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Published : November 29, 2010 | Author : rajrupasinharoy
Category : Environmental Law | Total Views : 17330 | Rating :

rajrupa sinha roy LLM 2nd year, NALSAR University of Law

Role of Individual & Sustainable Development

As a society, we are beginning to recognize and understand the detrimental effect of our actions on the natural environment. We are less aware how ever, of the harmful effect of those actions on each other. The term Sustainable Development has been used in many different contexts and consequently has come to represent many different ideas. Sustainable development is a pattern of resource use that aims to meet human needs while preserving the environment so that these needs can be met not only in the present, but also for future generations.

Sustainable development means that the richness of the earth’s biodiversity would be conserved for future generations by greatly slowing and, if possible, halting extinctions, habitat and ecosystem destruction, and also by not risking significant alternations of the global environment that might- by an increase in sea level or changing rainfall and vegetation patterns or increasing ultraviolet radiation – alter the opportunities available for future generations.

Origin Of The Sustainable Development:
The concept of sustainable development has been developed through the different phases of environmentalism. Basically there are three phases of environmentalism and those are discussed below:
First phase: The environment protection action has been taken by the people of Europe at the time the Industrial Revolution in 17th century, which gave rise to modern environmental pollution as it is generally understood today. The emergence of great factories and consumption of immense quantities of coal and other fossil fuels gave rise to unprecedented air pollution and the large volume of industrial chemical discharges added to the growing load of untreated human waste. The first, modern environmental laws came in the form of the British Alkali Acts, passed in 1863, to regulate the deleterious air pollution (gaseous hydrochloric acid) given off by the Leblanc process, used to produce soda ash. Environmentalism grew out of the amenity movement, which was a reaction to industrialization, the growth of cities, and worsening air and water pollution. The common people took initiative for the protection of the environment.

Second phase: In the United States, the beginnings of an environmental movement can be traced as far back as 1739, when Benjamin Franklin and other Philadelphia residents, citing "public rights," petitioned the Pennsylvania Assembly to stop waste dumping and remove tanneries from Philadelphia's commercial district. In US it is seen that great poets and other literary scholars protested against the environment destruction through their work. The US movement expanded in the 1800s, out of concerns for protecting the natural resources of the West, with individuals such as John Muir and Henry David Thoreau making key philosophical contributions.

Thoreau was interested in peoples' relationship with nature and studied this by living close to nature in a simple life. He published his experiences in the book Walden, which argues that people should become intimately close with nature. Muir came to believe in nature's inherent right, especially after spending time hiking in Yosemite Valley and studying both the ecology and geology. With the initiative of common people first two National Parks were established in US to save some wildlife and those were Yosemite and Yellow Stone National Park.

Third phase: then in 1960’s an incident which turned the whole situation was, spraying of DDT in the farms of America. In 1962 Silent Spring was published by American biologist Rachel Carson. The book explained in details the environmental impacts of the indiscriminate spraying of DDT in the countryside farms of US and which contained large amount of chemicals, causing harm to the migratory birds that usually came to have the crops. The book suggested that DDT and other pesticides may cause cancer and that their agricultural use was a threat to wildlife as well as to the human beings.

Then in the 1970s, the Chipko movement was formed in India; influenced by Mahatma Gandhi, (actually he was influenced by Henry David Thoreau) they set up peaceful resistance to deforestation by literally hugging trees (leading to the term "tree huggers"). Their peaceful methods of protest and slogan "ecology is permanent economy" were very influential.

International Approach Of Sustainable Development:
All these environmental movements have led to the United Nations Conference on Human Environment held in Stockholm in 1972, it is famously known as Stockholm Declaration. In this conference the concept of Sustainable development had given a wider interpretation. In Principle 21 of Stockholm Action Plan it is mentioned that it should be obligatory for the human being to use its natural resources in that manner by which his future generation can also avail all those resources. Individual has to play an important role for the protection of the environment. [ii]

After the Stockholm Conference in late 1970’s the Brundtland Committee published a report where they stated that due to negligence of the human beings the environment has encountered so many destruction now it is the time for the human beings to participate in the environment protection actions.

After that in 1992 the Earth Summit was held in the Rio de Janeiro which was famously known as Rio Declaration. In this Conference many new aspects of Sustainable Development was established. The various Principles the ‘precautionary principle’, ‘intergenerational equity’, ‘agenda 21’, ‘biodiversity’ etc was mentioned. In Rio Declaration also in one principle the population growth has been discussed. Due to high rate of population growth the sustainable use of natural resources is not possible.

After going through the origin of the concept of sustainable development one thing which is very noticeable is that, from the first era of environmentalism the individuals are playing an important role for the protection of the environment and sustainable development. It is quite evident that without the interference of the individual it is not possible to protect the environment.

