟.
Integration had also been endorsed, although not in obligatory terms, in the 1972 Stockholm
Declaration (Principle 13), and it has since been incorporated in certain regional instruments.
As we know, the need to integrate environmental protection and economic development was
regarded the ICJ as one of the decisive elements of the Gabcikovo-Nagymaros case even for
activities „begun in the past.
The purpose of principle 4 is to ensure that development decisions do not disregard
environmental considerations. Integration of these competing values is fundamental to the
concept of sustainable development and has implications across a broad range of national and
international policy, as can be seen from Agenda 21, which refers to the „more systematic
consideration of the environment when decisions are made on economic, social, fiscal,
energy, agricultural, transportation, trade, and other policies.
Sustainable Development and Judiciary in India
As I am from India I would like to add the role of Judiciary in protecting environment and
sustainable development in India. In India, like any developing country, there has been
environmental degradation due to over exploitation of resources, industrialization,
urbanization and population explosion. However India has never been obvious of this fact. In
fact India has always been in the fore front of taking all possible steps for the protection and
improvement of the environment and aiming at sustainable development. Since man is the
creator and moulder of his environment, his conduct can be regulated through the instrument
of law. Thus it can be seen in India, there has been a regular development of the law
regarding the protection of the environment. India has enacted various laws at almost regular
intervals to deal with the problems of environmental degradation. At the same time, the
judiciary has been trying hard to protect the environment and to ensure sustainable
development by providing strict interpretation of the environmental laws. In fact the Judiciary
in India created a new „environmental jurisprudence‟
The judiciary has been quite pro-active in protecting the environment and limiting the unwise
and indiscriminate pressure that is being put on natural resources. Here are some seminal
cases that exemplifies this effort-
In R. L. and E Kendra v. State of UP the Supreme Court allowed a mine to operate until the
expiry of lease as exceptional case on undertaking by the lessee that land taken on lease
would be subjected to afforestation by him. Consequently, when it was brought to the notice
of the Court that mining was done in most unscientific and uncontrolled manner causing
damage to the area and environment, the Court directed the lessee to pay rupees three lacs to
the fund of the monitoring committee. It is submitted that the order of the Court is based on
the „Polluter Pays Principle‟.
In Kinkri Devi v. State public interest litigation was filed in which the High Court rightly
observed that natural resources have got to be tapped for the purpose of satisfying the rapid
economic and industrial growth. But that has to be done with care so that ecology and
environment may not be affected in any serious way. The natural resources are permanent
assets of humankind and are not intended to be exhausted in one generation.
Law is a regulator of human conduct but no law can indeed to effectively work unless there is
an element of acceptance by the people in society. No law works out smoothly unless the
interaction is voluntary. In order that human conduct maybe in accordance with the
prescription of law it is necessary that there should be appropriate awareness about and there
is an element of acceptance that the requirement of law is grounded upon a philosophy which
should be followed. If we want the laws to be enforced and that the malaise of pollution is
kept under control and environment be protected in an unpolluted state, then it is necessary
that people should be aware of the vice of pollution and its evil consequences. Awareness
should be built up at the grass-root level in the underdeveloped countries as well. Poor people
who are fighting to make ends meet must also be informed as mass awareness is really
critical to the success of a country's effort. But before that, it is imperative that their condition
be improved. Otherwise it would be a luxury on their part to talk about such a big issue which
they are unlikely to pursue. If they don't feel it, the government of those countries won't feel
it too.