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Principles of Sustainable Development

by | Apr 19, 2022 | Sustainable Development

What is Sustainable Development?

Sustainable development is a method of advancing a country’s economy without jeopardizing future generations’ access to a healthier environment. Land degradation, soil erosion, water contamination, air pollution, deforestation, and other forms of environmental destruction are compensated for by economic expansion. This risk might outweigh the advantages of higher-quality product and service production.

Sustainable development is a concept that aims to meet human development goals while simultaneously safeguarding natural systems’ ability to supply environmental resources and ecosystem services that the nation’s economy relies on. The targeted outcome is a society in which living circumstances and resources are utilized to satisfy human needs while maintaining the natural system’s integrity and stability. All too often, development is driven by a particular need, with little regard for the larger or longer-term implications.

We are already experiencing the consequences of this strategy, from large-scale financial crises produced by irresponsible banking to global climatic problems induced by our reliance on non-renewable fuel-based energy sources. The longer we pursue unsustainable growth, the more likely its effects will become more frequent and severe, which is why we must act now.

Sustainable Development

History and Emergence of the Concept of Sustainable Development

Sustainable development has its origins in European notions about sustainable forest management established in the 17th and 18th centuries.  In his 1662 article, John Evelyn argued in reaction to rising awareness of England’s loss of wood supplies.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) produced a worldwide conservation plan in 1980, which featured one of the earliest references to sustainable development as a global goal and used the phrase “sustainable development.”

Two years later, the United Nations World Charter for Wildlife established five conservation principles to govern and assess human behaviour that affects nature. The study Our Common Future, often known as the Brundtland Report, was published in 1987 by the United Nations World Commission on Environment and Development.

Since the Brundtland Report, the idea of sustainable development has evolved beyond the intergenerational framework to emphasize the objective of “socially inclusive and ecologically sustainable economic growth.”

The United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 was founded on the notion of sustainable development. The summit was the first attempt at a global level to formulate action plans and strategies for moving toward a more sustainable growth pattern.

Salient Features of Sustainable Development

Sustainable development attempts to improve people’s living standards by utilizing natural resources and the environment in a way that does not jeopardize future generations’ capacity to satisfy their own needs. Some of the silent features of sustainable development are:

Inter-generational Equity

Meeting present-day demands without jeopardizing future generations’ ability to fulfil their own. It expresses the idea of justice among generations when it comes to the use and protection of the environment and natural resources. Intergenerational equity is a value idea that emphasizes future generations’ rights. It’s a concept that’s implied in environmental sustainability. Since the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, 1972, held in Stockholm and famously known as the “Stockholm Convention,” the development of international environmental law and the integration of environmental issues for the present and future into policy-making and governance has been evident. It established a new precedent in the international environmental law framework, requiring effective policies and shared principles to inspire and guide the world’s peoples in protecting and developing the human environment.

Use and Conservation of Natural Resources

Air, minerals, vegetation, land, water, soil, and wildlife are all natural resources on the planet. Conservation refers to the preservation and care of these resources so that they can be passed on to future generations. It entails preserving species variety, DNA, and ecosystems, as well as environmental services like nitrogen cycling. Conservation and preservation are similar in that they both aim to safeguard the environment, but they go about it in different ways. Conservation aims to allow humans to utilize nature in a sustainable way, such as for hunting, logging, or mining, whereas preservation aims to safeguard nature from human use. Continued human population increase has resulted in unsustainable rates of natural resource use, leading to a loss of biodiversity on Earth.

Environmental Protection

Environmental protection is to preserve and, where necessary, restore a healthy natural environment. As a result, environmental protection refers to the safeguarding and preservation of the environment from the harmful effects of human and human-made activities. Because of the greatest risk that the environment faces right now, environmental conservation is of the utmost importance. The situation is in serious jeopardy as a result of several human-caused activities. The biophysical environment is being destroyed, perhaps permanently, due to the demands of overconsumption, population increase, and technology. This has been acknowledged, and governments have begun to impose restrictions on activities that degrade the environment. Environmental movements have raised awareness of many environmental issues since the 1960s.

