From Sustainable Development to Ecologically Sustainable Development: A Reappraisal of Section 24(b)(iii) of the Constitution of South Africa, 1996




ecologically sustainable development, economic development, sustainable development, environmental protection, Earth’s ecological systems


This paper offers a conceptual analysis of ecologically sustainable development in contrast to sustainable development. The analysis focuses on ecologically sustainable development as encapsulated in section 24(b)(iii) of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996. The paper argues that ecologically sustainable development denotes preserving earth’s ecological systems. The paper further argues that ecologically sustainable development, as contained in section 24(b)(iii) of the Constitution, requires a shift from the ambiguous concept of sustainable development to ecologically sustainable development. The paper highlights the importance of prioritising environmental concerns when considering economic or social development. In essence, the study emphasises that ecologically sustainable development, as embedded in section 24(b)(iii), seeks to sustain the environment and not development activities. The paper concludes that ecologically sustainable development is a vehicle for facilitating the necessary paradigm shift required for better environmental protection as per section 24(b)(iii).


Aarts B, ‘Ecological Sustainability and Biodiversity’ (2009) 6 (2) Int J Sustain Dev World Ecol.

Anguelovski I and Alier JM, ‘The “Environmentalism of the Poor” Revisited: Territory and Place in Disconnected Glocal Struggles’ (2014) 102 Ecological Economics <>

Adelman S, ‘The Sustainable Development Goals, Anthropocentrism and Neoliberalism’ in French D and Kotzé L (eds), Sustainable Development Goals: Law, Theory and Implementation (Edward Elgar Publishing 2018) <>

Australia DotPMaC, Ecologically Sustainable Development: A Commonwealth Discussion Paper (Australian Government Public Service 1990).

Australian Government, ‘National Strategy for Ecologically Sustainable Development Part I—Introduction’ (2021) <> accessed 7 January 2021.

Beretta I, ‘Some Highlights on the Concept of Environmental Justice and Its Use’ (2012) E-cadernos CES 136 <>

Bisht A, Kamboj N, Kamboj V and Bisht A, ‘A Review on the Role of Emerging Anthropogenic Activities in Environmental Degradation and Emphasis on Their Mitigation’ (2020) AAES 419 <>

Bosselmann K, The Principle of Sustainability (Ashgate 2008).

Bosselmann K, ‘Strong and Weak Sustainable Development: Making Differences in the Design of Law’ (2006) 13 (1) SAJELP.

Blowers A, Boersema J and Martin A, Is Sustainable Development Sustainable? (Taylor & Francis 2012) <>

Burchill S and Linklater A, Theories of International Relations (Macmillan International Higher Education 2013) <>

D’Amato A, ‘Do We Owe a Duty to Future Generations to Preserve the Global Environment?’ (1990) 84 (1) AJIL <>

D’Amato A and Chopra S, ‘Whales: Their Emerging Right to Life’ (1991) 85 AJIL 21 <>

Davey I, ‘Environmentalism of the Poor and Sustainable Development: An Appraisal’ (2009) 4 JOAAG.

Emmery M, An Overview of Ecologically Sustainable Development Processes in Australia 1990–1992 (Parliament of the Commonwealth in Australia 1994).

Faucheux S and O’Connor M, Valuation for Sustainable Development (Edward Elgar Publishing 1998).

Feris L, ‘Sustainable Development in Practice: Fuel Retailers Association of Southern Africa v Director-General Environmental Management, Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Environment, Mpumalanga Province’ (2008) 1 (1) CCR <>

Field T-L, ‘Sustainable Development versus Environmentalism: Competing Paradigms for the South African EIA Regime’ (2006) 123 (3) SALJ <>

Franck T, Fairness in International Law and Institutions, vol 51 (Clarendon Press 1995).

German Advisory Council on Global Change, World in Transition: Fighting Poverty through Environmental Policy (Earthscan 2013).

Gillespie A, International Environmental Law, Policy, and Ethics (Oxford University Press 2014) <>

Guha R and Alier JM, Varieties of Environmentalism: Essays North and South (Routledge 2013) <>

Guha R and Martínez-Alier J, ‘The Environmentalism of the Poor’ (2009) Earthcare: An Anthology in Environmental Ethics.

Holden E, Linnerud K and Banister D, ‘Sustainable Development: Our Common Future Revisited’ (2014) 26 Glob Environ Change <>

Johnson H, ‘Whose Earth Is It Anyway?’ (2002) UN Chron 8.

Krajnc D and Glavič P, ‘A Model for Integrated Assessment of Sustainable Development’ (2005) 43 (2) RCR <>

Kidd M, ‘Environment’ in Currie I and De Waal J (eds), The Bill of Rights Handbook (Juta 2016).

Kotzé LJ, ‘Sustainable Development and the Rule of Law for Nature: A Constitutional Reading’ in Voigt C (ed), Rule of Law for Nature (CUP 2013) <>

Malviya R, ‘Sustainable Development and Environment: Emerging Trends and Issues’ (1996) 36 (4) IJIL.

