The European Community's approach to UNCED Sustainable development - A strategy for the 21st century
After all the festivities are over, and everyone has gone home, the documents that are left after Rio will be examined with a fine toothcomb. Two years of hectic and frenetic negotiation will be encapsulated into three or four basic texts that will represent the international community's contract for concerted action in the field of environment and development. Every signatory to these texts will be obliged to take them away and analyse their implications for their own nation or organisation.
At the time of writing, only four months before the UNCED conference, the content of these contracts is very vague. All is still to play for. But no-one denies that the stakes are very high. During the last 20 years, since the 1972 Stockholm Conference, there have been very profound changes in people's perceptions of environment and development issues. Originally put into separate boxes and left to wage their own battles in isolation, the 'environmentalists and the 'developmentalists' have been obliged to merge their forces and to come up with a united strategy for addressing the world's problems.
The key has been introduction of the concept of 'sustainable' development. There have been a myriad of interpretations of what this means, but this does not matter. What does matter is that this concept has changed our way of viewing either environment or development issues. The quick-fix solutions are no longer appropriate. All the long term consequences must be worked through.
This sounds relatively easy, but who would have thought 20 years ago that ozone levels and greenhouse gases would be the subject of international conventions? Planning for the unpredictable remains one of our greatest long-term challenges.
Rio will also be about equity, about burden-sharing and about responsibilities for maintaining the life processes of the planet. These are highly complex and contentious matters. Time will tell whether they can be resolved within the very tight timeframe before us.
Launch of a new programme for sustainable development
The European Community is a major player at Rio. It has already taken a number of major steps systematically to incorporate sustainable development criteria into its own programmes and activities. As the UNCED process is about to reach its peak at Rio, the
Community is set to embark upon one of its most ambitious programmes to date. 'Towards Sustainability': A European Community Programme of Policy and Action in relation to the Environment and Sustainable Development will set the agenda for the Community's 340 million citizens over the next ten years.
Its objective is simple and direct: to ensure sustainability criteria are integrated into the heart of the Community's economic decision-making. This approach is to be applied not only within the Community borders, but also in its commercial and other relationships within the wider international framework.
It is no coincidence that this, the Community's 5th Action Programme on the Environment, coincides with a major international conference on the Environment and Development. Before 1972 the Community had no Environment Policy. It was not provided for in the Treaty of Rome which established the European Economic Community in 1957. But in response to the 1972 Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment, the Community's leaders decided that it should establish its own Environment Programme, which was approved in 1973 for a five-year period. This was followed by the 2nd, 3rd and 4th programmes in 1977, 1983 and 1987 respectively. Since then over 200 pieces of environmental legislation have been adopted and implemented.
During recent years there has been considerable interest in the linkage between the Environment and Developmeet.
There is no doubt that the seminal work of the World Commission on Environment and Development, chaired by Gro Brundtland, which published 'Only One Earth' in April 1987 has greatly influenced Community thinking. It sparked off an internal debate which culminated in December 1988 in a Declaration at the Rhodes Council of Ministers' Meeting that: 'Sustainable development must be one of the overriding objectives of all Community policies'.
This was followed in May 1990 by a Council of Ministers resolution on Environment and Development, and at Dublin in June one month later by a statement which remains the cornerstone of the Community's policy in this area: 'We recognise our special responsibility for the environment 60th to our own citizens and to the wider world. We undertake to intensify our efforts to protect and enhance the natural environment of the Community itself and of the wider world of which it is part. We intend that action by the Community and its Member States will be developed on a co-ordinated basis and on the principles of sustainable development and preventative and precautionary action... The objective of such action must be to guarantee citizens the right to a clean and healthy environment... The full achievement of this must be a shared objective'
The Lomé IV Convention
During the last 20 years, the Lomé Convention has been the cornerstone of the Community's policy towards its partner ACP countries. The evolution of the various texts is in itself a barometer of changes in world opinion on the most pressing development issues. At the time of the negotiation of the Lomé III Convention, the word 'sustainability' had not entered modern jargon. Attention was focused on the appalling droughts and famines in the Sahelian countries. Not surprisingly, the development of strategies to alleviate food shortages and to combat desertification became the central themes.
Although these problems have not gone away, when negotiators started to examine possible Lomé IV texts, it became clear that the concerns expressed in the Brundtland report had to be adequately addressed. The result is that sustainable development has moved on to the centre stage as the main thrust of the Community's development policy. The Lomé IV Convention was signed in December 1989 and includes for the first time a new Title I on the environment. Many of the policies set out in the Convention are reflected also in 'Towards Sustainability', with the major difference that this latter document attempts to set implementation targets for a range of environment and development objectives.
