|The power of principles for human health and environmental protection
Various principles, having powerful implications for institutional and legal change, have emerged under the umbrella concept of sustainable development. They include amongst
others the principles of:
The principles, many of them
conceived in the 1972 Stockholm Declaration, have been given renewed life
in the Earth Chapter adopted at the 1992 UN Conference on Environment and
Development. The generality of the principles leaves great room for further
articulation at the international and national levels. However, the principles
may act as guiding currents drawing the vessels of state in a general direction
to be given a more specific drift through political/social debates.
public participation, and
indigeneous- and community-based development/management.
The precautionary principle:
The Rio declaration on environment
and development (Agenda 21, United Nations 1992:9) sets out the precautionarhy
approach in Principle 15:
In order to protect the
environment, the precautionary approach shall be widely applied by States
according to their capabilities. Where there are threatrs of serious or
irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used
as reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental
... The commonsense notions
While the principle continues
to be elusive, a number of future legal directions have been commonly advocated
with empowerment implications for individual rights and environmental protection.
Some authors have suggested a shifting of the burden of proof to development
proponents to show a level of afety through scientific proof before they
are allowed to proceed with a project or the production/marketing of a
toxic substance. The level or standard of safety need not be "absolute"
but might be phrased in terms of "no reasonable medical concern" or "no
reasonable ecological concern". Environmental audits and waste minimization
plans might be required from industries as prerequisites to the issuance
of permits to pollute. Legislation might also be passed to encourage pollution
reduction and prevention through such measures as research grants for alternative,
cleaner technologies and the promotion of toxic use reduction plans. In
many developing country contexts, pollution prevention may hinge on adequate
transfers of environmentally sound technologies.
the idea that it is better to
prevent pollution than depend on costly control strategies or clean-ups
the conviction that environmental
measures should not depend on wait for scientific certainty or cause-effect
the presumption that it is better
to err in decision-making on the side of caution.
The term 'external integration'
encapsulates the need for all policy sectors, at both national and international
levels - such as finance, energy, agriculture and trade - to ensure that
their plans, programs and budgets integrate economic and environmental
concerns. 'Internal integration' refers to the need to overcome
fragmentation in departmental responsibilities and permitting processes
for air, water and land pollution through considerations of cross-media
effects and coordination of governmental control efforts, possibly through
a unified agency and/or permit.
The general notion of external
integration is given new life in Agenda 21 in Principle 4:
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.
One possible route to "legalizing"
external integration - which is critical for ensuring that all government
departments support appropriate development through the integration of
environmental concerns into developmental decisions - would be to mandate
that all government departments and agencies take sustainable development
seriously. For example, the Yukon's Environment Act 1991 requires
all government ministers to "ensure that consideration of the environment
is integrated in all decisions of the Government ... including policies,
programs, budgeting funding, regulatory initiatives , plans, developments
and projects." ... Environmental impact assessment requirements for government
plans, policies and programs might be another path to ensure sustainability
The issue of public participation
is a separate principle in the Rio declaration. Principle 10 provides:
Environmental issues are
best handled with the participation of all concerned citizens, at the relevant
level. At the national level, each individual
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