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La Educación
Número: (115) II
Año: 1993

Steps Toward a Sustainable Future

With this litany of environment and development problems in mind, the New World Dialogue set out to negotiate agreements that would turn the Western Hemisphere toward sustainability—and then issued these agreements as an open letter to the governments of the Americas. Taken together, the Compact‘s eight initiatives offer a coherent vision of what must be done to right the wrongs of the hemisphere’s last fifty years of development. Not being heads of state, Dialogue members used the verb would rather than will in writing down their agreements. But if these prominent citizens from throughout the hemisphere can agree on these proposals, so—with equal determination and hard work—could heads of state who have the power to make these things happen in the real world.

The last two initiatives—trade and finances—are described below in some detail. Revamping our hemisphere’s trading system to make it work for rather than against sustainable development is crucial, and yet it got far too little notice at the Earth Summit. In contrast, finances were one of the hottest agenda items at the Earth Summit; however, commitments from the highly industrialized countries of “new and additional funding” were not sufficient to meet the new and additional environmental goals adopted at Rio.

FORESTRY: Halt and then reverse deforestation

The Compact for a New World proposes that Canada, the United States, Argentina, and Chile would stop overcutting their temperate forests and protect such key habitats as the ancient forests of the Pacific Northwest, ending subsidized timber cutting and easing the economic transition for timber-dependent communities. For their part, tropical countries would develop programs to promote afforestation, sustainable forest management, and livelihoods based on non-timber forest resources. The United States and Canada would support these attempts to come to grips with deforestation—and with its underlying causes, such as poverty, inequitable access to land, population growth, and the international debt burden—and they would encourage multilateral development institutions to do the same.

ENERGY: Provide energy for economic development while reducing overall greenhouse gas emissions

Nations throughout the hemisphere would agree to conclude a framework climate treaty that contains clear-cut commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, halt deforestation, and establish a world “ecofund” to help finance these moves. The United States and Canada—the world’s top energy users—would commit to reducing their per capita carbon dioxide emissions by 30 percent by the year 2005, mostly through stepped-up energy efficiency. All nations would commit to making the major efficiency gains required for sustainable development, ending energy subsidies that encourage waste and pollution, and moving toward a renewable energy path.

POLLUTION: Halt and then reverse the growth of industrial and motor vehicle pollution

All nations in the hemisphere would agree to revamp perverse economic incentives—such as tariffs that protect polluting industries, subsidies that encourage overuse of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, low gasoline prices, and other policies that contribute heavily to air pollution. They would also adopt incentives to speed the replacement of the dirtiest factories and vehicles, while encouraging industry to recycle, co-generate heat and electricity, and install non-polluting technologies in new plants from the start. Besides getting the economic signals right, governments would develop and enforce anti-pollution regulations in both the private and public sectors.

POVERTY: End hunger and raise the poor out of destitution while protecting the natural resource base

All nations in the Americas would commit to improving the lives of their poorest citizens, with a minimum goal of ending hunger by the year 2000, through increased food self-reliance and more efficient food distribution. The next aim would be to eradicate poverty throughout the hemisphere by 2020. Among other things, this would require stepped-up education and training programs and new job opportunities, especially for women, as well as promoting sustainable agriculture among small farmers and guaranteeing their access to land. Pursuing forest restoration and integrated pest management—as well as housing construction and the provision of water and sanitation—can provide many new jobs, making poverty eradication and sustainable development not only compatible, but also mutually reinforcing.

POPULATION: Stabilize population throughout the hemisphere by mid-century

Stabilizing population is as important for Canada and the United States as it is for nations with faster growing populations because North Americans consume so much that even small population increases have an outsized environmental impact. Experience suggests that the best way to stabilize population is through greatly expanded access to education, employment, and health care—especially for poor women and their children—and universal access to family-planning services. For its part, the United States would restore and then increase its contribution to the United Nations Population Fund. Both the United States and Canada would increase support for international population programs until they reached their fair share of the $10-billion annual spending on population deemed adequate by the United Nations.

SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY: Raise human skills and institutional capacity so that all the Western Hemisphere’s nations can readily develop, adapt, and use sustainable technologies

Nations would jointly create regional “centers of excellence” where researchers would collaborate on the science and technology needed for sustainable development. The centers would adapt “green” technologies to various locales and integrate advanced techniques and equipment with traditional knowledge and technology. Besides training a cadre of professionals in efficiency measures and renewable energy technologies, the centers would develop strong links with industry and provide advice to public and private enterprises. To upgrade the environmental information available to policymakers, some centers would collect and analyze environmental data, monitor trends, estimate costs, and train economists and environmentalists in “ecological economics.” The technologically advanced countries would also agree to offer private companies incentives to transfer relevant proprietry technologies to developing countries on affordable terms and would urge multi-lateral banks to help finance the transfer.

TRADE AND INVESTMENT: Promote sustainable development while protecting the environment

Controversies about environment and trade are as common as the daily news. Some are cross-border issues such as illegal dumping of U.S. toxic wastes in Mexico and air pollution in the United States from Mexican copper smelters. Others challenge differing national standards: U.S. regulation of pesticide residues on imported foods, for instance, or American consumers boycotting Venezuelan and Mexican tuna to encourage dolphin-safe fishing methods. In addition, there are concerns in both South and North that the North’s polluting industries may move South to countries with lower pollution-control and worker-safety standards and lower wages.