Jurisprudential Approach Of Sustainable Development:
Role of individual in sustainable development has a jurisprudential approach also. Actually the concept like ‘one world’, ‘global family, are common features of ‘common mankind’. The future generations are the concerns to be taken care of not only by the people but also by the governments to help and sustain the environment.

The Kelson’s pure theory of Grund Norm can be related with the concept of sustainable development. The concept of ‘common norm’ will be treated as the ‘super most norm or the Grund norm’. Like:

Grund norm = Sustainable Development
Subordinate Norms = right to life, right to clean environment, elimination of poverty, etc.

According to Kelson a dynamic system is one in which fresh norms are constantly being created on then authority of an original, basic, norm, a Grund Norm; a static system is one in that the basic norm determines the content of those derived from it in addition to imparting to them. In case of sustainable development also the basic norm is ‘sustainable development’ under which the judiciary can make any legislations and preventive measures. Then further in his theory he said that ‘if X is there then Y ought to happen. It can be said that if any body violates the measures of environment and does not use the natural resources in a sustainable manner then he ought to be punished.[iii]

The essence of environmental jurisprudence has been gathered from the Stockholm Conference on Human Environment. Each country has applied this principle as per their own way. In India the Judiciary is playing the role of protector of environment keeping in mind the environmental jurisprudence. A famous American judge once said that “I keep individual above the industrial development, but I keep environment above all including the human beings”.

This is something radical as very few till date have gone against the theory. The general proposition is that economic growth is good for the environment has been justified by the claim that there exists an empirical relation between per capita income and some measures of environmental quality. It has been observed that as income goes up there is increasing environmental degradation up to a point, after which environmental quality improves. There are, however, reasons for caution in interpreting these inverted U-shaped curves.

The relationship between wealth (and Poverty) and environmental degradation varies with each factor. Many would say that wealth is good for environment. As for the water quality, it is lower in poor countries and increases with wealth. Hence, water reserves are overexploited and may suffer Stalinization in some coastal areas. Also the nature of many products that people tend to buy with the increase in financial condition becomes hard to recycle because of the chemical properties in those products. For example, in rich countries people use disposable diaper or nappy for children whom are very hard and costly to recycle. But many poor people don’t use that. It is clearly evident that many forms of pollution just don’t exist in poor countries.

We have to admit that wealth provides the means to correct environmental damage, that wealthy people are environmentally more conscious because they can afford to care for quality of life issues, and that poverty is one main cause of environmental degradation, are the politically correct beliefs. We, however, also have to consider that poverty is not the only reason for environmental despoliation. There are many other reasons like export-based growth and environmental carrying capacity.

Therefore, when Brundtland Report said that poverty is the main cause of environmental degradation and it explicitly recommended an annual growth rate of 3 percent or the South as well as for the North (to accommodate higher exports from the South) we must rely on it with sufficient caution. For, Brundtland’s massage that economic growth, renamed ‘sustainable development’ is a remedy for both poverty and environmental degradation, needs to be revisited. This assumption gains more support when we realize that the Brundtland Report was generated at the time when there was an ongoing debate between North-South on international trade, particularly on free access to South’s rich biological reserves.

The insufficiency of Brundtland Report can be proved by giving some of striking examples like environmental degradation in Peru and Costa Rica. We also must not forget that almost all the environmental problems are the result of ecological distribution conflicts.

One more paradox of economic development is that future consumption depends to a considerable extent on the stock of natural capital. Therefore, conservation may well be a precondition for economic growth. Conservation then certainly becomes a precondition for Sustainable Development, which unites the ecological concept of carrying capacity with the economic concepts of growth and development. [iv]

There are other risks attached to the adaptation of Sustainable Development blindly. Economic development bears with it the need for calculation of cost of externalities which unfortunately doesn’t have any foolproof and accurate economical method (Take the examples of Freeport-McMoran or Texaco cases). Here we come closer to the Lawrence Summer’s principle “the poor sell cheap” which means poor people accept cheaply. The market, through willingness to accept compensation, or through so-called ‘hedonic prices’ i.e. the decrease in value of properties threatened by pollution, would indicate that locations where the poor live are more appropriate than locations where the rich live. Poor people accept cheaply, if not gladly, inconveniences or risks which other people would be ready to accept if offered large amount of money. But money again is not the relevant standard of comparison for people who are not yet wholly immersed in the generalized market system.

For me the idea is to decentralize Sustainable Development as to have more quick and ‘to the point’ solution to the environmental problems in local clusters. But when we remember the defuse nature of environmental problems then we come to the conflict with this idea.

