Environment and development
An economic good, one learns in faculties of economic science, is defined as a scarce good which can be acquired through exchange. Professors used to cite water and air as examples of non-economic goods. These two elements, which are basic to life, existed in abundance in nature, and one could use them freely.
Today, no economist would take such an approach in his teaching, for in the space of a few decades, some of the major and fundamental concepts of economics have changed. It seems that air and water have also become economic goods, directly or indirectly traceable. What are the reasons for this change?
Doubtless, development models themselves have had something to do with it. The purpose of these has long been to find ways of maximising production without looking at the quantity of resources available and how or whether they can be renewed. More significantly, the two principal philosophies which dominated economic thinking up to the end of 1989 have both contributed to the growing deterioration of the environment, notwithstanding their very different approaches and objectives in development terms. There are also significant climatic variations which, in certain regions, have exacerbated human despoliation of the ecosystem. Then there are a great many other causes, associated with the remarkable pace of scientific change. This has played an immense role in the development of humankind, but it has also had its drawbacks - Bhopal, Chernobyl, toxic wastes and holes in the ozone layer.
Faced with these genuine and serious threats at global level, the international community has always responded. The scale of the danger on this occasion has prompted it to call an 'Earth Summit' which will take place in Rio de Janeiro in June of this year. This international conference is intended to bring together all the nations of the world for, according to the United Nations, the fate of the world is 'in our hands'. Will it be one of these talking-shops for which the UN is renowned? Or will it be a quantum leap by politicians, scientists, economists and philosophers which will open the door for the ecology to become one of the basic parameters of development ? It is the conference participants, who include the main decision-makers of the; world, who must decide the stakes.
As a contribution to the information and thinking on this vital subject, particularly in the post-Rio period. The Courier has put together a special Dossier. This contains a series of articles which include scientific analyses on a range of subjects, as well as the views of people working in the development policy and environmental fields.
The European Community, in many respects a pioneer m its development policy with the Third World, has, for a number of years, incorporated 'protection of nature and the environment' into its programmes. It has also devoted considerable financial resources to this end, as one can see from the following article by Dieter Frisch, Director General for Development at the European Commission.
Much is expected of the Rio meeting, even if some authoritative voices are already beginning to be raised, in doubt and even in scepticism, about its likely outcome. But whatever the sentiment before or after the meeting in Brazil, it is now certain that the defence of nature and the environment is simultaneously a question of survival and a motor for development. LUCIEN PAGNI
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