Response to proposed Gold Fields West Wits Project

The FSE has submitted comment and response on the Draft Environmental Impact Report for the proposed Gold Fields West Wits Project.  The full document is available as a PDF here, including attributions, and an extract follows which highlights the importance of sustainability.

We respectfully request the authorizing authorities in their decision-making to give careful consideration to the principles of sustainability, which are detailed hereunder.

Section 24 (b) of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa states that everyone has the right  to have the environment protected, for the benefit of present and future generations, through reasonable legislative and other measures that:
(iii) secure ecologically sustainable development and use of natural resources while promoting justifiable economic and social development.

In two recent decisions   the Constitutional Court provided guidance on the meaning of ecologically sustainable development, thereby informing on the nature of the state’s obligations in terms of the right.

Firstly, the court stated that sustainable development requires recognition of the inexorable links between socio-economic development and the environment: Development cannot subsist on a deteriorating environmental base unlimited development is detrimental to the environment and the destruction of the environment is detrimental to development.  All decision and law-making processes therefore need to integrate economics and ecology not just to protect the environment, but to protect and promote future development as well.

Secondly, sustainable development requires the provision for all of an adequate livelihood base and equitable access to adequate resources, including future generations. The court stated:

The importance of the protection of the environment cannot be gainsaid. Its protection is vital to the enjoyment of the other rights contained in the Bill of Rights; indeed it is vital to life itself. It must therefore be protected for the benefit of the present and future generations. The present generation holds the earth in trust for the next generation. This trusteeship position carries with it the responsibility to look after the environment

Thirdly, the court affirmed the precautionary approach to environmental management and held this to be especially important when considering the cumulative impacts of a development on the environment and socio-economic conditions.

The right to environment intersects with a number of other substantive and procedural constitutional human rights. Thus, depending on the context, protection of the right to environment would tend to lead to protection of the right of access to sufficient food and water  as well as the right of access to housing, and vice versa. The right of the child to basic nutrition, shelter, basic health care services and social services also intersects positively with the environmental right.  The procedural rights of access to information, just administrative action and access to the courts support protection of the right to environment by facilitating greater public participation in environmental governance and decision-making. The rights of access to information and just administrative action are particularly pertinent in regard to the process of granting prospecting and mining rights.

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