Environmental Laws all over the world are founded on principles of sustainable development, which will be discussed in this article.
1. The principle of sustainability and intergenerational equity
This principle provides that any form of development should strive to meet present needs without jeopardizing the needs of future generations. As such, the principle rejects any form of development that focuses on short terms economic or industrial growth, without regard to the need for environmental conservation for the benefit of future generations. At the most basic level, the principle appreciates the need to exploit natural resources, while providing for protection of the required threshold for sustainability during development.
2. Principle of Integration of environmental issues into development and planning
This principle recommends the integration of environmental conservation in development planning and management. Before, its adoption globally, many viewed the need for environmental conservation as an impediment to development. In fact, environmental degradation was viewed by many as part and parcel of economic and industrial prosperity. With the principle currently inforce, governments all over the world are required to form environmental legislation to ensure the integration of environmental issues into development. Here, primary responsibility is placed on line ministries and departments to ensure consideration of environmental conservation in development plans.
3. Public Participation in Environmental Matters
This principle provides for public participation in all matters pertaining environmental conservation. It empowers the general public to take part in environmental management through judicial and other related administrative procedures. In many cases, the required public participation is provided through three legal avenues. The constitution of many countries have listed public participation in their bill of rights. A second legal avenue is the requirement to have the public participate in all Environmental Impact Assessments. A final legal avenue is through a direct locus standi for the public in environmental issues.
4. Precautionary measures
This principle is founded on the view the preventing environmental degradation is far much feasible compared to repairing the adverse effects of development initiatives in the ecosystem. Some of the common environmental practices that are in line with this principle include the requirement to conduct Environmental Impact Assessments before project initiation. Another is the requirement for having Environmental Risk Assessments for large projects, to ensure possible adverse effects are well alienated. Environmental Audits and periodic Environmental Monitoring are additional tools that ensure adequate precaution is taken even during project implementation, in line with this principle.
5. Polluter pays principle
This principle advises that whoever is responsible for environmental degradation should be the one responsible for restoration and repairing of the adverse effects. The principle covers both civil and criminal liability. In that regard, some pollution offenses, depending on their severity, can attract criminal culpability, while others require civil interventions. Governments are required to form laws in each of these areas in line with the principle. The laws should also consider compensation for people affected by pollution and other environmental damages.
6. Prior Consultation and Ultimate Co-operation
This principle appreciates the need for consultation and cooperation when dealing with environmental issues. The Stockholm Declaration, in principle 24, requires that all maters to do with environmental protection should be handled in cooperative manner amongst all member countries. The principle further provides for the formation of multilateral and bilateral agreements with a view of cooperating in environmental conservation. The Rio Declaration, in Principle 7, takes a similar view by requiring States to have a spirit of global partnership when conserving, protecting, and restoring the health of the earth’s ecosystem.
7. Provision for legal and institutional mechanisms
This principle requires State actors to come up with institutional mechanisms and legal arrangements for the application of the earlier mentioned principles. The presumption here is that it is not enough to tell people and governments are large to adopt the principles. More needs to be done to ensure that they are actually adopted. This calls for an explicit requirement for State actors to create, implement and enforce laws touching on the principles. It is for this reason that principle 11 of the Rio Declaration expressly required governments to form environmental legislation.