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La Educación
Número: (115) II
Año: 1993

Institutionalizing Cooperation

Regardless of how prospects for hemispheric cooperation are approached, there are several national institutional problems to be considered. They are not easily resolved because their solution may involve political interests and administrative structures in various countries. A basic problem is the incomparability of the units concerned with environmental problems. Unlike national departments for defense, foreign relations, agriculture or education, environmental program offices are placed at different levels with different scope and status in different countries. Even where there are departments for the environment, these agencies may be subordinate to ministries of agriculture, economics, or health. Some agencies may be empowered to negotiate internationally—others may not. The significance of an environmental office in a national government depends greatly upon its status in the overall structure of the bureaucracy. Agencies that cannot negotiate with one another or make even tentative commitments are unlikely to achieve significant cooperative agreements. A point well made by Alexander King and Bertrand Schneider in their report for the Council of the Club of Rome is that national governments are not organized, nor generally prepared, to deal with transnational environmental issues. The organizational problem is not unsolvable, but it is novel and will not be readily or easily accomplished. The capacity to cooperate must be institutionalized at national, regional, and international levels if positive results are to be achieved.

The problems of harmonizing environmental protection and sustainable development are not unique to the Americas. To cope with a growing list of transnational environmental problems, a number of different international arrangements have been instituted or are being considered by national governments. For example, the European Community has recognized the necessity to parallel its economic unification measures with common environmental policies, including the adoption of environmental impact analysis in all member states. Similarly the proposed trilateral trade agreement between Canada, Mexico, and the United States, if consummated, should contain environmental commitments that will require impact analysis and assessment. The UNEP Regional Seas program has sponsored a number of multi-lateral agreements which demonstrate that traditional objections to multi-national cooperation can be overcome when there is a common interest among nations to do so.

Today, the principal factor affecting transnational cooperation is the psychological readiness of people and governments. In a large and growing list of countries, public opinion appears to be more receptive to protection of the environment and control of technology than is the government. In many countries, technocratic bureaucrats have promoted huge dam building, road construction, resource development, resettlement, and industrialization projects with minimal regard for social and ecological consequences. Immense cultural and environmental damage has been done under the excuse of modernization, progress, and development. But countervailing attitudes are gaining international recognition and may in time be reflected in national policies.

International institutionalization has developed logically on a regional basis, as in Europe and around UNEP Regional Seas—one of which is the Wider Caribbean program. A more challenging area for further development today is in the continental regions of the hemisphere. Although the American states vary greatly in ecological circumstances, in technological advancement, and in administrative experience, they are all vulnerable to the socio-environmental impacts of invasive technologies, and of transnational economic decisions. They are also the planet’s largest and most diverse repositories of ecological systems and living species. The great forests of Amazonia and the unique biota of the Andes and Sierras of Patagonia and the Arctic might be regarded as territories to be protected, in one sense, not only for the American peoples, but for all mankind and the future. Efforts have been made for many years to lay foundations for hemispheric cooperation. Their effectiveness has fallen short of hopes, partly because agreements were never realistically institutionalized.

In 1916, a Canadian-American treaty for the protection of migratory birds was adopted, and in 1936, a treaty for the protection of migratory birds and game animals was negotiated. In 1940, the Pan American Union sponsored a convention on Nature Protection and Wildlife Preservation in the Western Hemisphere. Signatories were committed to establish parks, reserves, nature monuments, and wilderness areas. The treaty became effective in 1942 following ratification by five of the twenty-one signatory nations.11 Signatories, however, were slow to ratify.

In 1948, in an effort to implement this convention, an Inter-American Conference on Conservation of Renewable Resources was convened in Denver. The terms of the convention were non-binding and proved to be largely rhetorical. Even so, precedents are significant and governments may ultimately be pressured to live up to their commitments. To this end, the rise of environmental NGOs in Latin American countries has been important. Internal pressure and external encouragement and example have raised the level of environmental awareness. By 1991, nineteen countries had ratified the 1940 treaty, some as late as the 1970s and 80s—an indication perhaps of changing perspectives.