If the Western Hemisphere is to achieve economic integration and sustainable development, the American nations must create the legal and institutional framework within which these twin goals can be pursued. The time is auspicious for such innovation. Enthusiasm for economic integration is at an all-time high in the hemisphere, as evidenced by the North American Free Trade Agreement, MERCOSUR, CARICOM, CBI, CACM, Andean Pact, and the Venezuelan-Colombian free-trade agreement. Governments should use this wave of enthusiasm as a vantage point from which to deal with the trade/environment connection constructively. As New World Dialogue members pointed out, current initiatives to liberalize trade and revive growth in the Western Hemisphere are too limited:
[These initiatives] will succeed only in expanding unsustainable and inequitable patterns of growth unless they are accompanied by powerful initiatives to promote social equity and to protect the environment. Indeed, there is much reason to believe, based on past experience and current trends, that unless major complementary initiatives are undertaken to bring environmental, economic, and social objectives together in a new synthesis called sustainable development, liberalizing trade and reviving growth could lead to short-term gains and long-term disaster. (New World Dialogue 1991)
Unless the goal of sustainability is integrated into trade patterns and agreements, trade imperatives will negate the most farsighted national policies for managing land, forests, fisheries, and genetic resources. Trade measures taken to protect the natural resource base will necessarily raise questions of sovereignty. These are thorny questions, to be sure, but every move toward economic integration also requires compromises of a nation’s exclusive right to decision-making, in return for reciprocal gains. Before nations will enter into such bargains, however, they must have agreements on the goals, the rules, and the procedures—that is, a trade regime that addresses trade liberalization and environmental protection. Nobody can foresee all the issues that will have to be dealt with in a new hemispheric trade regime, so the New World Dialogue proposed a lawyerly solution: that governments of the Americas create an intergovernmental hemispheric trade mechanism that would help sort out issues and facts and propose rules, procedures, and programs for dealing with them (Brown and Gabaldón 1992).

FINANCES: Generate additional funding for sustainable development from new and existing sources

Who would pay for this ambitious list of changes? All of us, beginning with each individual country in the hemisphere. Countries would put up most of the needed money themselves: they would siphon some of it away from unsustainable activities, adopt economic reforms, promote private savings and investment, and reverse capital flight.

Redirecting current military spending is another realistic source of funding. Redeploying part of a nation’s defense budget toward sustainable development is a reasonable response to the notion of environmental damage as a security threat. If each nation in the Americas cut its military spending by 20 percent from 1990 levels over the next five years, as proposed in the Compact, the dividend—$50 billion or more in the fifth year—could be used to reduce national debts and fund sustainable development strategies at home and abroad.

Debt must also be used to finance needed changes. Private debt would be reduced through an inter-American debt management authority created to purchase debt at discount rates on the secondary market and forgive it selectively over five to ten years as the debtor country kept its environmental commitments and moved toward sustainable development. Instead of imposing economic and environmental conditions on debtor countries, lenders and debtors would make symmetrical commitments for sustainable development. To this end, a debtor country’s performance should be evaluated using indicators that show improvements in the quality of life, protection and restoration of the resource base, eradication of poverty, and respect for individual freedoms, as well as sound economic performance. Enlarging the scope of debt-for-nature and debt-for-development swaps would also help. So would allowing interest payments on official debt to be used for development, as suggested in President Bush’s Enterprise for the Americas initiative.

In addition to a special fund within the Inter-American Development Bank to raise the number and quality of projects that advance sustainable development, the Compact calls for an important new funding source to be created by the hemisphere’s governments. This international “ecofund” would be managed by a hemispheric agency and financed along the lines suggested by José Goldemberg, Brazil’s former Minister of Education. Nations would agree to raise resources for the ecofund by “making the polluter pay”—that is, by levying taxes pegged to the carbon content of fossil fuels. One advantage of such a funding mechanism is that small levies can raise large sums: a tax of $1.00 per barrel of oil—or its carbon equivalent—would produce $16 billion annually if hemispheric consumption continued at 1989 levels. Another advantage is that such a tax offers an automatic mechanism, determined by formula and not dependent strictly on annual voluntary contributions from each government.

Maurice Strong, Secretary-General of UNCED, puts the cost of refurbishing the planet and greening future economic development at $125 billion a year, but the wealthy industrial world will not countenance anything close to that in the foreseeable future. Indeed, one-tenth that sum is probably closer to what will be made available for these ends in the immediate post-Rio era. Even at that reduced level, many industrial countries will be hard-pressed to contribute in the face of their own economic troubles and domestic opposition to raising taxes. The carbon tax outlined above at least has the advantage of raising revenue while reducing greenhouse gases and air pollution, encouraging technological innovation, and making an economy more efficient.

Besides making new funds available, it is crucial that current development assistance funds be spent on more ecologically responsible projects. It will be the planet’s loss if the World Bank targets the several billion dollars committed to its Global Environmental Facility toward greening the planet, while the hundreds of billions in the rest of its lending portfolio pull in the opposite direction.