Sustainable development posits a desirable future state for human societies in which living conditions and resource-use meet human needs without undermining the sustainability of natural systems and the environment, so that future generations may also have their needs met.
The term sustainable development was defined in the report of Bruntland commission in 1987 as development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs
. An unsustainable situation occurs when natural capital (the sum total of natures resources) is used up faster than it can be replenished. Sustainability requires that human activity only uses nature’s resources at a rate at which they can be replenished naturally. Theoretically, the long-term result of environmental degradation is the inability to sustain human life.
More Details on Environmental rights
Therefore, it makes perfect sense to link human rights to sustainable development. The right to life cannot be realized without basic right to safe water, air and land. Unsustainable consumption and production in richer nations are the major cause of continued degradation.
However, in many of the poorest nations, there are still problems with poor management of resources and inequality of access and ownership. Infact, environmental laws are weak and subject to manipulation by the executive and are not enforced. There is little or no commitment to implementing convention obligations and to integrating them into public programmes, particularly in Africa. There is also an on-going lack of local control over resources.
This is prevalent in Nigeria where oil and gas flaring is treated with indifference. While a number of states still refuse to recognize the human rights to a clean environment, the international jurisprudence developed around numerous universally-recognized substantive rights offers robust legal and conceptual bridges between the social, economic and environmental dimensions of sustainable development.
Human rights approaches to sustainable development have both a national and international dimension. While State parties to the various international human rights treatise are responsible for protecting and promoting the rights of people under their own jurisdiction, they also have a duty to co-operate internationally and afford international assistance where needed in the realization of the human rights of people.
Most of the modern instruments of environmental protection in domestic environmental laws are derived from the substance of sustainable development. In South Africa, for instance NEMA has given legal content to most of these principles. Principles such as inter and intra generational equity, environmental impact assessment (EIA) environmental justice, polluters pay, the public trust doctrine, and the public participation development. The NEMA provides for or defines these principles in relation to sustainable development as follows:
4(a) “sustainable development requires the consideration of all relevant factors….’’