Sustainable Development And Poverty:
But in country like India it is quite difficult to maintain all the regulations of sustainable development. There are so many reasons but one of the important reasons is poverty. Poverty is a primary concern of most disciplines in the social and natural sciences that address development issue. The new trend in world environmental development says that the success of international environmental progress will be judged, in part, by whether they increase or reduce poverty.[v]

The world Commission on Environment and Development defined sustainable development as “Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of the future generations to meet their own needs.” The report points out that this definition contains within it two key concepts:

# The concepts of needs, in particular the essential needs of the world’s poor, to which overriding, priority should be given;
# The idea of limitation on the environment’s ability to meet present and future needs.

Actually poverty is a major cause and effect of global environmental problems. Reduction of poverty is one of the ways out for the protection of the environment. Or else we as an individual have to take initiative for the protection of the environment by educating the poor people regarding sustainable development.

Concept Of Environmental Jurisprudence In India:
It is quite obvious that an individual has to play the vital role for the protection of environment and the sustainable development concept will be remain in existence if only the individual has taken initiative. In a third world country like India all the individual along the initiatives of the higher Judiciary are playing the role of protector of environment. Under the Indian Constitution one can find some provision for the environment protection as well as the right of an individual to a pollution free and sustainable environment.

The right of the individual to healthy environment is an emerging human right this right evolves around three major aspects of human right. It is merger between traditional human norm and it is rapidly expanding in the arena of International Law. This merger seeks to achieve the goal of improvement in the quality of life on the Planet Earth. This right also provides remedial measures to the injured individuals and sovereign states, on the Polluter Pays Principle Kuldip Singh, J. in Vellore Citizens Welfare Forum v/s. Union of India [vi] and Indian Council for Enviro legal Action v/s. Union of India[vii], The JUS COGENS concept is closely related to the legal norm of social justice. So environment legal right constitutes the norms JUS COGENS. Any law must be developed in such a way to meet the needs of mankind.[viii] Article 21 of the Indian Constitution provides all measures regarding environment.

This approach has led the Supreme Court to derive, adopt and apply a range of principles to guide the development of environmental jurisprudence. Notable amongst the fundamental norms recognized by the court are:
1. Every person enjoys the right to a wholesome environment, which is a facet of the right to life guaranteed under Article 21 of the constitution of India.
2. Enforcement agencies are under an obligation to strictly enforce environmental laws.
3. Government agencies may not plead non availability of funds, inadequacy of staff or other insufficiencies to justify non performance of their obligations under environmental laws.
4. The ‘polluter pays principle’ which is a part of the basic environmental law of the land requires that a polluter bear the remedial or clean up costs as well as the amounts payable to compensate the victims of pollution.
5. The ‘precautionary principle’ requires government authorities to anticipates, prevent and attack the causes of environmental pollution.
6. Stringent action ought to be taken against contumacious defaulters and persons who carry on industrial or development activity for profit without regard to environmental laws.[ix]

In this work I have tried to highlight that how the individual played an important role for sustainable development. And it is not at all a new concept, as we can see that from the 17th century the common people stood up for the protection of the environment till now. Human beings are benefited the most if they protect the environment and use its natural resources in a sustainable manner.

Here once again I would like to relate the Kelson’s theory to conclude my paper. Kelsen mentioned pacta sunt servenda is the Grundnorm in international law. There must be a validity process and the normative relationship is the relationship of validity. For international environmental law what is to be called as Grundnorm is extremely difficult to find although it is desirable to have Grundnorm in international environmental law as nature of most kinds of pollution have cross-boundary impact and it is desirable to have one defined environmental law principle to solve those problems which will depend on pacta or common agreement between the nations.

Let us take the example of the most appreciated principle Common but Differentiated Responsibility. Can we link this principle with Sustainable Development somehow? If we can then probably we may create that new kind of Sustainable Development that we are talking about, the decentralized Sustainable Development and this may derive its validity from the pacta, the Grundnorm.

This theory may give a new shape in the field of Sustainable Development and the role of individual. To save the earth one thing we all have to admit that environment is above everything in the society.
Lars Emmelin, “Origin of Sustainable Development”, Vol. 1, No. 4 (Sep., 1972)
[ii] Hans H. Landsberg, “Can Stockholm Succeed? “,Science, New Series, Vol. 176, No. 4036 (May 19, 1972), p. 749 , Published by: American Association for the Advancement of Science
[iii] R W M Dias, “Jurisprudence”, Butterworth Publication, 5th ed., 1985
[iv] Shyam Divan and Armin Rosencranz, “Environmental Law and Policy in India”, Oxford University Press, 2nd ed., 2007
[v] http://www.ecoeco.org/pdf/stern.pdf
[vi] AIR 1996 SC 2715
[vii] AIR 1996 SC 1446
[viii] AIR 1996 SC 1446
[ix] Lars Emmelin, “Origin of Sustainable Development”, Vol. 1, No. 4 (Sep., 1972), pp. 185-240, Published by: Allen Press on behalf of Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences(www.jstor.org)

Authors contact info - articles The  author can be reached at: rajrupasinharoy@legalserviceindia.com

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