An interpretation of the South African Constitutional 'Environmental Right' (Section 24 of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996) and an assessment of its relationship to sustainable development.
Sustainable Development is a widely used phrase. A superficial search for the phrase on the internet indicates that it is used by a diverse range of users who imbue it with various interpretations depending upon their purpose and intentions as well as depending upon the manner of application (or usage) of the phrase. As such there does not appear to be any single accepted definition of the phrase. Sustainable Development has been widely referred to in international conventions, international tribunal findings and by academics yet its precise legal status remains uncertain. Its status, particularly in a legal context, as a concept, legal principle or policy objective will be examined in light of its origins in international conventions and declarations. Its usage in international law will also be examined in this dissertation. The Constitution of the Republic of South Africa appeared to introduce and cement the phrase into South Africa’s legal lexicon through Section 24 and, in particular, 24(b)(iii). Section 24 of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa is commonly referred to as the ‘environmental right’. Reference in Section 24(b)(iii) to ‘ecologically sustainable development’ appears to have been assumed to refer to Sustainable Development and to incorporate Sustainable Development into South African law. The phrase has been used in South African law with increasing frequency as a building block of legislation and as a basis of judicial findings. Despite this reliance on the phrase the phrase itself remains poorly defined and open to subjective interpretations. This dissertation will look at the origin and meanings of the phrase Sustainable Development and compare these to a textual, contextual and purposive interpretation of Section 24(b) in an attempt to determine whether or not there is a relationship between the two and, if so, what the nature of this relationship is.