Sruthi Kannan, a 3rd year student of Sree Narayana Guru College of Legal Studies, Kerala highlights the principle of Inter-generational Equity with respect to relationship between mankind and environment.

INTRODUCTION:

Mahatma Gandhi once said, “Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s need, but not every man’s greed.” This quote in itself says a lot about the principle of Intergenerational Equity and provides essence for its soul. The issue of Sustainable Development has been revolving in everyone’s mind since decades. The concept was first brought up by the Brundtland Report.[1] Intergenerational Equity is the very soul of sustainable development. Edith Brown Weiss in her article quoted that the principle of intergenerational equity states that every generation holds the Earth in common with members of the present generation and with other generations, past and future.[2] The principle highlights the need for fairness among generations and the usage of resources as they are limited and are needed by every generation. This principle has its roots laid in the Stockholm Declaration 1972[3] which laid down various principles for the preservation and enhancement of the Human Environment. The principle of intergenerational equity basically highlights that the resources we use today make us in debt to our future generations for the conservation of resources so that they can utilize them as well. In the same way that our ancestors took care of our Mother Earth and its non-renewable resources, we also need to protect the Earth in the same way for our future generations and give them the natural beauty that Earth beholds. The very starting words of the UN Charter[4] aim at saving the future generations from the scourge of war. And in today’s world the real war is between mankind and the environment.  

THE WORLD AND INTERGENERATIONAL EQUITY:

Presently, the world has been hit by a pandemic which is making it difficult to go by the route of Sustainable development. The IISD released an article[5] stating the three ways the coronavirus is shaping sustainable development. They outlined following three themes:

  • Resilience is Essential.
  • Stimulus must be sustainable.
  • Inequality is magnified.

The main aim of IISD itself is to ensure sustainable development by following the principle of intergenerational equity even in these hard times. As this pandemic will surely end one day but the resources over utilized or wasted in pursuit of dealing with the pandemic won’t ever return to us. Hence, we must keep in mind the future generations and their needs while utilizing the resources. A big example of our carelessness is the depletion of the Ozone layer caused by the release of chemical compounds containing gaseous samples of chlorine and bromine human activities and industrial manufacturing into the atmosphere. The Montreal Protocol, an initiative by the UN Environment regulates the production and consumption of nearly 100 man made chemicals referred to as ozone depleting substances (ODS).[6] This protocol has helped in minimizing the production of ODS as the member nations who signed up for the protocol ensure the same in their respective nations, collectively which results into great efforts. The world as a whole has been taking numerous measures to recover the depleted ozone layer yet these steps are very small in comparison to the gigantic loss caused to the environment as well the ozone layer and the future generations. This is a clear violation of the principle of Intergenerational Equity. The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)[7] favors that the member nations should protect the environment and its climate by fulfilling their responsibilities towards the environment and by following the principle of equity for the present as well as future generations. Hence, the world is always directly or indirectly following the principle of Intergenerational Equity whenever one follows the concept of sustainable development or even thinks of saving resources at their own individual or personal level. Proper planned projects and new amendments to the existing laws is the need of the hour so as to stop the rapid destruction of the environment which right now is going by rocket speed. 

INDIA AND INTERGENERATIONAL EQUITY:

Sustainable development has always been the talk of the town even in India. The citizens are not well aware of the principle of intergenerational equity yet they follow it indirectly by conserving non-renewable resources as directed by the Indian government. The need of this principle has been promoted by the Supreme Court of India in various cases. 

 In the case, State of Himachal Pradesh v. Ganesh Wood Products[8], It was held by the court that the present generation has no right to deplete all the existing forests and leave nothing for the next and future generations. Hence, the court highlighted the principle of intergenerational equity in its judgment. The court highlighted the need to conserve the resources so as to maintain their survival for future generations as well.

