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International environmental policies must respond to the great array of specific problems regarding the future of the ecosystem. The ecosystem is the 'media' in which human development takes place; sustained within its narrow bio-geo-chemical parameters, it is widespread, complex and diverse. Environmental policies cannot be dealt with in isolation from global socio-economic techno-economic development. Since the 1960s, issues connected with the adverse changes in the ecosystem have become centrally important to the agendas of the academic community, governments, and increasingly to intergovernmental agencies and programmes as well. This process has been due to a few important factors:
Of all the major global policy issues, cooperation in the field of environment has received the strongest support so far during the past decade. This is due to its growing importance and to the level and the spread of the dangers. Among the non-military factors that endanger global security, 'environ mental' issues have been of key importance in recent years. In its research programmes, UNU/WIDER has considered environmental risks (including stratospheric ozone depletion; global warming; desertification; deforestation; soil erosion; and pollution) and their socio-economic implications as vitally important issues on the agenda of national policies and international cooperation.
This book reflects the main issues and problems national and global environmental policies have to face, and is an important background to the outcome and follow-up of the Rio Conference. The chapters also reflect the concern that, in spite of the basically positive approach to environmental issues by governments and the fact that a broad coalition of non-governmental actors supports common international action, real progress towards a globally or even regionally implemented environmental policy is still very slow. This is obviously due to the different and sometimes diverging interests of actors concerning priorities and specific measures for undertaking joint environmental policies.
This divisiveness over priorities predominantly occurs between the North and the South. As the developed industrial countries generate about 80 per cent of total global pollution, developing countries often remark that they do not want to sacrifice their development - thus mitigating some environmental damage - in order to manage the problems caused by the industrialized countries. Some of the more radical experts or political figures of the South even accuse the North of environmental imperialism and insist that environmental issues cannot be dealt with in isolation from general global socio-economic inequalities. There are, however, important differences between the developing countries in resource management, in natural resource pricing, and in the commercial utilization of such resources as forests. Some developing countries, in order to promote industrial development, subsidize energy prices and are less focused on inefficient use.
The North is also quite heterogeneous considering its area, scope and character, and also in its willingness to assume the responsibility or costs for environmental safeguards in such areas as CO: emissions. There are also strong and diverging interests connected with the traditional sources of energy. The uncertain character of information, difficulties in monitoring compliance, and a reluctance to commit to unilateral measures and costs (because such costs would increase production costs and/or divert funds from other investments), are some of the stumbling blocks to achieving cooperation and implementing common policies. For the developed industrial countries, the costs of environmental measures and their influence on competitiveness have been an important source of disagreement. The diversity of interests is aggravated by systemic factors, as the great variety of national economic models makes even the very enacting of multinational measures difficult.
Many of the agreements were unable to find their way into national legislatures and governmental structures - that is, into those institutions which determine national norms and policies. It has nevertheless been observed that because of the influence of different pressure groups in some industrial countries, even in the face of scientific uncertainty on several issues, major changes have been initiated by governments, business groups and the population alike.
Environmental policies influence important economic interests because the problems they seek to solve are rooted in traditional patterns of production and consumption. Because economic interests are strong, national environmental policies and actions, through which international policies are in turn enacted, must also be strong and have effective machinery. The Rio Conference, unfortunately, left most of these issues unresolved.
This book provides important intellectual support to the ideas of sustainable economic development, which could introduce greater rationality into national and global economies and enhance cooperation in many related areas, thereby influencing national policies and the functioning of global markets.
Professor Mihaly Simai Director, UNU/WIDER Helsinki, January 1995
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