Articles 4, 6 and 14 of Lomé set out l some of the basic principles of this policy, . which must be: 'based on a sustainable balance between its economic objectives, the rational management of the environment and the enhancement of natural and human resources... priority must he given to environmental protection and the conservation natural resources, which are essential conditions for sustainable and balanced development from both the economic and human viewpoints... co-operation shall entail mutual responsibility for preservation of the natural heritage.'
The programming exercise for Lomé IV is virtually complete and in a large majority of cases environmental concerns feature prominently. The translation of these into concrete projects and programmes is currently underway.
Other Community agreements
The emphasis on sustainable development has not been limited to the Community's Lomé partners. The Community's agreements with its partners in Asia and Latin America (ALA), in the I Mediterranean, and most recently in Eastern Europe all reflect the same l priorities. The environmental component of these programmes is now very significant in response to the severe environmental degradation and decay facing them.
Increases in internal budgets for funding ecology projects in developing countries, as well as tropical forestry actions, have also taken place following repeated demands of the European Parliament to expand European intervention in these areas.
Most recently, in February this year, a special extra provision of ECU 50 m was set aside to fund tropical forest conservation programmes. This decision reflected the increasing public interest in this issue and the feeling that the Community, as a major consumer of tropical woods and a significant supporter of forestry development programmes, has a special role to play in this important sector.
Overseas development assistance
As well as being the world's largest importer and exporter, the European Community also provides a larger proportion of overseas development assistance than any other country or grouping. At present, the aid from the European Commission and its Member States represents 47% of all overseas development assistance to developing countries, consisting of 0.45% of GDP (this proportion is twice as high as that provided by the United States or Japan).
Although it is very difficult to put precise figures on the amount allocated for 'environment' programmes-due to problems in defining what activities should be included in this category-the overall annual allocation to developing countries by the Commission, excluding bilateral programmes funded directly by the European Member States, is probably in the region of ECU 1 billion per year.
The increasing awareness of environmental problems amongst developing countries has been reflected in the high priority given to this sector in the Lomé IV programmes, and will no doubt be translated into an increasing number of projects and programmes.
Environment projects in ACP countries
The diversity of actions that have so far been financed has already been touched on by other articles in this issue, notably the Commission's programme for the Fight against Desertification in the Sahel, and the wide number of activities in the forestry and fisheries sectors. As might be expected, Africa has been the primary beneficiary of such support.
In the forestry sector, evaluated in April 1991, some 255 projects were financed between 1978 and 1990. The latest and biggest is the ECU 24 m programme in West and Central Africa for the conservation and sustainable use of the forestry resources. The Commission has been an active member in the Tropical Forest Action Programme (TFAP) process, has supported the preparation of TFAPs in Guinea, Zaire and the Congo and will provide similar support to the CARICOM countries, Nigeria and Ethiopia. It is also co-leading with the World Bank the TFAP in Guinea Bissau. The Commission recognises that there are many difficulties in implementing the TFAP process but recognises its inherent merits as a means of establishing comprehensive national forestry policies and programmes.
As regards the fight against desertification, an analysis in 1989, which has not yet been updated, indicated that 230 primarily environmental projects had been financed between 1986 and 1989 for a total of some ECU 1700 m.
As regards the Fisheries sector, which covers a very wide series of interventions at both the industrial and the artisanal levels, significant efforts have been made to improve fisheries management measures. There has been a special focus on regional projects: in the Gulf of Guinea, the Indian Ocean, West Africa and the Pacific, since it is well understood that fish do not respect national boundaries and therefore management measures must be widened beyond the national frontiers. The most comprehensive programmes have been established in the Pacific, where there is already a good infrastructure for regional fisheries management, and the Commission has assisted in fish tagging studies and overall management policy through a ECU 10m marine resources programme.
In the energy sector, many projects have been directed towards boosting the role of renewable energy resources and reducing energy demand. Improved use of fuelwood through the introduction of more energy efficient stoves (Malawi), rural energy schemes (the Bahamas) and rural electrification (Mayotte and Fiji) are just some of the many schemes that have been tried.
Finally, mention should also be made of the specific efforts of the Commission to support national parks and wildlife management. The bulk of these activities are focused on Central and Western Africa and East and Southern Africa. Rehabilitation of the National Parks in Uganda has been a major programme, and similar efforts are being developed in Kenya, Tanzania and elsewhere. The Commission remains convinced that such activities merit substantial support. Apart from the conservation of biodiversity arguments, for many of these countries the revenue created from exploitation of national parks and reserves makes a highly significant contribution to the national economy (in Kenya for example it represents 40% of all foreign exchange earnings.)
Environment projects in Asia, Latin America and the Mediterranean
In general, Commission-funded environment activities are less well-developed in the above regions compared with the Lomé countries. The most significant programme to date (ECU 11.8m in 1991) has been the MEDSPA programme in the Mediterranean, run by the EIB in co-operation with the World Bank.
