The Brandt Proposals: A Report Card
ENERGY AND THE ENVIRONMENT
The Brandt Commission called for reduced dependence on non-renewable fuels, the development of clean energy sources, and a transnational energy strategy. The Brandt Reports also proposed that subsidies and credits be issued to spur the development of solar, wind, and other non-fossil energies. Brandt noted that linkage between economic interdependence, energy production, and conservation is an issue of vital concern to every nation:
"Important harm to the environment and depletion of scarce natural resources is occurring in every region of the world, damaging soil, sea, and air. The biosphere is our common heritage and must be preserved by cooperation – otherwise life itself could be threatened" (N-S, 72-73).
The Brandt Commission was the first major independent global panel to examine connections between the environment and international development. The 1987 Brundtland Report (Our Common Future, by the World Commission on Environment and Development), and the 1992 Rio Summit (the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development) took the Brandt proposals a step further, placing the model of 'sustainability' at the center of all global planning for development.
Various initiatives grew out of the Rio Summit, including a long-term plan to curb global warming. Since the late 1980s, many scientists have argued that greenhouse gases are trapping heat in the atmosphere, raising the temperature on earth. The Kyoto Protocol of 1997 sought to require 37 industrialized nations to reduce their emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases 5.2% below 1990 levels by the year 2012. Following on this, in 2001 a pioneering accord was signed by 178 nations in a round of negotiations chaired by Jan Pronk, Environmental Minister of the Netherlands and former ex officio member of the Brandt Commission.
This treaty requires industrialized nations to cut emissions of gases linked to global warming. One of the provisions of the accord was international emissions trading, which allows countries that fall below their reduction targets to receive credits they can sell to countries that exceed theirs.
Tradable credits would also be extended to nations practicing reforestation and agricultural methods that absorb carbon dioxide.
The pact was a major breakthrough, even though America refused to sign it. While the US is responsible for about one-quarter of the world's industrial greenhouse gas emissions, President Bush called the treaty fatally flawed, claiming it would imperil the world economy. He cited the testimony of scientists who believe that there is no conclusive link between greenhouse gas emissions and global warming. The agreement must be ratified by September 2002 to take effect in early 2003.
Meanwhile, conditions worsen. Market policies have prevented international endorsement of the Brandt objectives. There is no semblance of a comprehensive international energy plan today. Developed countries have been slow to address problems of trash buildup, industrial pollution, acid rain, automotive emissions, and climate change. In developing countries, overpopulation is a serious threat to the ecosystem, as millions of people swell already crowded cities, or exploit traditional common lands and fields, causing deforestation, topsoil loss, desertification, contamination of water, degradation of natural resources, overfishing of the oceans, and the extinction of biological species.
The bad news at the Millennium is that global carbon dioxide emissions have increased 12% since 1980. The good news is worldwide carbon emissions from fossil fuels have decreased slightly since 1998. Some scientists and economists now believe that the world could have economic growth without increased pollution. They argue that as the engines behind the market are being altered by the technological revolution and the digitization of the productive infrastructure, statistical evidence is now indicating that economic growth and emissions are not absolutely dependent conditions, moving in lockstep. Perhaps with the emergence of the light-industrial information sector, they say, there may be no irrevocable link between world economic growth and carbon dioxide emissions from oil, gas, and other fossil fuels.
However, we cannot rely on clean technology alone to bring the present rate of economic growth nearer to the rate of natural resource development. Developed nations consume ten times the amount of fossil fuel as developing nations. There is no way around it: developed countries have to cut industrial emissions and developing nations have to stop stripping their natural resources. Environmental clean-up and reforestation is a beginning.
Beyond that, international environmental objectives must be carefully linked with global financial and monetary objectives.
Integrative solutions are coming to the fore. Goals for phasing out the production and consumption of substances that cause depletion of the stratospheric ozone layer – set forth by the Montreal Protocol in 1987 – have been met by governments and industry more rapidly than originally thought possible. The trading of carbon emissions credits between nations is a key part of the Kyoto treaty on stemming climate change. The international community may also eventually decide to assess major polluters through taxes and permits.
As economists and environmentalists continue butting heads over how and whether to increase or decrease consumption, the result will be a much needed modification in our ways of understanding the exchange of goods and services in the future. The environmental factor adds a new dimension to economics, which has traditionally focused on the social aspects of production and distribution. As a result of this new thinking, more and more businesses are building safeguards for biodiversity and climate protection into their budgets. Increasingly, there has been a commitment to conservation, as well as a deep concern for the quality of life of present and future generations. The promise of equity-based sustainable development, combining economic and environmental reforms, has been one of the true bright spots of the last two decades.
Realization of that promise, however, depends on people and nations recognizing that they have more to gain from sharing the world than in keeping it divided.
Environmental challenges – from global warming to the depletion and degradation of resources – call for enlightened and responsible leadership. It is arrogant to play politics with the ecosystem. Presently, the objectives of corporate and foreign direct investment, along with the policies of the World Trade Organization, the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund, emphasize economic growth at the expense of natural resources and biodiversity.
Preservation of resources is a global goal, and thus a national goal; yet, there is no abiding commitment by nations to increase access to energy, move from finite to solar and other renewable energy sources, improve energy efficiency, or change consumption patterns. The need is great for an internationally authorized standard or agency, such as the United Nations, to protect and manage the ecosystems and biodiversity of the global commons, ensuring a balance between the pressures of population growth, consumption patterns, and the limits of environmental resources.
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