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Enormous Potential for Solving Environmental Problems

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9 May 2002|Press Release

One of the characteristics of the third phase of globalization (from 1974 on) has been the environmental interdependency of countries. Globalization has produced multiple effects in terms of environmental sustainability. Scientific evidence indicates that the growing scale and accumulated impact of human activities has resulted in global warming, the thinning of the ozone layer, the decline in biodiversity and the advance of desertification and drought (sometimes referred to as 'global public evils'). These are not reflected in markets but do affect common interests, beyond the national perspective.

In its document, Globalization and Development, the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) demonstrates that in the region, the main channels of transmission linking globalization and the environment are the changes registered in trade, investment and technological flows. Because the continent has for many years depended on patterns involving the exploitation of natural resources, exports and foreign direct investment inflows, pressures have accumulated that threaten its productive processes and increase its environmental vulnerability.

In the last 20 years there has been a proliferation of multilateral environmental treaties and intergovernmental institutions within and outside of the United Nations system, that require a rationalization of international environmental management. At the same time, developing countries are confronting increased pressures to incorporate environmental issues in their policies, in their integration agreements, and in trade negotiations.

In this sense, the most important advance in the past decade was the development of new judicial principles at the international level, particularly Principle 7 of the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, regarding 'common but differentiated responsibilities', which essentially recognizes the environmental debt that some countries have accrued with the rest of the world as a result of their industrialization.

Thus, ECLAC emphasizes, the environment will become an increasingly essential part of negotiations between Latin America and the Caribbean, and industrialized countries. Because of the importance of the global environmental services that it provides, such as storing carbon dioxide (the main generator of climate change due to the greenhouse effect) in its vast forests and its enormous wealth of biodiversity on land and sea, the region has the potential and the opportunity to play a fundamental role in solving global problems.

Environmental impact to the region, due to productive and technological restructuring, has dynamic, accumulative and hard-to-measure, medium- and long-term effects. New technologies, the exploitation of new renewable and unrenewable natural resources, the creation and dispersion of new biological forms and the emissions of new substances into the environment greatly affect the environment.

Moreover, over the last four years, Latin American and Caribbean countries have suffered from highly destructive natural disasters. Some countries, given their insufficient preparation and limited response capacity, are particularly vulnerable. The development pattern followed by most of these countries, which usually have high levels of poverty, unsuitable infrastructure, socio-economic exclusion, and a deteriorating environment, is a decisive factor in this enormous vulnerability.

Meanwhile, it is also clear that in the region, institutional development and capacity to manage the environment have been insufficient to contain the environmental costs of economic expansion and urban concentration experienced in recent periods. Strengthening institutional platforms and the skills necessary so countries can control the negative externalities of these processes remains incomplete. This is apparent in the relative weight of the environmental area in countries' budgets, where the fragility and lack of continuity in environmental institutions is all too apparent. That is why in smaller countries, particularly in the Caribbean, external aid is essential.

To deal with the effects of globalization on the environment and sustainable development, the ECLAC paper proposes the following:

  1. To consolidate national mechanisms for environmental management and strengthen institutions' ability to deal with these trends.

  2. To increase countries' capacity to respond to natural disasters.

  3. To develop institutions and mechanisms capable of leading the drive toward more sustainable management of energy and natural resources.

  4. To undertake innovative initiatives (both public and private) to finance the achievement of sustainable development objectives.

  5. To consolidate the creation of international markets for global environmental services and ensure the region is capable of participating actively therein.

  6. To increase the absorption of cleaner production technologies through existing trade links and foreign investment, and investment of their own in research and development.

  7. To increase political commitment of all social actors at the national, regional and global level to the goals of sustainable development.