However, some recent Council decisions have resulted in reserving a fixed proportion (10%) of certain budget lines for these countries for environment programmes and these are under consideration at present.
Also, the Commission has already made a commitment of ECU 15 m towards a major forestry conservation and development programme in Brazil and is co-ordinating, together with the World Bank and the Brazilian authorities, a major donor effort within which various Member States, notably Germany, are providing the lion's share.
These brief examples illustrate that the Commission is conscious of environment imperatives and that these are widely reflected in the actual co-operation agreements and programmes funded by the Commission throughout the developing world.
Community position at UNCED
Since the adoption of UN Resolution 44/228 in December 1989 calling for the convening of a UN Conference on the Environment and Development in 1992, the Community has played a very active role in trying to ensure that the Conference is a success.
Organisationally, the Community position is co-ordinated by the Presidency, which rotates every six months, and which prepares Community statements on each of the UNCED topics in coordination with the Commission services.
In common with many other organisations, the lead 'ministry' within the Commission responsible for UNCED has been the Environment Directorate General, assisted by the Development and External Relations Directorates General and other relevant departments.
As well as playing an active role in the International Framework Convention on Climate Change and the International Convention on Biodiversity, the Community has, during the course of 1990 and 1991, refined its position on the various agenda points.
The 3rd Preparatory Committee in Geneva (August 1991) marked an important move forward in this respect, since the Community under the Netherlands Presidency was able to respond in a positive sense to the various positions taken by the Group of 77 countries.
Mr J.G.M. Alders, Minister of Housing, Physical Planning and Environment of the Netherlands, speaking on behalf of the Community in Geneva, was out-spoken in his support for a dynamic and new process of international action to launch initiatives at UNCED which are concise and realistic and would last well into the 21st century.
The Commission, for its part, adopted in October 1991, a Common Platform for a Community Position on UNCED which sets out in great detail, the way in which the Commission has responded to the UNCED issues. This position was subsequently taken on board by successive meetings of European Development and Environment Ministers in December.
This Council of Ministers' position represents a marked advance on the position adopted by the first ever meeting of OECD Ministers of Environment and Development on December 4th, and has laid the groundwork for the Community position at the 4th Prepcom in New York (regrettably The Courier had to go to press before the results of this meeting were known.)
The European Parliament too has debated UNCED in both its Development and Environment Committees and adopted very strong statements in support of the UNCED ideals.
At the time of writing it is not difficult to predict the main sticking points. The key issue of 'new and additional financial resources', approved in the UN resolution of December 1989, and subsequently adopted by the European Council of Ministers in December 1991, has provoked a lively discussion between the main UNCED players.
In the 4th Prepcom papers submitted by the UNCED Secretariat in February 1992, a figure of US $125 billion per year was considered to be the minimum requirement to implement the Agenda 21 (the document refers to a real requirement of five to six times this figure.) If this is set in the context of the Commission's total annual budget of approximately ECU 70 billion (covering all agriculture, structural, and other expenditure), or the ECU 12 billion figure for the entire Lomé IV programme over a five-year period, this illustrates the enormous gap that needs to be filled.
The developing countries believe that the industrialised world, having been largely responsible for the global environmental problems, should finance the clean-up operations. The industrialised countries accept this analysis in part, but do not believe that provision of additional financial resources will, in itself, solve these problems. What is needed is change, in both the developed and developing countries, in the way in which economic development activities are conceived and implemented.
The Commission has certainly taken this on board, and the 5th Environmental Action Programme referred to at the beginning of this article is intended to set the Community's own agenda. But in a world where many economic activities are interlinked, the Community may be reluctant to push too far forwards when it sees that its economic competitors are not playing the same tune. For example, the Community initiatives on an energy tax, and on rapid reductions in CO2 and CFC levels, have, in the Commission's view, to be followed by the international community as a whole.
Although, inevitably, much attention is currently focused on Rio and the specific outputs of the UNCED negotiations in June, the Commission is very much aware of the rapid-and often unpredictable-changes in the world community: the unprecedented developments in Eastern Europe, the advances in the democratisation process in Africa and elsewhere, political evolution within Europe after Maastricht, the GATT and UNCTAD negotiations etc.
These often dramatic changes demand a flexible and dynamic response. UNCED must therefore not be seen as a straightjacket to which policies and programmes are strictly aligned, but rather as an internationally accepted framework into which each country and institution can bring its own appropriate contribution.
The Community, as a major player on the world scene, is conscious of its role in shaping future developments. It is determined to improve the long-term welfare of its own citizens as well as of those of its partners. It has accepted the basic principle of sustainable development as the key to future economic development. In the fields of development policy and environment policy the Community has been, and will continue to be, a pacesetter. The challenge, so cogently put in the Brundtland report, is there before us: can the present generation pass the environment on to the next generation in a fit state to maintain public health and social and economic welfare at a high level? UNCED will be the litmus test.
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