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The principles of ecologically sustainable development in Australia and internationally

The meaning of ecologically sustainable development (ESD) has been described as 'elusive', as it differs from one jurisdiction to another. Legislation may omit a definition or refer to the need to achieve ESD without specifying what it is or how it should be achieved. 

Commonwealth legislation refers to ESD by defining its principles, which are: 

  • decision‑making processes should effectively integrate both long‑term and short‑term economic, environmental, social and equitable considerations;

  • the precautionary principle — if there are threats of serious or irreversible environmental damage, lack of full scientific certainty should not be used as a reason for postponing measures to prevent environmental degradation;

  • the principle of inter‑generational equity — that the present generation should ensure that the health, diversity and productivity of the environment is maintained or enhanced for the benefit of future generations;

  • the conservation of biological diversity and ecological integrity should be a fundamental consideration in decision‑making; and

  • improved valuation, pricing and incentive mechanisms should be promoted.

Although ESD lacks a precise accepted definition, it is generally recognised as an important concept as it ensures environmental factors and future generations are considered in assessing current development.

You can access a copy of The principles of ecologically sustainable development in Australia and internationally here, or click the ‘DOWNLOAD PDF’ button.


Dr Louise Camenzuli

Head of Environment and Planning


Environment and Planning Energy and Natural Resources Responsible Business and ESG

This publication is introductory in nature. Its content is current at the date of publication. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. You should always obtain legal advice based on your specific circumstances before taking any action relating to matters covered by this publication. Some information may have been obtained from external sources, and we cannot guarantee the accuracy or currency of any such information.

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