Principles of Sustainable Development

Written by
Dr Ayub Macharia

Aberdare forest
The concept of Sustainable Development is broad and cannot be easily captured in a simple one sentence definition. The Rio Declaration on Environment and Development listed the principles of sustainability which in essence helps us to understand the scope of sustainable development.
1. People are entitled to a healthy and productive life in harmony with nature.
2. Development today must not undermine the development and environment needs of present and future generations.
3. Nations have the sovereign right to exploit their own resources, but without causing environmental damage beyond their borders.
4. Nations shall develop international laws to provide compensation for damage that activities under their control cause to areas beyond their borders.
5. Nations shall use the precautionary approach to protect the environment. Where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, scientific uncertainty shall not be used to postpone cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation.
6. 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. Eradicating poverty and reducing disparities in living standards in different parts of the world are essential to achieve sustainable development and meet the needs of the majority of people.
7. Nations shall cooperate to conserve, protect and restore the health and integrity of the Earth’s ecosystem. 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.
8. Nations should reduce and eliminate unsustainable patterns of production and consumption, and promote appropriate demographic policies.
9. Environmental issues are best handled with the participation of all concerned citizens. Nations shall facilitate and encourage public awareness and participation by making environmental information widely available.
10. Nations shall enact effective environmental laws, and develop national law regarding liability for the victims of pollution and other environmental damage. Where they have authority, nations shall assess the environmental impact of proposed activities that are likely to have a significant adverse impact.
11. Nations should cooperate to promote an open international economic system that will lead to economic growth and sustainable development in all countries. Environmental policies should not be used as an unjustifiable means of restricting international trade.
12. The polluter should, in principle, bear the cost of pollution.
13. Nations shall warn one another of natural disasters or activities that may have harmful transboundary impacts.
14. Sustainable development requires better scientific understanding of the problems. Nations should share knowledge and innovative technologies to achieve the goal of sustainability.
15. The full participation of women is essential to achieve sustainable development. The creativity, ideals and courage of youth and the knowledge of indigenous people are needed too. Nations should recognize and support the identity, culture and interests of indigenous people.
16. Warfare is inherently destructive of sustainable development, and Nations shall respect international laws protecting the environment in times of armed conflict, and shall cooperate in their further establishment.
17. Peace, development and environmental protection are interdependent and indivisible.
When an educator or governments plan for local or national/regional interventions, the “Rio principles” provide necessary parameters to conceptualize our actions. Hence it is imperative that educators and policy makers reflect on these principles in all sustainable development interventions.

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