1. The principle of ensuring the sustainable use of natural resources
Our forests, minerals, oil, land and water are not limitless. Nor is the capacity of our world to absorb pollution. The financial rewards obtained from exploiting natural resources are of no use to a species driven to extinction as a result. And, if we leave a ravaged planet to our descendants, all the money in the world will be of little value to them. So those responsible for drafting policies and laws must ensure that they do not result in the overuse of natural resources, over-burdening of natural systems, or unfair distribution of pollution. The principle – indeed, duty – of sustainable use limits the ability of politicians and businesses to do whatever they want in their country, without regard to the impact on others, including on their own people, on the planet and on future generations.
This principle is already widely recognized in international law or practice. For example:
"'Sustainable use' means the use of components of biological diversity in a way and at a rate that does not lead to the long-term decline of biological diversity, thereby maintaining its potential to meet the needs and aspirations of present and future generations….
Each Contracting Party shall, as far as possible and as appropriate:
(a) Integrate consideration of the conservation and sustainable use of biological resources into national decision-making;
(b) Adopt measures relating to the use of biological resources to avoid or minimize adverse impacts on biological diversity;
(c) Protect and encourage customary use of biological resources in accordance with traditional cultural practices that are compatible with conservation or sustainable use requirements;
(d) Support local populations to develop and implement remedial action in degraded areas where biological diversity has been reduced; and
(e) Encourage cooperation between its governmental authorities and its private sector in developing methods for sustainable use of biological resources."
Articles 2 and 10, UN Convention on Biological Diversity, 1992
"In order to achieve the objective of this Convention and to implement its provisions, the Parties shall be guided, inter alia, by the following:…
(c) the Parties should develop, in a spirit of partnership, cooperation among all levels of government, communities, non-governmental organizations and landholders to establish a better understanding of the nature and value of land and scarce water resources in affected areas and to work towards their sustainable use;"
Article 3(c), UN Convention to Combat Desertification and Drought, 1994
"The Parties to this Agreement, Recognizing that their relations in the field of trade and economic endeavour should be conducted with a view to raising standards of living, ensuring full employment and a large and steadily growing volume of real income and effective demand, and expanding the production of and trade in goods and services, while allowing for the optimal use of the world's resources in accordance with the objective of sustainable development, seeking both to protect and preserve the environment and to enhance the means for doing so in a manner consistent with their respective needs and concerns at different levels of economic development,…”
Preamble, Agreement Establishing the World Trade Organization, 1994
"1.1 The objectives of this Treaty are the conservation and sustainable use of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture and the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of their use, in harmony with the Convention on Biological Diversity, for sustainable agriculture and food security…
6.1 The Contracting Parties shall develop and maintain appropriate policy and legal measures that promote the sustainable use of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture."
Articles 1.1 and 6.1, International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, 2001
"…each generation of man holds the resources of the earth for future generations and has an obligation to ensure that this legacy is conserved and, where utilized, is used wisely".
Preamble, Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals, 1979
"Each State Party to this Convention recognizes that the duty of ensuring the identification, protection, conservation, presentation and transmission to future generations of the cultural and natural heritage referred to in Articles 1 and 2 and situated on its territory, belongs primarily to that State. It will do all it can to this end, to the utmost of its own resources and, where appropriate, with any international assistance and co-operation, in particular, financial, artistic, scientific and technical, which it may be able to obtain."
Article 4, UNESCO Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage, 1972
Questions and resources
The 3 questions below can be used to focus upon this principle, and to test the action of any law or policy:
1.1 Does the law/policy help to ensure that the Earth’s scarce resources will be used in a more sustainable way?
1.2 Does it help to address a common concern of humankind (such as climate change, global extinction of species, collapse of world fish stocks)?
1.3 Does it respect natural areas, artifacts and traditional knowledge, all of which are the common heritage of humankind?
The links below have been selected because we think they contain information which may help policy-makers develop laws and policies in the context of this principle and these questions:Climate Change
In 2007, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change used four main criteria to evaluate policies to mitigate climate change: environmental effectiveness, cost effectiveness, distributional effects (including equity), and institutional feasibility. Its main results are here.
In 2005, the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment assessed the effectiveness of a wide range of options for sustainably using, conserving and restoring ecosystems and the services they provide. Its main results on policy responses are here. Information on its 33 sub-global assessments can be obtained here.
In 2008, the IUCN Species Survival Commission provided guidance on Species Conservation Strategies, including status reviews, visions, goals, objectives and actions.
The Food and Agriculture Organisation provides technical guidelines on responsible fisheries.
UNEP’s 2009 Ecosystem Management Programme explains the ecosystem approach to managing fisheries and other natural systems.
IUCN has published a manual for practitioners on Systematic Approaches to Livelihoods Enhancement and Diversification, which is particularly relevant to fishing communities.
View the World Heritage Committee’s latest Operational Guidelines for the Implementation of the World Heritage Convention here.
UNESCO offers recommended guidelines to implement Living Human Treasures systems to help transmit their knowledge and skills in intangible cultural heritage – such as traditional craftsmanship, music, dance or theatre – to younger generations.
UNESCO’s Register of Good Practices in Language Preservation helps to identify, document and disseminate past and current practices that have proven to be successful in safeguarding languages and language communities.
The 7 Principles