The Precautionary Principle

The precautionary principle aims to guarantee that a chemical or human activity that poses a risk to the environment is kept from doing so, even if there is no definitive scientific evidence tying that substance or human activity to environmental damage. As a result, the precautionary principle assumes that the industrialist bears the burden of evidence in demonstrating that his behaviour is benign and does not affect the environment.

In the context of environmental protection, the precautionary principle is primarily concerned with the management of scientific risk. It is described in Principle 15 of the Rio Declaration of 1992 as a component of the notion of environmentally sustainable development. “Where there is a possibility of substantial or permanent environmental harm, a lack of full scientific confidence should not be used as a rationale for delaying steps to avoid environmental deterioration,” according to this concept. To put it another way, any human action or behaviour that hurts the environment must be avoided at all costs.

The ‘Polluter Pays’ Principle

The “Polluter Pays” approach was once thought to be one of the most effective methods for preventing pollution. However, there were practical challenges in determining an accurate definition of the concept since there may be disagreements about the breadth of the principle’s applicability and the restrictions on reimbursement for damages incurred. All member nations of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) decided to include the notion of ‘polluter pays’ in their environmental policy to prohibit subsidies that may harm trade. They believed that this was vital to maintaining the environment and defending the country from pollution hazards in modern industrial society.

Despite some obstacles, the European Community recognized the ‘polluter pays’ premise as part of its environmental policy in its Action Programme on Environment. The notion was enshrined in the action program’s Article 130 R (2). Finally, the international community recognized the “polluter pays” idea as an essential component of sustainable development, and it was enshrined as Principle 16 of the Rio Declaration of Earth Summit, 1992.

Principle of liability to Help and Co-Operate

This principle was specifically incorporated as Principle 9 in the Rio Declaration (1992), which states that states should cooperate to enhance indigenous capacity development for sustainability by improving scientific understanding through scientific and technological knowledge exchanges, and by strengthening the development, adaptation, diffusion, and transfer of technologies, including new and innovative technologies.

Environmental concerns are best managed with the participation of all interested persons at the relevant level, according to Principle 10 of the Rio Declaration. Principle 12 emphasizes the importance of cooperation in environmental matters, requiring states to work together to improve a supportive and open international economic system that leads to economic progress in all countries, to better address the problem of environmental degradation.

Poverty Eradication

Poverty, according to the Brundtland Report (1987), is a possible cause of environmental degradation since it decreases people’s ability to use resources sustainably, putting additional strain on the environment and causing it to deteriorate. The majority of developing countries are plagued by poverty, which hurts environmental quality. The Earth Summit of 1992 also said that poverty eradication was critical to achieving the aim of sustainable development, especially in developing nations. Poverty is one of the most significant contributors to environmental pollution and deterioration.

Because India is a developing country, more than 30% of the population lives in poverty. Due to a lack of housing, millions of impoverished men, women, and children are forced to live in slums and sometimes on the side of the road in filthy circumstances with little food and water. As a result, India needs aid and collaboration from developed nations to help and support the poverty reduction program and the preservation of a healthy environment.

Principle of ‘Public Trust’

The Roman Empire proposed the public trust principle1500 years ago. “The air, the waters, and the ocean are all open to the public and are allowed to be utilized by anybody owing to the rule of nature,” wrote Roman King Justinian in a section. Traditionally, the idea of public trust was exclusively used to safeguard rights such as fishing, hunting, boating, and navigating for anchoring or standing. However, in the current environment, it scrutinizes and criticizes the state’s resource management actions. It describes the state as a trustee who owns all of the assets. It is the state’s responsibility to conserve, prevent, and safeguard public resources.

The Indian Supreme Court made a bold move in invoking the Public Trust Principle. It was an essential legal strategy to safeguard the environment and resources. This theory is by contemporary environmental issues. The public trust theory establishes a legal right for the general public as well as a positive responsibility for the government to fulfil its responsibilities. Our constitution expresses care for the environment and safeguards our right to a healthy environment.

