Sustainable development and Social Justice

Mario Peña Chacón,  Coordinator of the Master of Environmental Law at the University of Costa Rica. Member of the Commission on Environmental Law of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Sustainable development?

The concept of sustainable development was born in 1987 in the report entitled “Our Common Future” by the World Commission on Environment and Development (Brundtland Report). It was recognized internationally by the United Nations in the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development in 1992:

“The kind of development that meets the needs of present generations without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”.

This means that sustainable development can not exist if we do not think about the future, choosing a way of development and business that do not jeopardize the welfare of our children or grandchildren.

Nuestro gobierno no está logrando proteger nuestros recursos.

Nuestro gobierno no está logrando proteger nuestros recursos.


In Costa Rica

In our country, the Constitution recognizes an economic and social development model that respects and is coherent  with a healthy and ecologically balanced environment.

Until recently, sustainable development comprised three components: environmental (protection of the environment), economic (the economic development based on the sustainable exploitation of the environment) and social (it was thought that economic development and environmental conservation automatically entailed social welfare). Despite this, the social axis was usually relegated and the emphasis is focused on the economic and environmental elements.

The balance

A major change came in 2013, when the Constitutional Chamber of Costa Rica declared unconstitutional the practice of trawling to fish shrimp.

Nuestra Sala IV declaró la inconstitucionalidad de la técnica de pesca de camarón mediante redes de arrastre.

Nuestra Sala IV declaró la inconstitucionalidad de la técnica de pesca de camarón mediante redes de arrastre.

Our Constitutional Court took this decision based on the principles of prevention and precaution, solidarity and social justice, responsibility for fisheries and aquaculture, sustainable development and especially the principle of democratic sustainable development.

The Chamber made clear something very important: the development model referred to in the Constitution, while being economically efficient and environmentally sustainable, must be socially just. The administration and wise use of natural resources and the wealth generated by economic activities should be shared fairly and equitably in society, so that it reaches the greatest number of people and that the growth of the current generation does not threaten the survival of future ones.

The public interest

The interpretation of the Constitutional Court meets all of the criteria of public interest included in the 11th article of the Biodiversity Law of 1998: “The use of elements of biodiversity should guarantee development options for future generations, the food security, ecosystem conservation, the protection of human health and improved quality of life of citizens. ”

The democratic element of sustainable development is the maintenance and assurance of ecological balance, economic efficiency and social equity between present and future generations through the just distribution of both the benefits and environmental loads.

While this represents a huge step towards consolidating the social and environmental state of Costa Rican law, we still have a long way to go.

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