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Sustainable Development and Natural Resource Management – A Legal Perspective. The earth we abuse and the living things we kill will, in the end will take their revenge; for in exploiting their presence we are diminishing our future.  ~Marya Mannes. Introduction.

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Sustainable Development and Natural Resource Management – A Legal Perspective


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    1. Sustainable Development and Natural Resource Management – A Legal Perspective The earth we abuse and the living things we kill will, in the end will take their revenge; for in exploiting their presence we are diminishing our future.  ~Marya Mannes

    2. Introduction • The dawn of the twenty-first century witnessed an intimidating threat of depletion of the environment and its natural resources stand • It is difficult to say how long the living species can survive the developed as well as developing countries have to march with the promises and pay heed to the call for ‘one earth’ an ‘one environment’ made by India at the Stockholm Conference, 1972. • A series of international conferences and initiatives formulated a theoretical framework for sustainable development during 1972 to 1992. The UN Conference on the Human Environment, held in Stockholm in 1972, was the first major international gathering to discuss sustainability at the global scale. The conference was a milestone in laying down a series of recommendations which led to the establishment of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP)

    3. Our Common Future (or the Brundtland report) that provided a stark diagnosis of the state of the environment. • The report established for the first time a universal definition of ‘Sustainable Development’ as: • “Development that meets the needs of current generations without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (WCED, 1987, p. 45). • The Brundtland Report, 1987 provided the momentum for the landmark 1992 Rio Summit that laid the foundations for the global institutionalization of sustainable development. Marking the twentieth anniversary of the Stockholm Conference, the Earth Summit adopted the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development and Agenda 21, a global plan of action for sustainable development, which stated:

    4. “In view of the different contributions to global environmental degradation, States have common but differentiated responsibilities. The developed countries acknowledge the responsibility that they bear in the international pursuit of sustainable development in view of the pressures their societies place on the global environment and of the technologies and financial resources they command.” • It adopted the following principles: • The Precautionary Principle-Principle 15: “In order to protect the environment, the precautionary approach shall be widely applied by States according to their capabilities. Where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environment degradation.” •  The Inter-Generational Equity Principle-Principle 3: • “The right to development must be fulfilled so as to equitably meet developmental and environmental needs of present and future generations”. • The Polluter Pays Principle-Principle 16: • “National authorities should endeavour to promote the internalization of environmental costs and the use of economic instruments, taking into account the approach that the polluter should, in principle, bear the cost of pollution, with due regard to the public interest and without distorting international trade and investment”. It embraced the need for the internalisation of environmental costs and the “polluter pays”

    5. Agenda 21 • As per Agenda 21, developed countries confirmed to contribute 0.7 percent of their annual gross national product (GNP) to official development assistance, and to provide favourable access to the transfer of environmentally sound technologies, in particular to developing countries. • Following a recommendation in Agenda 21, the UN General Assembly officially created the Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) later that year. Successful from a political standpoint, the Rio Declaration attracted world attention and active engagement and attendance by virtually every national leader. Its challenges lay in two areas: • FIRST, too much of an emphasis on the “environment pillar” in the negotiations • SECONDLY, all too little implementation of goals established under Agenda 21, particularly those related to development aid and cooperation.

    6. The negotiations at the WSSD in 2002, driven by the needs of the still developing countries demonstrated a major shift in the perception of sustainable development—away from environmental issues toward social and economic development. It was immensely influenced by the Millennium Development Goal (MDGs). This is but one example of how sustainable development has been pulled in various directions over its 20 plus year history. Ironically, WSSD succeeded where Rio failed, but failed where Rio succeeded. The WSSD did make a constructive change by focusing considerably more attention on development issues, particularly in integrating the MDGs with sustainable development principles and practices. In 1991, the IUCN prepared and published Caring for the Earth: A Strategy for Sustainable Living. One of the recommendations was that the national legal system shouldimplement the principles of ecologically sustainable development, includingproviding for the application of the precautionary principle, the use of economicincentives and disincentives, the requirement that all proposed new development andnew policies should be subject to environmental impact assessment and publicparticipation.( IUCN, UNEP and WWF, Caring for the Earth: A Strategy for Sustainable Living, Earthscan, London, 1991)

