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Principle of Inter-generational Equity

Rights of the Future against the Present

Inter-generational equity is among the newest norms of international environmental law. This principle maintains that the present generation has a moral obligation to manage the earth in a manner that will not jeopardize the aesthetic and economic welfare of the forthcoming generation.

Stress on the benefit of future generation

The principle of inter-generational equity, in simple terms means that “the current generation should make sure that the health, diversity and productivity of the environment continues for the benefit of future generations.”

In view of Edith Brown Weissthe basic concept is that all generations are partners caring for and using the earth. The present generation must pass the earth and our natural and cultural resources on in at least as good condition as it received them so they can meet their own needs.”

Environmental inequities, in view of Sharon Beder, already exist in all societies. Poorer people tend to suffer the burden of environmental problems more than others do. This is because more affluent people have more choices about where they live: they can afford to pay more to live in areas that have not had their environment degraded. Also, more affluent people are better able to fight the imposition of a polluting facility in their neighbourhood because they have better access to financial resources, education, skills and the decision-making structures. Similarly workers in certain industries are often exposed to higher health risks than the rest of the community; as for example, workers in mining or mineral processing and the chemical industry.

The principle of inter-generational equity, according to E. Brown Weiss, places rights and obligations upon the living generation to use and care for the planet, allocating both renewable and non-renewable resources fairly between all members of a single generation. In order to implement this principle, wealthier countries need to assist poor countries and communities to ensure equal access to, and use of the natural environment. This includes assisting the poor communities to sustainably use the resources available and ensure that these communities gain access to the economic benefits of the planet.

Basis of inter-generational equity

The following principles form the basis of intergenerational equity—

  1. First, each generation should be required to conserve the diversity of the natural and cultural resource base, so that it does not unduly restrict the options available to future generations in solving their problems and satisfying their own values, and should also be entitled to diversity comparable to that enjoyed by previous generations. This principle is called conservation of options.
  2. Second, each generation should be required to maintain the quality of the planet so that it is passed on in no worse condition than that in which it was received, and should also be entitled to planetary quality comparable to that enjoyed by previous generations. This is the principle of conservation of quality.
  3. Third, each generation should provide its members with equitable rights of access to the legacy of past generations and should conserve this access for future generations. This is the principle of conservation of access.

Survival of the present and future generations

In context of 1972 Stockholm Declaration, the environment is viewed more as a resource basis for the survival of the present and future generations.

This Declaration of 1972 refers to the inter-generational equity in Principles 1 and 2 as following—

  1. Man has the fundamental right to freedom, equality and adequate conditions of life, in an environment of quality that permits a life of dignity and well-being. He bears a solemn responsibility to protect and improve the environment for the present and future generations.1)
  2. The natural resources of the earth, including the air, water, lands, flora and fauna and especially representative samples of natural ecosystems, must be safeguarded for the benefit of the present and future generations through careful planning or management, as appropriate. 2)

About the Author

Adv. Sunil Sharma is a writer for about 25 years and has authored more than 40 books on various subjects including Hindu Law and Environmental Laws.

Principle 1
Principle 2

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