More about the Public trust principle in India:

Projections of Irreversible Impacts

Permanent degradation of environmental assets or quality necessitates prevention rather than repair or clean-up refers to irreversible impacts. Environment damages are also irreversible in many cases:

  • Water Shortages

Climate change is causing weather patterns to be disrupted, resulting in extreme weather events, unpredictably available water, worsening water scarcity, and contaminated water sources. Such consequences can have a significant influence on the quantity and quality of water that youngsters require to survive. The global urban population facing water scarcity is expected to grow from 933 million people (one-third of the worldwide urban population) in 2016 to 1.693–2.373 billion people (one-third to nearly half of the global urban population) in 2050, with India expected to be the most severely affected (increase of 153–422 million people).

The number of big cities facing water scarcity is expected to rise from 193 to 193–284, with 10–20 megacities among them. More than two-thirds of water-scarce cities can alleviate water scarcity through infrastructure investment. However, large-scale water scarcity solutions come with major environmental trade-offs that must be avoided.

  • Food Insecurity

A shortage of money or other resources causes a shift in food consumption or eating patterns, which is referred to as food insecurity. In the United States in 2014, 17.4 million families suffered food insecurity at some time throughout the year. Hunger is a possible consequence of food insecurity, although it is not usually the cause. Long-term or short-term food insecurity are both possible. Income, employment, race/ethnicity, and disability are all factors that might influence it. Food insecurity is more likely when money to buy food is limited or unavailable. In 2016, 31.6 per cent of limited households were food insecure, compared to 12.3 per cent countrywide. Unemployment might jeopardise a family’s ability to feed themselves.

There are racial and ethnic differences in food insecurity. In 2016, black non-Hispanic households were nearly twice as likely as the national average to be food insecure (22.5 per cent versus 12.3 per cent, respectively). In comparison to the national average, 18.5 per cent of Hispanic households experienced food insecurity (12.3 per cent). Due to limited career prospects and healthcare-related expenditures that lower the cash available to buy food, disabled individuals may be at a higher risk of food insecurity.

  • Health Impacts

Human health and well-being are dependent on a clean environment. At the same time, the surrounding environment can be a source of stressors that have a detrimental impact on health, such as air pollution, noise, and dangerous substances. Climate change hurts people’s health because of heat waves, floods, and changes in the distribution of vector-borne illnesses. Climate change, biodiversity loss, and land degradation can all have an influence on human well-being by jeopardizing ecosystem services such as access to fresh water and food production.

The World Health Organization (WHO) believes that environmental stresses are responsible for 12–18% of all fatalities in the 53 nations of the WHO Europe Region in their study on disease prevention via healthy settings. Improving the environment’s quality in important areas including air, water, and noise can help to avoid disease and promote human health. Environmental dangers, according to a growing body of data, are not uniformly dispersed across society, but rather disproportionately harm socially poor and vulnerable populations.

  • Socio-economic Impacts

Many developing nations, as well as the international community at large, are growing increasingly concerned about environmental damage. Growing socioeconomic trends, as seen internationally in recent years as a result of fast urbanization and industrialization, have resulted in the overexploitation of natural resources, as well as serious environmental challenges. Both social and physical factors of health are included in our “environment.” Social influences on health are affected by complex linkages between economic systems and social structures and are ingrained in the larger environment. The allocation of resources, money, and power in a community and throughout the world is influenced by these systems and structures. The socio-economic environment, or allocation of resources, impacts how communities and people obtain the resources they require to satisfy their fundamental human requirements.

  • Effects on Ecosystems

When we add external variables such as too much carbon dioxide or methane, we disrupt the ecosystem’s equilibrium, which has a negative impact on individuals who reside there. As a result, global warming, water scarcity, extinction of species, and other issues arise. This has an influence on all living things on the earth, including humans. Everything will ultimately feel the effects of environmental devastation. Destruction of ecosystems is already taking place. Our coral reefs have already lost 25% of their area, with another 60% anticipated to go in the next 30 years. 60 per cent of the Earth’s environment has been damaged in the last 60 years. We have removed over 23 billion tonnes of resources from the Earth to date.

Effects on the ecosystem by IPCC:



  • The author has done a master's in Environmental science and is currently working as chief Environmental Advisor with New Delhi State Government.


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