During the 20th century, industrialization was progressing all through out
the world at a massively fast pace. However, sustainable development as a
concept hadn't been born at that time. As such, factories were solely focused on
increasing the productivity of man and machines and creating more products. They
were least concerned with the fumes that emitted out of the factories or the
slews that drained into the rivers. The growing population was attracted to the
city industries and therefore flocked to the cities in search of work.
"As such, it was said that problems like population, urbanisation,
industrialisation and increased use of science and technology threatened the
very survival of mankind."
However this statement is not entirely true in itself. The statement misses one
important key, that is industrialisation or urbanisation by itself are not
harmful or detrimental to man or the environment. It is man's apathy to the
environment and letting it suffer by way of industrialisation, over population
and urbanisation that was the issue.
They issue that should have been focused on by the countries which were rapidly
urbanising or industrialising was how they could do so, without polluting the
However, the growing degradation of the environment, rising green house gases
and polluted rivers and seas, led to developed countries taking a serious note
on it and the organization of United Nations Conference on the Human Environment
by the United Nations General Assembly, which was held in Stockholm, Sweden in
the year 1972. The conference is famously known as the Stockholm Conference and
it resulted in the participant countries accepting a declaration consisting of
26 principles, which are known as the Stockholm Declaration.
The principles are:
- Human rights must be asserted, apartheid and colonialism condemned.
- Natural resources must be safeguarded.
- The Earth's capacity to produce renewable resources must be maintained.
- Wildlife must be safeguarded.
- Non-renewable resources must be shared and not exhausted.
- Pollution must not exceed the environment's capacity to clean itself.
- Damaging oceanic pollution must be prevented.
- Development is needed to improve the environment.
- Developing countries therefore need assistance.
- Developing countries need reasonable prices for exports to carry out
- Environment policy must not hamper development.
- Developing countries need money to develop environmental safeguards.
- Integrated development planning is needed.
- Rational planning should resolve conflicts between environment and
- Human settlements must be planned to eliminate environmental problems.
- Governments should plan their own appropriate population policies.
- National institutions must plan development of states' natural
- Science and technology must be used to improve the environment.
- Environmental education is essential.
- Environmental research must be promoted, particularly in developing
- States may exploit their resources as they wish but must not endanger
other countries' territories.
- International law relating to liability of states due to pollution must
- Each nation must establish its own standards.
- There must be cooperation on international issues.
- International organizations should assist in the improvement of the
- Weapons of mass destruction must not be used and be eliminated.
The most landmark feature of this statute was that it entailed heavy obligations
on part of the developed nations as they were responsible for centuries of
environmental pollution. However due to this provision, several developed
countries dropped out. USA never ratified the declaration and Canada backed out
of the Declaration in 2012. Still, the declaration sets a great stepping stone
in the coming together of the countries of the world to stop environmental
The next landmark progress that boosted the international momentum with regards
to curbing environmental pollution and strengthening international environmental
laws was the Rio declaration. The Rio Declaration on Environment and
Development, often shortened to Rio Declaration, was a short document produced
at the 1992 United Nations "Conference on Environment and Development" (UNCED),
informally known as the Earth Summit. The Rio Declaration consisted of 27
principles intended to guide countries in future sustainable development. It was
signed by over 175 countries.
Some of the 27 principles are:
These are just 10 of the 27 principles declared in the Rio declaration.
- Principle 1 - Human beings are at the centre of concerns for sustainable
development. They are
entitled to a healthy and productive life in harmony with nature.
- Principle 2 - States have, in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations
and the principles of international law, the sovereign right to exploit their
own resources pursuant to their own environmental and developmental policies,
and the responsibility to ensure that activities within their jurisdiction or
control do not cause damage to the environment of other States or of areas
beyond the limits of national jurisdiction.
- Principle 3 - The right to development must be fulfilled so as to equitably meet
developmental and environmental needs of present and future generations.
- 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.
- Principle 5 - All States and all people shall cooperate in the essential task of
eradicating poverty as an indispensable requirement for sustainable development,
in order to decrease the disparities in standards of living and better meet the
needs of the majority of the people of the world.
- Principle 6 - The special situation and needs of developing countries,
particularly the least developed and those most environmentally vulnerable,
shall be given special priority. International actions in the field of
environment and development should also address the interests and needs of all
- Principle 7 - States shall cooperate in a spirit of global partnership to
conserve, protect and restore the health and integrity of the Earth's ecosystem.
In view of the different contributions to global environmental degradation,
States have common but differentiated responsibilities. The developed countries
acknowledge the responsibility that they bear in the international pursuit to
sustainable development in view of the pressures their societies place on the
global environment and of the technologies and financial resources they command.
- Principle 8 - To achieve sustainable development and a higher quality of life
for all people, States should reduce and eliminate unsustainable patterns of
production and consumption and promote appropriate demographic policies.
- Principle 9 - States should cooperate to strengthen endogenous capacity-building
for sustainable development by improving scientific understanding through
exchanges of scientific and technological knowledge, and by enhancing the
development, adaptation, diffusion and transfer of technologies, including new
and innovative technologies.
- Principle 10 – States shall facilitate and encourage public awareness and
participation by making information widely available. Effective access to
judicial and administrative proceedings, including redress and remedy, shall be
Subsequent to it was the the Kyoto Protocol which is an international treaty
that extended the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change
(UNFCCC) focusing on state parties to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The Kyoto
Protocol implemented the objective of the UNFCCC to reduce the onset of global
warming by reducing greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere to "a level
that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system"
and worked on reducing the levels of gases like Carbon dioxide (CO2), Methane
(CH4), Nitrous oxide (N2O), Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), Perfluorocarbons (PFCs),
and Sulphur hexafluoride (SF6) from the atmosphere.
Then there was the Paris agreement held in 2015. It was an agreement within the
United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), dealing with
greenhouse-gas-emissions mitigation, adaptation, and finance, signed in 2016.
The Paris Agreement, ensured that each country has to determine, plan, and
regularly report on the contribution that it is regularly making so as to
mitigate global warming. However in 2020, USA backed out of the agreement.
Needless to say, the agreement was a great step in enhancing the international
momentum to making laws in curbing environmental pollution and degradation.