Mankind in the past has exploited the Earth’s resources in such a way that the generation today is struggling to cope up with the scarcity and lack of resources. This scarcity is a result of the over-consumption and lack of resource management, especially the non-renewable resources. This can be defined mathematically that the
“Rate of consumption of resources > Rate of replenishment of resources”

Non-renewable resources (eg; fossil fuels, crude oil, petroleum, etc.) as we all know are those resources which are formed from the dead and decayed plants/animals which get fossilized under the Earth’s surface of a long course of time. These resources are known as “Non-renewable” because the take roughly millions of years to replenish in the environment, in contrast to renewable resources like air, water, sunlight, etc. which keep replenishing every minute and second in nature through a set of cyclic processes.

But the threat is bigger because of the fact that, apart from the over-consumption of the non-renewable resources, the renewable sources are also becoming obsolete and “Unfit” for use due to the increasing rate of pollution in the biosphere. Today even though resources like air, water, and soil are available in abundance, they are so polluted due to some human activities that the quality of these resources is deteriorating. In other words, we are experiencing a scarcity of abundant resources.

Over the past two decades, we have witnessed the rise in importance of conservation of the Earth’s environment and its resources. Numerous laws, legislation, policies, and protocols have been undertaken on international levels to raise awareness, discuss concerns and deduce models to predict, manage and mitigate the ongoing deterioration of the Environment to have a better, resourceful and sustainable future.

What is Sustainable Development?

Now the question arises, “What is sustainable development?”

In common terms, Sustainable development is defined as that kind of development in which the present generation utilizes the available resources in such a way that the future generation does not experience and scarcity or shortage for resources. In other words, sustainable development is the development at the present stage that will benefit the future generation.

The Environment & Sustainable Development

Sustainable Development

Environmental conservation has been regarded as a very crucial step for achieving sustainable development. This concept was brought to international attention through the “Rio Declaration” during the United Nation Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), also known as the Earth Summit in 1992.

Rio Declaration (1992)

The Rio Declaration was an international treaty/document signed by more than 170 countries including India and consisted of 27 principles intended to guide countries in future sustainable development. The declaration laid down many crucial guidelines and principles like the precautionary principle (principle 15) and of the polluter pays principle (principle 16) that gave organizations directions to mitigate the hazards of resource exploitation, pollution and attain sustainability for a stable future.

Here is a quick summary of the principles and guidelines involved in the Rio Declaration. I have reconstructed the content into simple and readable words for better and smoother understanding.

  • People are entitled to a healthy and productive life in harmony with nature.
  • Development today must not threaten the needs of present and future generations.
  • Nations have the right to exploit their own resources, but without causing environmental damage beyond their borders.
  • Environmental protection shall constitute an integral part of the development process.
  • Eradicating poverty and reducing disparities in living standards in different parts of the world are essential if we are to achieve sustainable development whilst meeting the needs of the majority of the people.
  • Environmental issues are best handled with the participation of all concerned citizens.
  • The polluter should, in principle, bear the cost of pollution.
  • Sustainable development requires a better scientific understanding of the problems. Nations should share knowledge and technologies to achieve the goal of sustainability.

Though the concept of Rio Declaration was positively received by countries and organizations around the world, it has seen very less success in terms of results, primarily due to lack of planning and application.

Environmental Economics

On the basis of these principles, the term “Environmental Economics” came into existence. This is defined as a sub-field of economics that is concerned with environmental issues. It undertakes theoretical or empirical studies of the economic effects of national or local environmental policies around the world.
Particular issues include the costs and benefits of alternative environmental policies to deal with air pollution, water quality, toxic substances, solid waste, and global warming.
Environmental economics is distinguished from Ecological Economics in that ecological economics emphasizes the economy as a subsystem of the ecosystem with its focus upon preserving natural capital.