 In the case of, Enviro-Legal Action v. Union of India[9], it was held that it is with a view to protect and preserve the environment and save it for the future generations and to ensure good quality of life that the Parliament enacted the Anti-Pollution Laws, namely, the Water Act, Air Act and the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986. These laws were enacted keeping in mind the conservation of the environment as well as the human rights of the citizens. These acts and laws have contributed majorly in minimizing the levels of pollution in the air as well as other regions making the environment better. 

The Supreme Court in a number of cases has outlined the importance to save the environment by following sustainable development and by implementing the principle of intergenerational equity. The Parliament on the government’s behalf has also formed various laws and enforced them to protect the environment such as anti-pollution laws and under these laws various acts have been formed. 

ENVIRONMENTAL AND HUMAN RIGHTS

Environmental rights mean any proclamation of a human right to environmental conditions of a specified quality.[10] Human Rights and the environment are interconnected as the environment is the very driving force of life, hence without a clean, safe and healthy environment it is difficult to safeguard human rights and ensure sustainable development. Sustainable development directly links to the principle of intergenerational equity, therefore resulting in the implementation of the principle even in the pursuit of human rights. There are several established human rights related to the environment. Environmental rights are composed of substantive rights (fundamental rights) and procedural rights (tools used to achieve substantial rights).  To ensure the safety of the environment, the courts of India have used Articles 14, 19, and 21 of the Constitution of India to establish the principles of Right to Environment making it a Fundamental Right hence enforceable in the country. Article 51A (g) of the Constitution of India aims at preserving and improving clean environment by protecting the forests, lakes, rivers and wildlife. Hence, India has taken various measures as well as legislated laws in favor of the principle of intergenerational equity. The nation is putting its best efforts to preserve the quality of the environment and is trying to undo the harms caused to  nature as well as simultaneously trying to minimize any more damages to the environment. The Preamble[11] ensures socialism which is not possible without a socially developed environment. Under the entry 6 of the State List[12] comes public health; a clean and safe environment is essentially an integral part of public health.     

CONCLUSION:

Hence it can be concluded that the principle of intergenerational equity holds paramount importance and will always remain the same so as to ensure life on earth. This principle is the very source of life in sustainable development. It is a globally followed and implemented principle, either directly or indirectly. To sum up, it’s the need of the hour to keep following this principle as we are ourselves inheritors of this environment from our ancestors who saved it for us. This not only holds moral values, but also shows that it is a key to human survival on earth. The present generation should consider the environmental hazards seriously, spread awareness and equip people with knowledge to combat the situation. It’s our moral obligation as well as fundamental duty to conserve our resources and pass on the same to our successors.


Sruthi Kannan is a 3rd year student from Sree Narayana Guru College of Legal Studies, Kerala.


[1]Brundtland Report, 1987, (Our Common Future).

[2]Edith Brown Weiss, Intergenerational Equity, Oxford Public International Law, February 2013, https://opil.ouplaw.com/view/10.1093/law:epil/9780199231690/law-9780199231690-e1421.

[3]The Stockholm Declaration of 1972, United Nations.

[4]Charter of the United Nations, San-Francisco, 1945

[5]Three Ways the Coronavirus is Shaping Sustainable Development, IISD, https://www.iisd.org/library/coronavirus-shaping-sustainable-development.

[6]The Montreal Protocol, UN environment programme, 1989, https://treaties.un.org/doc/Treaties/1989/01/19890101%2003-25%20AM/Ch_XXVII_02_ap.pdf.

[7]The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), 1992.

[8]State of Himachal Pradesh v. Ganesh Wood Products, (1995) 3 SCC 363.

[9]Enviro-Legal Action v. Union of India, (1996) 5 SCC 281.

[10]What are environmental rights? , UN Environment Programme, https://www.unenvironment.org/explore-topics/environmental-rights-and-governance/what-we-do/advancing-environmental-rights/what.

[11]The Preamble to the Constitution of India.

[12]Schedule-7, The Constitution of India.

IMPORTANT – Opinions expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of IJOSLCA.

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