The principle of sustainable development, stated in environmental law since at least the 1987 Bruntland Report, has so far stretched into so many areas, that nowadays its mission is nothing less than “to ensure the survival of mankind”, Fabrizio Fracchia and Miriam Allena (Department of Law) write in Globalization, Environment and Sustainable Development, in Global, European and Italian Perspectives (Rivista italiana di diritto pubblico comunitario, issues 3-4, 2011).
The paper focuses on the relationships between sustainable development (as an ethical as well as legal principle) and globalization. The pairing of the phenomenon of globalization with the principle of sustainable development poses immediately the problem of the possibility of a “sustainable globalization”.
If the mission of the principle of sustainable development is to ensure the survival of mankind, then “sustainability” becomes also a precondition for globalization. In other words, if contemporary society fails to ensure that future generations will be respected, through a correct application of the principle of sustainable development, there will be no space left for globalization.
Furthermore, the principle of sustainable development has now come to embrace many other aspects, such as peace and security, environmental protection and restoration, economic development and social development or human rights; second, although the historical antecedents of the principle of sustainable development are marked by a certain confusion regarding the relationship between development and globalization, it should be noted that, from a temporal point of view, the expansion of the principle coincides with the period in which globalization began.
This allows us to see how sustainable development has been used almost from the beginning as a counterpoint to globalization, in an attempt to bring back peace and equity; for this reason, the environment, on one side, and peace and equity (which is to say, sustainability, which encompasses these two values), on the other, have been perceived as elements that may be used to balance globalization and mitigate its excesses.
This helps explaining another significant tendency that characterizes the principle of sustainable development: its own propensity to stretch into several other areas other than environmental law.
This underlines what is perhaps the most important “mission” of the principle of sustainable development, its ability to “limit” and “restrain” overreaching intrusions: sustainable development acts as a counter limit to globalization, mitigating its effects.
It is nonetheless clear that this function of the principle of sustainable development will work best if the principle parts ways with its initial connection with the environment and becomes applicable whenever there is a tragic option that might mortgage or condition the future of mankind.
In this sense, it seems logical (and coherent with the origin of the principle) to resort to it only when we are talking about strategic choices that interfere in a relevant way with the destiny of mankind and the responsibilities of the human species.