Martinez-Alier J, The Environmentalism of the Poor: A Study of Ecological Conflicts and Valuation (Edward Elgar Publishing 2003) <>

Martinez-Alier J, ‘The Environmentalism of the Poor’ (2014) 54 Geoforum <>

Matsui Y, ‘Some Aspects of the Principle of “Common but Differentiated Responsibilities”’ (2002) 2 Int Environ Agreem.

McDonald D (ed), ‘What Is Environmental Justice’ in Environmental Justice in South Africa (Ohio University Press 2002).

Mickelson K, ‘South, North, International Environmental Law, and International Environmental Lawyers’ (2000) Yearb Int Environ Law <>

Mitcham C, ‘The Concept of Sustainable Development: Its Origins and Ambivalence’ (1995) 17 (3) Technol Soc <>

Murcott MJ, ‘Towards a Social Justice-Oriented Environmental Law Jurisprudence in South Africa’ (LLD thesis, North-West University 2019) <>

Nelson P, ‘An African Dimension to the Clean Development Mechanism: Finding a Path to Sustainable Development in the Energy Sector’ (2004) Denv J Int’l L & Pol’y.

Ntambirweki J, ‘The Developing Countries in the Evolution of an International Environmental Law’ (1990) 14 Hastings Int’l & Comp L Rev.

Pallemaerts M, ‘International Environmental Law from Stockholm to Rio’ in Sands P (ed), Greening International Law (Earthscan 1993).

Schlosberg D, Defining Environmental Justice: Theories, Movements, and Nature (OUP 2009).

Schoenbaum T, ‘International Trade and the Protection of the Environment: The Continuing Search for Reconciliation’ (1997) 91 (2) AJIL <>

Schrijver N, De Verankering en Betekenis van Duurzame Ontwikkeling in Het Internationale Recht. Preadvies, Mededelingen van de Nederlandse Vereniging voor Internationaal Recht (Asser Press 2003).

Shiva V and Bandyopadhyay J, ‘The Evolution, Structure, and Impact of the Chipko Movement’ (1986) Mountain Research and Development <>

Tladi D, Sustainable Development in International Law: An Analysis of Key Enviro-Economic Instruments (Pretoria University Law Press 2007).

Tracinski R, ‘Sustainable Development’s Unsustainable Contradiction’ (Jewish World Review, 2002) <> accessed 1 July 2021.

Van der Linde M and Basson E, ‘Environment’ in Woolman S and Bishop M (eds), Constitutional Law of South Africa (Juta 2010).

Weiss E, ‘The Planetary Trust: Conservation and Intergenerational Equity Ecology Law Quarterly’ (1984) Ecology Law Quarterly 495.

Weiss E, In Fairness to Future Generations International Law, Common Patrimony, and Intergenerational Equity (Transnational Publishers 1989).

Weiss E, ‘Introductory Note: UN Conference on Environment and Development’ (1992) International Legal Materials <>


Constitution of the Republic of South Africa 1996.

Promotion of Access to Information Act 2 of 2000.

National Environmental Management Act 107 of 1998.

National Environmental Management: Waste Act 59 of 2008.

National Water Act 36 of 1998.


Case Concerning the Arrest Warrant of 11 April 2000 (Democratic Republic of the Congo v Belgium) ICJ 2002

Company Secretary of ArcelorMittal South Africa v Vaal Environmental Justice Alliance 2015 (1) SA 515 (SCA)

Fuel Retailers Association of Southern Africa V Director-General: Environmental Management, Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Environment, Mpumalanga Province 2007 (6) SA 4 (CC)

International Legal Instruments and Conventions

Earth Charter (Earth Charter Commission), 2000

General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs (GATT), 1948

International Convention on the Regulation of Whaling (161 UNTS 72, 62 Stat. 1716), 1946

New Delhi Declaration on the Principles of International Law Relating to Sustainable Development, (UN Doc A/CONF199/8), 2002

Rio Declaration on Environment and Development (UN Doc 31 ILM 874), 1992 <>

Stockholm Declaration on the Human Environment, in Report of the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment (UN Doc. A/CONF. 48/14, at 2 and Corr. 1), 1972

United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (Treaty Doc No. 102-38, 1771 U.N.T.S. 107), 1992

UN General Assembly, United Nations Conference on the Human Environment (A/RES/2994), 1972

World Summit on Sustainable Development, Johannesburg, South Africa, (A/CONF.199/20), 2002

World Commission on Environment and Development: Our Common Future. UN General Assembly Document (UNGA A/42/427, 1987)



How to Cite

Chikuruwo, Rufaro. “From Sustainable Development to Ecologically Sustainable Development: A Reappraisal of Section 24(b)(iii) of the Constitution of South Africa, 1996”. South African Yearbook of International Law, 28 pages.



Received 2023-09-22
Accepted 2024-02-19
Published 2024-05-16