A fitting reply from the South

  • 14/07/1992

A fitting reply from the South ENVIRONMENT has emerged as a major concern for the world community. And rightly so, since the global environment is affected by the actions of different countries.

The theme has several dimensions: from saving the ozone layer to protecting biodiversity; from trade in hazardous wastes to managing tropical forests. Discussions on these topics are often based upon incomplete or inadequate scientific evidence and, as such, the debate has taken a complex turn through intricate negotiations and power games.

Developing countries must, therefore, ensure that the action programmes that emerge from the various conventions and agreements safeguard their interests. Environmental problems cannot be discussed in isolation from economic development and poverty removal programmes. It has also become necessary to expose the hollowness of the so-called scientific arguments of the North.

Towards a Green World, brought out by the Centre for Science and Environment, is a timely document giving readers an in-depth analysis of the global environmental problem. It is, in a way, the first of its kind from an institute in the developing world.

The first chapter, "Global Environmental Governance in a World of Inequality and Poverty", provides a useful overview of the environmental problem from the southern viewpoint. It emphasises the need for addressing the problem of global environmental management in an integrated manner by recognising economic and political inequalities, the co-existence of wealth and poverty, knowledge and ignorance, together with the destruction of the environment, all of which are interrelated.

It calls for a new international ecological order in which efforts are made to reduce global inequalities by sharing the responsibilities of environmental management in a fair and equitable manner. This chapter gives readers a very succinct account of the five major issues of world environmental management: the protection of the ozone layer, the problem of the lethal underworld trade in hazardous wastes, the issues of global warming, the protection of bio-diversity and the sustainable management of the world"s forests and, in particular, the tropical forests.

The document goes into each of these issues and highlights how the recommendations made in the conventions and the treaties fail to take care of the concerns of the poor and how industrialised countries and multinationals are interested in perpetuating existing inequities.

The authors express their unhappiness over the Montreal Protocol, since it is extremely one-sided and it does not assign any entitlement to the people or any penalties in the overexploitation of the common resources of the earth. They fear that the provisions of the protocol will perpetuate the technological subservience of developing countries to industrialised countries and multinationals, who would continue to exploit them for their benefit.

With regard to the greenhouse effect and the climate convention, the document vividly exposes the "WRI jugglery" in estimating the greenhouse effect. The authors" arguments are very scientific and convincing. This section also discusses other studies available on the subject and brings out the unsettled nature of the analysis, even in scientific circles. They give many strategies for the developing countries and call for an alternative vision of global environmental management.
Graphic account The second and the third chapters of the document give a graphic account of interventions by the powerful western nations in the management of the world"s environment. The authors argue that aid, trade and management of the debt of developing countries are used by western nations to influence the pattern and direction of development and investment in developing countries. Even the GATT provisions have, in the name of promoting free trade, perpetuated unfair practices. In the absence of suitable levers to influence global decision-making, developing countries continue to have policy initiatives thrust upon them by industrialised countries or by multilateral agencies.

The authors are highly critical of the North"s green politics, which tries to assert a sort of participatory democracy without global equality. They argue that the sudden enthusiasm at the political level in the West over environmental issues is largely because vote-banks in these countries are influenced by the kind of policies conceived by the seats of power. The authors rightly point out that these environmental concerns are not based on a deep conviction that the world is one and that it has to be managed as one.

The fourth chapter of the book describes the pathetic condition of the state of the South in terms of its degraded lands and desperate finances. The authors argue that environmental degradation in the South is strongly related to the global process of trade and economic relations and that the South needs "ecological space to grow, which has already been colonised". They express their firm belief that the key issue behind the growing environmental concern is participatory democracy.

In the fifth and final chapter of the document, the authors provide a blueprint for action. They distinguish between the environmental problems that are mainly amenable to community management at the local level and those that are amenable to global management. They provide a framework towards global environmental citizenship with rights and obligations at the global, national and community levels. Herein lies a vision which is perceived and conceived out of both anger and concern about environmental mismanagement by industrialised countries and the imperatives of development. While at the national level, the authors emphasise the need for village democracy with the full participation of the people, at the global level, they emphasise the need for a form of global environmental democracy in which the right to survival is guaranteed with an international mechanism to compensate the use of the poor"s biological knowledge.

The document is presented in an easy, readable style. Charts, statistical tables, cartoons and photographs interspersed at appropriate places make it a relevant study on this crucial topic.

---V R Panchamukhi is director of the Research and Information System for the Non-aligned and Other Developing Countries in New Delhi.

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