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Economic goals vs. world environment. Surprising consensus in UN report on global planning

A new environmental report has looked at ways that developing and industrialized countries could work together to achieve long-term economic growth without harming the environment. The report is the outcome of three years' work by the World Commission on Environment and Development, an independent body set up by the United Nations.

Although the United States refused to help fund the project, experts say it reflects a remarkable consensus on pressing global issues.

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Central to the report is the relationship between economic goals and environmental protection.

``The day when environment management and economic development seemed to be in conflict has to be put far behind us,'' Gro Harlem Brundtland, head of the commission and prime minister of Norway, said in a statement at the end of the group's final meeting in February.

Observers say the commission's greatest accomplishment may be that it avoided getting bogged down in the international politics that often hamper UN-related projects.

One issue that vexed the 23-member commission, for example, was the role of nuclear power in sustainable development. Some members wanted to ban it after the year 2000. In the end, the commission compromised, saying nuclear power was justifiable if there were solutions found to the environmental problems it caused.

The commission also wrangled over the usual range of economic concerns that pit industrialized countries against developing nations. The report strongly emphasizes the need for more equitable distribution and use of resources. But it also points out that domestic policies in third-world nations can hinder development.

``There's much less rhetoric in this report than would normally be expected when dealing with North-South relations,'' says a Reagan administration official familiar with the report.

``Some of the things we really can't agree with, but in a report covering as many issues as this one, that's not surprising,'' says the official. For example, the commission urges action on acid rain. The Reagan administration has said further study must be done to determine the problem's dimensions.

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The commission's report, issued today in London, is a massive document that chronicles problems ranging from acid rain to inequitable income distribution. It includes recommendations that governments revive economic growth, conserve and enhance resources, integrate environmental concerns into decision-making, and reform international economic relations to strengthen cooperation on environmental issues.

The group's mandate was to study environment and development and to come up with ``innovative, concrete, and realistic'' proposals to deal with them.

For example, the report concludes that all nations should ratify the Law of the Sea Treaty and work toward similar agreements to share other global resources. It also urges individual nations to press the World Bank and other multilateral lending organizations to give greater emphasis to environmental concerns before approving new projects.

``This is a powerful document, because it's forcefully stated,'' says James Gustave Speth, president of the World Resources Institute. ``It relates environmental and resource concerns very closely to things that the world cares about. ...''

Some analysts contend the commission was set up by the world body to show dissatisfaction with the performance of the UN Environment Program, created in 1972. Indeed, one reason the US refused to contribute to the commission was the feeling among State Department officials that it was just another UN study unlikely to have much impact.

The US, however, has been following the commission's work and has responded to requests for technical information.

William Ruckelshaus, a former administrator of the US Environmental Protection Agency, served on the commission. But as with the other members, he was not a representative of any government.

Those promoting the report say their main concern now is that it not fizzle out as so many other UN-related projects have. The Bruntland Commission - as it is called - plans a series of presentations around the world, in hopes of building support for its recommendations before a UN General Assembly discussion this fall.

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