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La Educación
Número: (115) II
Año: 1993

The Environment-Development Context

To understand the need to reconcile environmental and developmental values, it is necessary to first understand why the need has emerged. At least four causal factors can be identified. First is growth of international trade and investment during the past three decades. Second is an equally unprecedented growth of scientific understanding of environmental interactions and trends. Third is information technology permitting enlarged and extended popular awareness of environmental change and its effect upon the quality of human life. And fourth has been disillusion with earlier economic development efforts and recognition of a need for a more comprehensive and sustainable developmental process.

A World Economy: Hemispheric Dimensions

There is no need to recount the phenomenal advances in transportation by sea and air and in communication leading to the world economy today. Industrial technologies in agriculture, manufacturing, and economic organization have been transplanted around the world, and international investment has financed these developments. A complex global economy has taken shape, inducing new developments in international banking, lending, and insurance, in national import-export taxes, and in licensing, patenting, and copyright regulations. All of these developments have had transnational consequences and have led to intergovernmental agreements and international institutions to reconcile economic and environmental policies. Examples include harmonization efforts by the Commission of the European Community, the 1991 World Bank Conference on Development Economics, the Committee of International Development Institution on the Environment (CIDIE), environmental initiatives by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), and a proposed treaty to restrict exports of hazardous substances sponsored by the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs (GATT).1 The proposed Trilateral Free Trade Agreement between Canada, Mexico, and the United States reflects the realities of a transboundary multi-national economy and the same may be said for comparable proposals among Latin American states.2

By the last quarter of the present century, the world-wide flow of information brought two conclusions to public attention. First, international economic development goals were not generally being achieved and in some cases were leading to adverse environmental consequences. Second, techno-economic expansion especially in the “developed” world was beginning to threaten the viability and renewal capabilities of the planet. In response to these growing realizations, the United Nations in 1986 created the World Commission on Environment and Development, and in 1989 the General Assembly of the U.N. adopted resolutions for the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) which took place in Brazil in 1992.3 Despite advantages to human welfare, the globalization of techno-economic achievement has contributed (largely inadvertently) to degradation of the world environment. Reorientation toward more benign effects has become essential to the sustainability of the world economy and to the future of all life on Earth.

Scientific Advance

Scientific knowledge has been a powerful factor in the evolution of the modern world. It has also been a means for attaining a fuller and more realistic understanding of what this world has become—its assets, liabilities, limits, and opportunities. It also permits a more reliable projection of trends and probable outcomes than have heretofore been available. And so it is not science per se that influences human attitudes and behaviors; it is the dissemination of science-based information and appreciation of its implication that ultimately affects the course of political action.

Beginning in the mid-19th century, scientific investigation began to internationalize—at first through international scientific congresses, then in international societies and formation of the International Council of Scientific Unions and, especially after the Second World War, in international scientific investigations, many of which concerned the planetary environment, and are exemplified by the International Geophysical Year (1956-57) and the International Biological Program (1964-1974). In Latin America, organizations such as Interciencia (14 countries) represent this internationalizing trend. Scientific developments of global scope, of course, affect the Western Hemisphere. In particular the climatological and biological consequences of deforestation are pertinent to large areas of Latin America, notably in the Amazon basin and in Central America.

Discovery of the disintegration of the stratosphere ozone layer and of a greenhouse effect in the upper atmosphere leading to global warming and climate change have had a profound effect upon international politics. The hole in the ozone over Antarctica aroused particular anxiety in Argentina and Chile—nations closest to the disruptive phenomenon. International concerns over these, among other planetary impacts, have been the subject of resolutions and other initiatives by the United Nations and the Specialized Agencies, and by numerous multi-national conferences, declarations, and agreements. Analytic and monitoring techniques utilizing scientific information and methods have become important instruments of international cooperation and now provide the basis for new national and international environmental policies. It is increasingly difficult for governments to discount or deny verified scientific findings in the adoption or implementation of environmental or developmental policies.