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Cooperation Key for Environment

By Ramy Arnaout
Staff Reporter

Addressing the question of who should be responsible for the environment, discussion at the Industry Summit's plenary session on Saturday "Ecological Governance: Who Is in Charge?" centered on the importance of international cooperation, the prospects for the success of sustainable development, current environmental problems, and the changing relationship between the environment and mankind.

In his introductory comments, Harvard University President Neil L. Rudenstine emphasized that the world has nearly no knowledge of or experience with managing the environment. He raised many practical questions, including who should be in charge, who should make decisions, on what basis, and at what cost to whom.

Resolving these questions will represent the "classic case" of "government application on the international scale," he said, and will require extensive policy recommendations from industry, government, and environmental groups. The world has to study, to learn, and to know, he said.

Coordination essential

The panel generally expressed the view that international coordination of environmental policy is not simply important, but essential to environmental management.

Rudenstine explained that the environment is not the nations can face individually. "Environmental problems travel," he said.

For example, air and water pollution generated in one country can spread to other countries through global wind and ocean currents, he said. One of the world's worst environmental problems, ozone depletion over Antarctica, is the result of pollution produced in distant industrialized countries. Also, local, tropical deforestation seems to be leading to a worldwide oxygen and carbon dioxide imbalance in much the same way in the coming few decades.

Although the panel agreed that there is clearly a need for international organization concerning the environment, Maurice F. Strong, chairman and of Ontario Hydro of Quebec, asserted that a "world government" is "neither necessary nor desirable." Instead, he looked to international agreements such as those formed at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janiero as the road to environmental government.

The internationally-known explorer and outspoken environmental advocate Jacques-Yves Cousteau looked to the United Nations to provide a coordinated, international environmental protection force, known so far as "Green Helmets," to react to environmental stresses worldwide. Cousteau, who is also a member of the U.N. High-Level Advisory Board for sustainable development, noted that there has already been some discussion of such a force in UNESCO and among member nation governments.

Fostering development

The practical questions of how to safeguard the environment while fostering sustainable development and of how to deal with current environmental problems drew a wide range of comment, not all of it optimistic.

While Strong said he viewed the results of the Rio conference as the basis of a major shift in global environmental awareness, he added that the will to follow up Rio "for now is not promising." While he congratulated the participants of the Rio conference on their success, he questioned their "degree of commitment" for the future.

Strong also expressed his extreme concerns about "the rich/poor dichotomy" between the countries of the North and those of the South. The panelists agreed that global sustainable development and environmental protection will be impossible without the economic growth of developing countries.

Worldwide progress cannot be made while countries such as Mexico and Brazil cannot afford to curb pollution and deforestation that in turn affect the rest of the world. The developed world is not ready to invest in the growth of developing countries, Strong said.

Aarnout A. Loudon, chairman of Akzo, said that while there has been much debate about what course to take concerning future sustainable development, "no one worries very much about the sustainable present."

Erhard Busek, vice chancellor and federal minister of science and technology for Austria, said that what poor countries need is trade, not aid. For their part, poor countries cannot have trade unless the developed countries are willing to remove their debt, he said.

Unfortunately, "inertia keeps propelling us in the same old direction," Strong said.

Busek viewed the situation more positively. "The ability is existing" for technology to overcome environmental and economic problems, he said. "Of that I have no doubt." Improvement in international, ecological government will come only with the transfer of information and technological know-how from developed to developing countries, he said.

Nitin D. Desai, U.N. undersecretary-general for policy coordination and sustainable development, also foresees a future of promise. He admired the degree of commitment he sees in young people today, saying that he has not yet visited a school where environment was not the top issue. "The winds of change are much stronger than we think."

Man must defend nature

Panelists put the issue of man's responsibility for the environment in a historical and philosophical context. "This is the first generation since the dawn of civilization when human beings are the deciding factor in the environment," Strong said. In essence, we have gained "control of our evolution," he said.

"We've slowly evolved from a human group that was a victim of nature" to a group that is now the master of nature, said Provost Mark S. Wrighton, who co-chaired the session.

"Our rejection of the rules of the jungle is a product of our minds, not our genes," concluded Cousteau. Mankind is living an "extraordinary but exceptionally dangerous adventure," he said. "We must become relentless defenders of nature."