The United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), popularly known as Earth Summit, was held in June, 1992 at Rio de Janeiro wherein more than 150 heads/representatives of governments participated. This was the largest UN Conference ever held and it put the world on a path of sustainable development, which aims at meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.
The Earth Summit was inspired and guided by a remarkable document of 1987, i.e., Brundtland Report. The Earth Summit forced the people worldwide to re-think how their lives affect natural environment and resources and to confront a new environment that determines the surroundings in which they live.
Some of the major achievements of Earth Summit lie in the form of following documents, which it produced:
- The Rio Declaration on Environment and Development A series of Principles defining the rights and responsibilities of States in this area.
- Agenda 21: A comprehensive blue print for global actions to affect the transition to sustainable development.
- Forest Principles: A set of Principles to support the sustainable management of forests worldwide.
- Two Legally Binding Conventions:
(a) The Convention on Climate Change and
(b) Convention on Biodiversity, which are aimed at preventing global climate change and the eradication of biologically diverse species.
These Conventions were signed by the representatives of more than 150 countries.
The Rio Declaration on Environment and Development:
The Declaration consists of 27 Principles, which guide the behaviour of nations towards more environmentally sustainable patterns of development
- Principle-1 : “Human beings are at the center of concerns for sustainable development. They are entitled to a healthy and productive life in harmony with nature”. Apart from its individual legal components, this statement makes the well-being of the individual the actual measure of sustainable development.
- Principle 2 of the Declaration puts the duty on the States that while exploiting their own resources pursuant to their own environmental and developmental policies; it is their responsibility to ensure that their activities do not cause damage to the environment of other States.
- According to Principle 3, “the right to development must be fulfilled so as to equitably meet developmental and environmental needs of present and future generations”. Thus, the concept of “inter-generational rights” has been recognized in this principle.
- Principle 4: In this principle it is provided that in order to achieve sustainable development, environmental protection shall constitute an integral part of the development process and cannot be considered in isolation from it. Eradication of poverty is considered as an indispensable requirement for sustainable development.
- Principle 5 of the Declaration and all States and all people are required to co-operate in this essential task. This principle is of particular advantage to the developing countries which face the problem of poverty. It may be mentioned here that our former Prime Minister Mrs. Indira Gandhi, while speaking at the Stockholm Conference had said: “of all the pollutants we face, the worst is poverty. We want more development”.
The Rio Declaration has taken cognizance of the fact that in order to achieve sustainable development, eradication of poverty is indispensable and thus developmental process and environmental protection must go on simultaneously.
- Principle 6- The special situation and needs of developing countries, particularly the least developed and those most environmentally vulnerable, shall be given special priority. International actions in the field of environment and development should also address the interests and needs of all countries.
- Principle 7- States shall cooperate in a spirit of global partnership to conserve, protect and restore the health and integrity of the Earth’s ecosystem. 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.
- In Principle 8 of the Declaration, it is provided that in order to achieve sustainable development and a higher quality of life for all people, States should reduce and eliminate unsustainable patterns of production and consumption.
- Principle 9 calls for an international transfer of the scientific knowledge needed for sustainable development.
- Principle 10 recognises the fact that environmental issues are best handled with the participation of all concerned citizens, at the relevant level.
- Principle 11 requires the States to enact effective environmental legislations.
- Principle 12 requires the States to cooperate to promote a supportive and open international economic system that would lead to economic growth and sustainable development in all countries, to better address the problems of environmental degradation.
- Principle 13- States shall develop national law regarding liability and compensation for the victims of pollution and other environmental damage. States shall also cooperate in an expeditious and more determined manner to develop further international law regarding liability and compensation for adverse effects of environmental damage caused by activities within their jurisdiction or control to areas beyond their jurisdiction.
- Principle 14 – States should effectively cooperate to discourage or prevent the relocation and transfer to other States of any activities and substances that cause severe environmental degradation or are found to be harmful to human health.
- The “precautionary principle” has been incorporated in Principle 15, according to which 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 environmental degradation.
- The”Polluter Pays Principle” has been incorporated in Principle 16, which provides that national authorities should endeavour to promote the internationalization 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
- The need of having Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for proposed activities, that are likely to have a significant adverse impact on the environment, has been recognized in Principle 17 of the Declaration.
- Principle 18: States shall immediately notify other States of any natural disasters or other emergencies that are likely to produce sudden harmful effects on the environment of those States. Every effort shall be made by the international community to help States so afflicted.
- Principle 19: States shall provide prior and timely notification and relevant information to potentially affected States on activities that may have a significant adverse transboundary environmental effect and shall consult with those States at an early stage and in good faith.
- Principle 20: Women have a vital role in environmental management and development. Their full participation is therefore essential to achieve sustainable development.
- Principle 21: The creativity, ideals and courage of the youth of the world should be mobilized to forge a global partnership in order to achieve sustainable development and ensure a better future for all.
- Principle 22– Indigenous people and their communities and other local communities have a vital role in environmental management and development because of their knowledge and traditional practices. States should recognize and duly support their identity, culture and interests and enable their effective participation in the achievement of sustainable development.
- Principle 23: The environment and natural resources of people under oppression, domination and occupation shall be protected.
- Principle 24 provides that warfare is inherently destructive of sustainable development. States shall, therefore, respect international law providing protection for the environment in times of armed conflict and co-operate in its further development, as necessary.
- Principle 25 provides that “peace, development and environmental protection are interdependent and indivisible”.
- And lastly, Principle 27 says that States and people shall co-operate in good faith and in a spirit of partnership in the fulfilment of the principles embodied in the Declaration and in the further development of international law in the field of sustainable development.