General Assembly General Assembly

Statement by
Ambassador Syed Akbaruddin, Permanent Representative

UNGA Dialogue
Harmony with Nature
International Mother Earth Day

Earth Jurisprudence in the Implementation of Sustainable Production
and Consumption patterns in Harmony with Nature

23 April 2018

President of the General Assembly, H.E. Miroslav Lajcak,
Hon’ble Minister of Foreign Affairs and Human Mobility of Ecuador, Ms. Maria Espinosa,
H.E. the Permanent Representative of Bolivia,
Distinguished Guests,

     The Mother Earth Day reminds us that our planet, with all the wonderful forms of lives is, so far, the only one known to mankind that sustains life. And that, we must do all that we can to not disrupt its processes that would ultimately threaten mankind’s own survival.

2.     On the one hand, our understanding of the inter-linkages of various aspects of the Earth system is growing by the day. At the same time, the scale of impact of human activity on the same earth system is also becoming clearer every day.

3.     While human civilization has existed on this planet for a minuscule fraction of the deep time scale of our earth’s life, the times that we live in is already being called the age of ‘Anthropocene’.

4.     This use of term means that the scale of human activities is now beginning to disrupt the carbon cycle according to scientists. And it is the carbon cycle on which life on earth is so dependent.

5.     While the scientific understanding of the threats has grown, the nature of contemporary global economies and lifestyles, along with the ever-growing population, continues to threaten the very basis and sustainability of life on earth.

6.    For example, there are studies that suggest that the environmental footprint of an average Indian is such that 0.9 hectares of land is required to meet an average Indian’s need; the global average is 2.7 hectares per person. In the United States, it takes 9.4 hectares to supply the average person's needs; in the Netherlands, 4.4 hectares. It is estimated that if the entire world lived like some do, it would take more than one planet Earth indeed four planet earths will be required to support the present world population.

7.    This is leading us to initiate discussions about concepts such as Earth jurisprudence.

Mr. President,

8.    As we start to delve deeper into earth jurisprudence principles, it is useful to remind ourselves of the evolution of some of the concepts of how our societies have understood the concept of sustainability.

9.     Remarkably, even thousands of years before the amazing modern technological advances, our ancestors across the world clearly understood the inter-connectedness and inter-dependence of life of Earth.

10.     Ancient traditions imagined our home as 'mother earth'. Our ancestors understood the critical importance of harmony in nature intuitively. Humans were rightly placed as part of the nature and not separate from it.

11.     Flowing from this understanding, many ancient cultures respect and revere various aspects of nature - such as the Sun, the Moon, rivers, lakes, mountains, trees, plants and animals and so on.

12.    The ethos of Indian civilization is one of a longstanding tradition of living in harmony with nature.

13.     From the time humans started farming, leaving their hunter gatherer origins, the impact of their activities on their environment, and ultimately on the availability of their resources, became more visible. As their increasing numbers competed against productivity, they experimented with making farming and fishing more sustainable.

14.     The start of the Industrial Revolution in 18th century added a new dimension to the sustainability debate in the context of extensive deforestation and mining.

15.    The concepts of larger welfare – over short term profits – and the responsibility to conserve finite natural resources for future generations – the concept of equity - started to be articulated.

16.     The rise of new industries drew attention to possible limits to growth due to exponential rise in populations, exhaustion of natural resources and then pollution.

17.    Concepts like ‘appropriate technology’; ‘externalities’ in terms of environmental degradation; ‘eco-system services’ and putting economic value on natural resources; and the ‘Tragedy of Commons’ denoting individual short-term interests undermining common good, also emerged.

18.    There was also a growing awareness of the need for international collaborations to tackle air and water pollution, oil spills, dumping of hazardous waste and over-fishing, etc.

19.     This led to a gradual finalization of a series of multilateral environmental laws, in addition to domestic measures that various governments were undertaking, in this context.

20.    Some of the major examples include the Montreal Protocol on Ozone depleting substances; the Convention on Biodiversity; the Convention on Desertification; and more recently the Paris Agreement on Climate Change in 2015.

21.    In parallel, the evolving debate on development issues that has now seen the adoption of a very comprehensive 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, also in 2015, is of great significance in this context.

22.     The 2030 Agenda takes a holistic view and stresses the importance of sustainable consumption and production patterns that are essential for sustainable development in the long term.


Mr. President,

23.    Indiscriminate urbanization and industrialization, along with excessive pollution, are already causing serious threats to our common natural heritage. Just to recollect a few glaring examples - the ocean is losing fish and gaining plastic; urban pollution is at a choking point; drinking water is drying up, as every day 20 billion more gallons of water are drawn out than replaced.

24.    This has led to adoption in many places of national and local legislation to promote environmental protection - ranging from constitutional provisions in Bolivia and Ecuador to national legislation and local legislation in other parts of the world, including in the USA. In the Constitution of my own country India, it is stated that it is the duty of the State to ‘protect and improve the environment and to safeguard the forests and wildlife of the country’.

25.    Prime Minister Modi has stressed that the protection of environment and Mother Earth is an article of faith for us. He has said that our commitment is for future generations.

26.    India, home to one-sixth of the global population, is taking ambitious climate action domestically.

27.    We are also partnering a large number of countries to work on the International Solar Alliance that will contribute significantly to global climate action and sustainable development.

28.    Consciousness of environment protection has also led to various attempts to seek legal protection by conferring legal rights on natural entities such as rivers, in many parts of the world, ranging from Colombia to New Zealand to India. These however are still a work in progress.

Mr. President,

29.    The emerging area of Earth jurisprudence has to be based on a holistic scientific understanding of the inter-connected Earth system and needs to be constantly updated.

30.    It requires balancing concepts such as economic productivity and profit; conservation of resources; intra and inter-generational equity; individual interest and common good.

31.    It needs to balance the short-term requirements over long term sustainability, as also common but differentiated responsibilities.

32.    The development of jurisprudence on these issues is complex, and when it comes to future impacts, there are still a lot of unknowns. All these require further understanding and elucidation.


Mr. President,

33.    Thank you for arranging this discussion on an important aspect of our relationship with what many of us refer to as Mother Earth in the belief that we are all integral part of a common ecological community.

34.    It is Dialogues of the kind organized today that can build awareness of the subject and suggest pathways to a future that safeguards our common well-being.

Thank you.