In 1965, the Organization of American States (successor to the Pan American Union), held an Inter-American Specialized Conference to Deal with Problems Related to the Conservation of Natural Resources in the Western Hemisphere. The recommendations of this conference are as valid now as then. Enforcement was recognized as a weakness in environmental policy and the conference recommended that OAS members “establish specialized corps with the specific duties of guards . . . after training by means of technical and administrative courses to supply them with all the necessary knowledge regarding conservation, guarding, and control procedures to ensure the effectiveness of their task.”12

In Bariloche, Argentina, in 1968 the IUCN sponsored a Latin-American Regional Conference on Conservation of Renewable Natural Resources. Twenty-six recommendations of this conference summarized the principal actions required to protect the environment. The conference on April 2 adopted the Nahuel Huapi Manifesto expressing determination: “. . . to work together, within the framework of a common philosophy, to safeguard their renewable natural resources by means of the correct application of science and technology, aiming at the same time to achieve the highest quality of living for all.”13 More definitely institutional and operational was the arrangement which Vice President of Argentina, Victor H. Martínez, proposed to the juridical committee of the Organization of American States in 1986 to establish an inter-American system for monitoring the implementation of environmental agreements.14 Rhetorical statements continue to be issued and may, in time, influence popular perceptions and the policies of governments. On July 19, 1991, the inter-American “Grupo de los Cien Artistas e Intellectuales”, delivered a proposal for a “Latin American Ecological Alliance” to the First Ibero-American Summit of nineteen Latin American presidents meeting in Mexico.15 In October 1991, following a symposium in Morelia, Mexico, the Grupo de los Cien adopted the Morelia Declaration for presentation to the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development. The Declaration, among other demands, proposed an International Court of the Environment and the establishment of the principle of crimes against the environment.16 We have already noted a third indicator of readiness to establish transnational environmental protection and monitoring in the proposed trilateral trade agreement between Canada, Mexico, and the United States, and there has recently begun an exploration of a transboundary environmental monitoring system for Canada and the United States under the aegis of the International Joint Commission.

These arrangements, like others, depend upon action by national governments. The readiness of governments to enter cooperative relationships depends in part upon the substance of what is being proposed and its implications for national interests and values. Disillusion with the results of U.N. and bi-lateral aid programs has caused opinion in some countries to favor indigenous development goals and methods in preference to those promoted by international economic development programs. For example, the “Cocoyoc Declaration” adopted on October 12, 1974, by a UNEP-UNCTAD sponsored symposium on “Patterns of Resource Use, Environmental and Developed Strategies,” emphasized the importance of national self-reliance in the development process, excluding dependence on outside influences that could be converted into political pressure and exploitive trade practices. The symposium stressed the need to redefine development which should be concerned with the development of man rather than primarily of things. It declared that it was impossible to develop self-reliance through full participation in a system that perpetuated economic dependence.17 In similar spirit, the Symposium on Human Settlements held in Tepoztlan, Mexico, in 1980, sponsored by three NGOs, urged the transformation of the predominant development styles which favored economic growth and the concentration of income, ignoring social equity.18 These declarations—and there are others—underscore the importance in cooperative communication and networking in advance of efforts to draft action programs.

In all of the international negotiations, which are in place or under consideration, consensus on a common substantive objective is critical. Without at least general agreement on the socio-environmental conditions to be sought or defended, the analytic techniques may be no more than academic exercises. Analysis of what is happening is essential, but insufficient in the attainment of sustainable development objectives. Development merely designates a process, telling nothing about the ends toward which it is directed.

The recommendations of UNCED ‘92 will require implementation at national and regional levels. Even problems of global scope will require national and regional cooperative responses. The OAS provides an institutional arrangement capable of organizing such response for the Western Hemisphere. A detailed prescription of policies and agreements that should be adopted by the American States would be premature and presumptuous. Several steps must be taken toward consensus on these specifics. Conditions for success include persistence, patience, informed thinking, and “networking” among proponents in the hemisphere and the various national states. As no more than a point of departure for discussion, I will offer a suggestion regarding a possible strategy for cooperative action. In brief, the following steps might be taken:

1. An Inter-American Exploratory Commission on Environment and Development convened by the OAS. Mixed membership (official and non-governmental) is suggested to ensure that (a) the Commission is not constrained by bureaucratic and diplomatic reservations, and (b) is nevertheless aware of political realities.

2. Subcommittees of the Commission to address the various specialized and technical aspects of the effort—legal, scientific, and administrative. Expert consultants to assist the committees.

3. The Commission to identify the needs for hemispheric cooperation, to specify the issues requiring early action, and to consider the feasibility of an international hemispheric conference to consider its recommendations and those of UNCED ‘92.

4. Assuming (conjecturally) a positive outcome of the foregoing steps, the designation of a drafting committee of international legal experts or the juridical committee of the OAS to prepare a hemispheric convention for consideration and adherence by the American states.

Toward what kind of world will international cooperation for environment and development be marshalled? This was the ultimate question addressed by the 1992 United Nations Conference in Brazil. It is also the basic consideration for hemispheric cooperation on trade and environment in the Americas. We have the opportunity, the basic tools, and much of the scientific information needed to safeguard and enhance the hemispheric future. It remains to be seen whether we have the political will and wisdom to use them wisely and expeditiously.