Trending: Call for Papers Volume 3 | Issue 2: International Journal of Advanced Legal Research [ISSN: 2582-7340]

Principles Under The Rio Declaration On Enviroment And Development, 1992: An Analysis


On June 3rd, 1992, the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) congregated for 11 days till 14th of June held at Rio de Janeiro, to put the world on a path of sustainable development. This conference is popularly known as the Earth summit wherein more than 150 governments participated. This summit was held to reaffirm and build upon the Stockholm conference of 1972. 

The Rio Declaration features a preamble and 27 principles.[i] Though it is not binding in nature, the Rio and the Stockholm declarations include provisions which at the time of their adoption were either understood to already reflect customary international law or expected to shape future normative expectations. Moreover, the Rio Declaration, by expressly reaffirming and building upon the Stockholm Declaration, reinforces the normative significance of those concepts common to both instruments.[ii]


Various treaties and summit takes place to review the environment issues on global level such as
1972 – Stockholm Conference
1992 – Earth Summit
1997 – 19th United Nations General Special Session to review agenda 21
2002 – Johannesburg Declaration – RIO +10


Some of the major achievements of the summit are: –
1. The Rio Declaration – This document consist of series of principles and defining the rights and responsibilities of States.
2. Agenda 21- It is a brief blueprint to affect the transition to sustainable development for global actions.
3. Forest Principles – It lays down the set of principles to support the sustainable management of forest worldwide.
4. Conventions – Two legally binding conventions were introduced to prevent the global climate change and the eradication of biologically diverse species, i.e. –
a) The Convention on Climate Change and
b) The Convention on Biodiversity.


The declaration consist of 27 principles which guide the behaviour of nations towards more environmentally sustainable patterns of development. The most important ones are enumerated below: –
· Principle 15 – The Precautionary Principle; according to which where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost factor measures to prevent environmental degradation.
· Principle 16 – The Polluter Pays Principle; the polluter should with due regard bear the cost of pollution, with regard to the public interest and without distorting international trade and investment.
· Principle 17 calls for environmental impact assessment (EIA) for activities that have adverse impact on environment.
· Principle 18 for emergency notification
· Principle 19 for routine notification and consultation.

At the time of the Rio Conference, and perhaps for a short while thereafter, it might have been permissible to question whether the contents of all the principles corresponded to international customary legal obligations. However, today given a consistently supportive international practice and other evidence, including the International Law Commission’s draft articles on Prevention of Transboundary Harm from Hazardous Activities, any such doubts would be misplaced.

The Rio Declaration was the very first international instrument to explicitly recognize that the empowerment of women and, specifically, their ability to effectively participate in their countries’ economic and social processes, is an essential condition for sustainable development.The United Nations Development Programme website also puts it, gender equality and women’s empowerment represent not only fundamental human rights issues, but “a pathway to achieving the Millennium Development Goals and sustainable development.”
However, as the calls for “sustainability, equity and gender equality” at Rio+20 seem to underline, much work appears still to be necessary before the objectives will truly be met. Rio+20 was a 20-year follow-up to the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) held in the same city, and the 10th anniversary of the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) in Johannesburg.[iii]


India has incorporated various principles of the Rio declaration through judicial overview. The doctrine of Sustainable Development was implemented by the Supreme Court in the case of Vellore Citizen Welfare Forum v. Union of India[iv]. The Petitioners therein had filed a petition in public interest under Article 32[v] of the Constitution of India against the pollution caused by discharge of untreated effluent industries in the river Palar in Tamil Nadu. In the instant case, it was held that the precautionary principle and polluter pays principle are a part of the environmental law of India.

The Apex Court of India in Narmada Bachao Andolan v. Union of India[vi] observed that “Sustainable Development means what type or extent of development can take place, which can be sustained by nature or ecology with or without mitigation”. Similarly, the apex court in case of T.N. Godavaraman Thirumulpad v. Union of India[vii], said “as a matter of preface, we may state that adherence to the principle of Sustainable Development is now a constitutional requirement.

In Indian Council of Enviro-Legal Action v. Union of India[viii], the Apex Court held: “while economic development should not be allowed to take place at the cost of ecology or by causing widespread environment destruction and violation; at the same time, the necessity to preserve ecology and environment should not hamper economic and other developments”. Hence, importance has been given both to development and environment and the quest is to maintain a fine balance between environment and economic development.[ix]


· Given that a large population of India is dependent upon agrarian economy, and lives in vast coastal areas and Himalayan regions, India is highly vulnerable to adverse effects of Climate change. Thus, it is most important that development projects be encouraged, and while being conceptualised, the doctrine of Sustainable Development be kept in mind.[x]
· In order to maintain a balance between development and environment, the principle of Sustainable Development which encompasses the ‘Precautionary Principle’ must be followed while envisaging a project by incorporating mitigating measures.
· Beginning from the selection of site, to adopting environmental friendly measures at each stage and minimise environment de-gradation, to providing mitigatory measures and monitoring the impact of a project on the eco-system and providing for restorative action in case of any degradation is imperative in today’s pro- environment climate as the need of the hour. It’s high time for each individual to be sensitive for its surroundings and adopt ‘energy-efficient and green’ mind-set to save our mother earth.[xi] 


[i] Rio declaration on environment and development, 1992.
[ii] Günther Handl, Declaration Of The United Nations Conference On The Human Environment (Stockholm Declaration), 1972 And The Rio Declaration On Environment And Development, 1992, United Nations Audiovisual Library of International Law, https://legal.un.org/avl/pdf/ha/dunche/dunche_e.pdf, (Last visited 5th October, 2020).
[iii] Ahmad, F. (2001), ORIGIN AND GROWTH OF ENVIRONMENTAL LAW IN INDIA, Journal of the Indian Law Institute, 43(3), 358-387. Retrieved September 27, 2020, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/43951782.
[iv] AIR 1996 SC 2715.
[v] Article 32, The Constitution of India, 1950.
[vi](2000) 10 SCC 664.
[vii] 2008) 2 SCC 222.
[viii] 1996 (5) SCC 281.
[ix] Pragya Ohri, India: Need for Sustainable Development, MONDAQ (Jan. 12, 2017, 3:31PM), https://www.mondaq.com/india/clean-air-pollution/559702/need-for-sustainable-development.
[x] Review of implementation, https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/content/documents/1127rioprinciples.pdf (last visited 5ht October, 2020).
[xi] Biodiversity Convention, https://www.cbd.int/doc/ref/rio-declaration.shtml#:~:text=States%20shall%20cooperate%20in%20a,have%20common%20but%20differentiated%20responsibilities. (last visited 5th October 2020).
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Author: Riya, Army Institute of Law, Mohali, 

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