The term “sustainable development” was brought into common use by the World Commission on Environment and Development (the Brundtland Commission) in its seminal 1987 report “Our Common Future”. The World Commission on Environment and Development was set up by the General Assembly of the United Nations in the year 1983. The Brundtland Report has given a very comprehensive and universally accepted definition of sustainable development in the following words:
“Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of the future generations to meet their own needs.”
According to the Brundtland Report, the concept of sustainable development contains within it two key concepts:
- 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 organisations on the environment’s ability to meet present and future needs.
Thus, the goals of economic and social development must be defined in terms of sustainability in all countries, developed or developing.
Development involves a progressive transformation of economy and society. Sustainable development does not imply absolute limits to growth and it is not a new name of environment protection. It is a new concept of economic growth. It is a process of change, in which economic and fiscal policies, trade and foreign policies, energy, agricultural and industrial policies all aim to induce development paths that are economically, socially and ecologically sustainable. The report emphasised that sustainable development cannot and will not be achieved in a world ridden by poverty. It called for a new era of economic growth. Economic growth and development obviously involves changes in the physical ecosystem. in other words, the report emphasised that sustainable development means an integration of economics and ecology in decision making at all levels.
General principles, rights and responsibilities for environment protection and sustainable development adopted by the Brundtland Commission are as under:
- Fundamental Human Rights: All human beings have the fundamental right to an environment adequate for their health and well-being.
- Intergenerational Equity: States shall conserve and use the environment and natural resources for the benefit of present and future generations.
- Conservation and Sustainable Use: States shall maintain ecosystems and ecological processes essential for the functioning of the biosphere, shall preserve biological diversity, and shall observe the principle of optimum sustainable yield in the use of living natural resources and ecosystems.
- Environmental Standards and Monitoring: States shall establish adequate environmental protection standards and monitor changes in and publish relevant data on environmental quality and resource use.
- Prior Environmental Assessments: States shall make or require prior environmental assessments (Environment Impact Assessment) of proposed activities, which may significantly affect the environment or use of a natural resource.
- Prior Notification, Access, and Due Process: States shall inform in a timely manner all persons likely to be significantly affected by a planned activity and to grant them equal access and due process in administrative and judicial proceedings.
- Sustainable Development and Assistance: States shall ensure that conservation is treated as an integral part of the planning and implementation of development activities and provide assistance to other States, especially to developing countries, in support of environment protection and sustainable development.
- General obligation to Co-operate: States shall co-operate in good faith with other States in implementing the preceding rights and obligations.
From the above principles, it is evident that for achieving sustainable development, economy and ecology will have to merge. Environmental concerns must become an integral part of the decision-making at all levels and the sustainable development must become the overriding goal of all governments.