    7. Indian Scenario: • India’s international obligations under important multilateral treaties and conventions are complementary to the municipal law. Quite a few international law norms have been assimilated into domestic law judgments of the apex court • The Forty-Second Amendment Act of1976 brought about major changes in the Constitution with regard to the environment protection. • It added Article 48A to the directive principles of state policy. It declares: ‘The State shall endeavour to protect and improve the environment and to safeguard the forests and wild life of the country.’ • Article 51A (g) in a new chapter entitled ‘Fundamental Duties’, imposes a similar responsibility on every citizen ‘to protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers and wild life, and to have compassion for living creatures. • In Vellore Citizens Welfare Forum v Union of India,( AIR 1996 SC 2715) the Supreme Court of India, in a judgment delivered by Kuldip Singh J, held that the polluter pays principle had been accepted as part of the environmental law of the country.

    8. Judicial Pronouncements on Sustainable Development • The judiciary is also a crucial partner in promoting environmental governance, upholding the rule of law and in ensuring a fair balance between environmental, social and developmental consideration through its judgements and declarations”.( UNEP Global Judges Programme, 2005) • In Narmada BachaoAndolan v Union of India,( AIR 2000 SC 3751) a case concerning the construction of a dam, a majority of the Supreme Court of India defined sustainable development to mean “what type or extent of development can take place which can be sustained by nature / ecology with or without mitigation”. • In the Case concerning the Gabcikovo-Nagymaros Project (Hungary v Slovakia),( 37 ILM 162 (1997)) the majority of the International Court of Justice referred to the concept of sustainable development. However, Vice-President Weeramantry in a separate opinion, held it to be not only a mere concept, but a principle with normative value. In an illuminating analysis, Vice President Weeramantry reviewed the principle of sustainable development in international law, referring to the need to draw upon the world’s diversity of cultures in harmonising development and environmental protection.These traditional principles can assist in the development of modern environmental law.

    9. Fundamental Principles of Inter Generational Equity: • Three Fundamental Principles: • The “conservation of options” principle • The “conservation of quality” principle • The “conservation of access” principle • In the landmark decision of the Supreme Court of the Philippines, Minors Oposa v Secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources ,the Supreme Court held that : “We find no difficulty in ruling that they can, for themselves, for others of their generation and for the succeeding generations, file a class suit. Their personality to sue on behalf of the succeeding generations can only be based on the concept of intergenerational responsibility insofar as the right to a balanced and healthful ecology is concerned. Such a right, as hereinafter expounded, considers the ‘rhythm and harmony of nature’. • In State of Himachal Pradesh v Ganesh Wood Products, The ground for seeking the writ was that the establishment of Katha manufacturing units would lead to indiscriminate felling of Khair trees which would have a deep and adverse effect upon the environment and ecology of the State.

    10. Conclusion • It is clear that the law on sustainable development is gaining momentum at local, national, regional, and international levels. • While the four fundamental elements of sustainable development – the precautionary principle, intergenerational and intra-generational equity, the conservation of biological diversity and ecological integrity, and the internalisation of environmental costs – have been much discussed and promulgated in various international and national legal contexts, there is still a long way to go in terms of their implementation. • The role of the judiciary in relation to the law of sustainable development is thus of the greatest importance. • Many key decisions of national judiciaries in the Asia-Pacific Region have been discussed and it has been shown that, on a case by case basis, a body of environmental jurisprudence with respect to sustainable development is indeed emerging. • It is up to the judiciary to clearly define the circumstances of application and the means of implementation of the principles of sustainable development so that this body of law can continue to develop.

    11. The achievement of ecologically sustainable development depends on the commitment and involvement of all arms of government – the legislature, executive and judiciary – as well as other relevant stakeholders. Klaus Toepfer, the Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), stated in his message to the UNEP Global Judges Programme: “Success in tackling environmental degradation relies on the full participation of everyone in society. It is essential, therefore, to forge a global partnership among all relevant stakeholders for the protection of the environment based on the affirmation of the human values set out in the United Nations Millennium Declaration: freedom, equality, solidarity, tolerance, respect for nature and shared responsibility. The judiciary plays a key role in weaving these values into the fabric of our societies. If individual members of the judiciary work towards the common goal of achieving an environmentally sustainable future, the law on sustainable development will gain strength and through collective effort the goal will be reached. To use a phrase of Victor Hugo’s, “there is one thing stronger than all the armies in the world and that is an idea whose time has come”. It is clear that the time for sustainable development has come, and it is essential that individual judges and national judiciaries seize the opportunity.