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This article is written by Harshit Bhimrajka, from Rajiv Gandhi National University of Law, Patiala. This is an exhaustive article which talks about environmental democracy, the environmental rights of the citizens of a democratic state, the need for sustainable societies in the world, and the concept of sustainable management. 


The world is full of challenges and difficulties, such as the depletion of natural resources, the occurrence of natural calamities, the outbreak of diseases, and climate change. These challenges required a profound transition towards sustainable developments by ensuring sustainable consumption of resources, minimizing the release of pollutants, and many more productive changes. The problems like air pollution which deteriorates public health, deforestation and the release of chemical pollutants from factories and industries are the major issues which all should adhere to. These challenges cannot be met by any actor alone. Every person should contribute to the environment protection for their health as well as for posterity. That’s why every person in the country should have the right to take a decision for the betterment of the environment as it is concerned to all and not only to a single actor. In this article, we will discuss the concept of Environmental Democracy, Sustainable management, and the need for sustainable societies in the world.       

Environmental democracy

Environmental policy makers deprive the rights of the poor and marginalized people of the democratic country by ignoring the value of democratic citizenship. They also denied the basic capability of political participation by not engaging them in the policy decisions that can have a gargantuan impact on the lives of these people. In a democratic country, every citizen has an equitable and adequate interest as well as right in the decisions regarding the country’s resources like land, climate, natural resources, etc. Environmental democracy is rooted in the idea where the state is fully transparent and accountable to the policy decisions that affect its people and their environment, as well as provide opportunities for communities to determine the use of land and resources. Only through meaningful participation in the decision making concerning nature or environment, citizens’ environment rights can be justly and equitably protected. There are three fundamental rights of the citizens concerning environmental democracy as enshrined in Principle 10 of the Rio Declaration: Right to Access to Information, Participation, and Justice. 

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Right to access to information

The right to information is a basic right of every citizen in a democratic country. So, this fundamental right concerning environmental decisions, development project plans, environmental impact assessments, and pollution discharge must be embedded in both the state and local laws as the first step towards a secured environmental democracy. If this type of information is accessible to the public, it can participate effectively in policy decision making and by their support, the government can easily hold companies liable for their actions against the environment. The information available must not be in a way that it cannot be easily and readily used by the people but it should be in a format in which factor-like literacy, use of technology, language, readability should be taken into consideration. In 1985, after several environmental disasters including the one in which a chemical was released from Union Carbide Plant in West Virginia harming and affecting many people’ lives in a certain way, the USA developed the first-ever Pollutant Release and Transfer Register known as Toxic Release Inventory (hereinafter TRI) in 1986. TRI requires submission of the number of toxic chemicals released from industrial facilities by them only. Since 1986, more than 50 countries have developed Pollutant Release and Transfer Registers. If the US TRI  has made the information open and free accessible, then there might be a reduced incidence of toxic release in the country. 

Right to public participation

The right to public participation in policy-making concerning environmental issues should be given to every citizen in a democratic country. The state should preemptively and proactively consult its citizens, provide them with opportunities for participation, and inform them about the avenues for greater participation. If the said information flows between the public then it would lead to a better and effective policy, it can help to avoid unintended consequences and can increase support in protecting the environment by sustainable use of the resources. There should be a proper public participation process without incurring burdensome costs both to the public and the state. The best known public participation process for the environment is through Environment Impact Assessments. When the public is given ample notice along with the necessary information to understand and participate meaningfully, these assessments can be effective ways to safeguard against environmental harms. On the other hand, public consultations that serve only to inform of a decision that has already been made undermines public trust, reduces legitimacy, and stifles the flow of important information. For instance, the Land Transport Authority of Singapore published an environmental impact assessment online which was free and open to all the citizens regarding the widespread issue over a proposed Mass Rapid Transit line that would run through the Central Catchment Nature Reserve which was ostensibly causing significant and irreversible environmental damage. People started forming ad hoc volunteer groups to protect their environment. Thus with open communication by the state, people exercise democratic self-development and self-determination, determining their social life as equal and respected members of the country. 

Access to justice

The state should establish environmental courts and tribunals as an open and inclusive system of redress for environmental injustice so that all citizens can enjoy the full suite of constitutional rights when they have been violated. They should possess the right to protest against the proposed policies and projects, to demand compensation, and openly challenge violations of their environmental rights. They should have the right to access past judicial and administrative decisions concerning the environment with the unimpeded right of appeal. The main objective is to establish such a mechanism that promotes greater accountability to the citizens of the democratic state. There should be an establishment of an independent and impartial body to protect the environmental rights of the citizens like the one India has that is the National Green Tribunal. It was established in the year 2010 in recognition of a large number of cases concerning environmental disputes piled up in the courts. The National Green Tribunal has full jurisdiction over all environmental disputes and the aim of the body is to operate with haste that is maximum of six months each case time limit.      

