A New Model for Global Environment Protection
THE difficulty of striking a worldwide environmental bargain is emerging as diverse interests begin to jockey for influence at the United Nation's "Earth Summit" in Rio de Janeiro next June."But it is not precisely what happens in Rio that's critical, it's Earth Summit process, beginning now and going maybe two years after, where a lot of proposals are being surfaced, a lot of governments are facing up to the things they haven't heard about before" that will be critical to a change in thinking about the way environmental problems are handled internationally, says James Gustave Speth, president of the World Resources Institute. As part of that process, the New World Dialogue - a group of 28 prominent Western Hemisphere politicians, economists, environmentalists and businessmen organized by WRI - today released a proposed model for international cooperation on environmental protection. That model, The New World Compact, calls for eight multilateral initiatives to protect forests, increase energy efficiency, slow pollution, reduce poverty, stabilize population growth, enhance scientific and technical capacity, promote trade and investment, and provide financial resources. Treating these issues as interdependent under the umbrella of the environment, the compact calls for them to be negotiated much as a trade or security treaty would be settled, with specific goals, timetables and incentives, including multilateral agencies to enforce and fund them. Underlying the compact is the principle of sustainable development, which holds that current development should meet needs in ways that won't compromise the environment and resources needed by future generations. Essentially, as the New World Dialogue interprets this, it means preventing the kind of urbanized, polluting industrialization characterized by North America. In announcing the compact, Mr. Speth was critical of the Bush administration for a lack of leadership in the preparatory negotiations for the Rio summit and for a lack of environmental measures in its Enterprise for the Americas initiative, which has successfully pulled the region together on free-trade agreements. Michael Deland, chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, disagreed. "The administration has been represented significantly at each of the [Rio preparatory] meetings," he says, adding that the free trade initiative includes a subgroup working on environmental aspects of the plan. As a model, the New World Compact "merits scrutiny," says Mr. Deland. But, for example, the proposal for a 30 percent reduction of per capita carbon dioxide emissions by the year 2005 does not jibe with administration policy, says Mr. Deland. Carbon dioxide emissions are one of the man-made greenhouse gases that may cause global warming. The US already has a good track record in dealing with carbon dioxide, he says, noting that over the last 20 years emissions have remained stable even though the economy has grown 50 percent. While Deland is close to noncommittal about the compact, it was dismissed outright by Patrick Michaels, a University of Virginia professor of environmental sciences who has been one of the chief debunkers of the global warming theory. "This is one of a series of documents to shame the US into assisting in a massive wealth transfer and there will be more as we approach [the Rio summit]," he says. "I ask how much would there be to this report if there were not a popular vision that climatic apocalypse is at hand. I suspect it wouldn't stand up," he says. While he believes there are legitimate environmental concerns in cross-border situations - such as the visible pollution he's seen on the US-Mexican border - Patrick says he is suspicious of any threats of global problems because the linchpin of the argument is based on global warming, which has not been scientifically proved. Perhaps as important as the compact's proposals was the ability of the diverse group of members to hammer out compromise, observes compact member Andre Saumier, a Canadian investment banker and former president of the Montreal Stock Exchange. He says it wasn't all "sweetness and light ... but a number of head-on collisions." The North-South, rich-poor divisions of the group mirrored those already emerging in the preparatory meetings for the UN Rio meeting, he says. Population control, military expenditure reductions were among the toughest debates. And the "conditionality issue the conditions put on developing countries in order to receive new financial assistance - is deeply felt problem that will be faced at the Rio summit, he says. "We know one of the greatest burdens of poverty is the feeling of powerlessness and countries resent this, the feeling of being kicked around by rich countries," Mr. Saumier says.