Sustainable management

Sustainable Management is the fulfilment of present needs in such a way as to provide equitable and continuous availability of the resource not only to the present generation but also to the posterity. The aim of this process is as follows:

  1. Minimum wastage of resources: adequate and proper technology and measures are used to ensure minimum wastage of the resources so that both present and future generations have enough to enjoy the benefits of the resources. 
  2. Equitable distribution: the resources should be distributed in a way that it would be available to all sections of the society in lieu of the rich class. 
  3. Disposal of waste: instead of disposing of the waste, society should adopt the concept of 3 R’s – Reduce, Recycle, and Reuse. Proper measures should be taken to convert the waste into a useful product.
  4. The exploitation of the resources should be restricted so as to meet the demands of the present and future generations.

Need to develop sustainable societies

Sustainability is the capacity to endure. For humans, sustainability is the potential for long term maintenance of well being, which covers all dimensions- political, cultural, economical, and ecological. A healthy ecosystem and environment is necessary for the survival and flourishing of humankind. And thus, to ensure it, a sustainable society is required. A sustainable society is one that “ensures the health and vitality of human life and culture’s and of nature’s capital for present and future generations.” It is the society that takes an immeasurable number of steps for the protection of the environment and betterment of humankind. The need for sustainable societies has developed through time. In the past, the sustainability of the environment was not really at stake. The glacial change of its environment left plenty of time for adaptive response and evasion. Threats to the sustainability of a system require urgent attention if their rate of change begins to approach the speed with which the system can adequately respond. As the rate of change overwhelms this ability to respond, the system loses its variability and sustainability. The sustainability of humankind is now threatened by both of these factors: the dynamics of its technology, economy, and population accelerate the environmental and social rates of change while growing structural interior reduces the ability to respond in time. Response time lengthens while the time available for adequate response becomes shorter. Thus, the sustainability of human society becomes an urgent concern. 

Many world leaders to halve extreme poverty from society by 2015 implemented a plan called Millennium Development Goals in the year 2000. Further, in 2015, world leaders came with the new goals named Sustainable Management Goals. These goals were more ambitious than the former goals. Emerging challenges of climate change impacts, lagging of human development indices, and increasing inequalities led to the framework of these goals. The goals were implemented on the 4Ps Model i.e Planet, People, Prosperity, and Partnership. The development of the agenda needs to be pursued in keeping with the needs of the environment and utilizing the resources at our disposal to achieve the world in a way that humans want. The 2030 agenda for sustainable development consists of seventeen goals with a milestone to preserve the planet earth. India is following a holistic approach to achieving these goals and making the environment a better place to live.   


Environmental democracy is much needed in this world to ensure the protection of humankind. The environment is the must thing to take care of as we all exist in this environment only, and providing environmental rights to the citizens they deserve not only benefits the development of the state but also helps in motivating people to preserve the environment. Environmental democracy doesn’t set a standard for what determines a good outcome but it sets a standard for how decisions should be made in an effective manner. In the year 2015, Washington based World Resources Institute and Access Initiative released the first-ever Environmental Democracy Index. Lithuania and Latvia secured the top two positions in the index whereas India was ranked 24th out of 70 countries. It measures the environmental rights provided by every country using an internationally recognized set of guidelines developed through the United Nations Environment Programme. Every citizen should use the resource sustainably and protect the environment in any way he can because he is the one responsible for the condition of the environment as it is today. Mahatma Gandhi once rightly said that “Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s need, but not every man’s greed.” Earth has vast resources to satisfy our needs. The only reason we are running on a resource deficit is that we did not keep our greed in check. We have allowed our population to grow at a rate that nature could not support. At the same time, we have allowed our resource consumption per capita to rise rapidly. To make things even worse, we treat natural resources as a free giveaway. Our efforts have been focusing only on how to retrieve it fast and with minimum cost to us, regardless of what impact it could have on others or future generations. The today’s condition of the world is that: “Mountains are ripped apart for the underlying coal and ore deposits; rivers are polluted with human and industrial waste, the air is saturated with toxic substances, the rain is turned to acid, the soil is sterile with chemicals, the higher forms of life is endangered, the great mammals have been killed off almost to the point of extinction, the tropical forests are being ruined, and many coral reefs are endangered beyond repair.”

“Together (environmental democracy) we can make the earth a better place to live.”


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