Building peace in the minds of men and women

Environment and development: a global commitment

Five centuries ago, the discovery of the New World proved that the Earth is round. And therefore finite. Paradoxically, the Immense extent of the lands thus revealed enabled human beings to persist until our own times in the mistaken belief that the wealth of nature was inexhaustible and that they could continue with impunity to increase their numbers and multiply their needs indefinitely.

The truth is that the Earth's resources are still considerable, but the race is on between these needs - vital or superfluous - and the means of satisfying them. In spite of scientific breakthroughs and the wonders of technology we are far from sure of winning this race. The rampant population growth that is still going on, especially in the poor countries, and the frenetic consumption of material goods and energy, especially in the rich countries, combine in a model of economic development which weighs too heavily on all the components of our environment and is not "sustainable".

This issue of the Courier, by seeking to provide some insights Into the manifestations of this environmental crisis, shows that the latter is equally a crisis of development. Environment and development: the two faces of a single dilemma In the pursuit of human destiny, the subject of the United Nations Conference which will be held at Rio de Janeiro in June 1992.

This is a subject UNESCO knows well and one with which it has been concerned since Its Inception. It was under UNESCO's auspices that the International Union for the Conservation of Nature was founded in 1948. Around the same time UNESCO launched a scientific programme for the study and use of arid regions. In 1961 the Intergovernmental Océanographie Commission was established in UNESCO in order to promote worldwide co-operation in the study of the seas, their resources, their protection and their influence on the life of the planet. At the same time study was organized on the Earth's crust, its wealth and the natural hazards associated with it In 1964 the International Hydrologlcal Decade was launched to further knowledge and management of the water resources of all countries. Finally, in 1968, UNESCO organized a conference on the rational use and conservation of the resources of the biosphere, from which sprang the interdisciplinary programme on Man and the Biosphere (MAB) which ¡s today at the centre of UNESCO activities related to the environment.

In 1972 the United Nations Conference at Stockholm created a new wave of interest in environmental questions, both in public opinion and in governments, encouraging UNESCO to persevere with its International scientific programmes. It also Invited UNESCO to promote and strengthen environmental education in schools and universities. At the same time, the adoption of the Convention on the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage affirmed the dual nature of our common heritage and the indispensablllty of International co-operation in conserving the great symbols of this heritage.

UNESCO has thus long been a place of convergence for all those approaches which attempt, through education, science and culture, to reconcile development and environment, and to restore the original partnership between man and nature.

However, the efforts made so far, both at the national and the international level, have proved less than adequate. The enterprise will need time to bear fruit. It calls for a thorough revision of ways of thinking and economic mechanisms which are deeply entrenched in the industrialized countries and more or less accepted as models in the others, as well as a radical change in habits and attitudes which will be felt by many as a sacrifice. It prescribes that short-term preoccupations should no longer obstruct long-term Imperatives, and involves taking as precautionary measures unpopular decisions which are not based on absolute certainties. It calls for the reshaping of over-compartmentalized institutions and far-reaching changes In investment priorities. It means the rich countries agreeing to increase their aid to the poor countries for taking the environment into account (what is known as "additionality"), and the latter agreeing in exchange to change the direction of certain development projects to protect the environment (the principle of "condltionallty"). It requires the adoption of a new form of economic accountancy which takes into account hitherto Ignored values such as pure air, clean water, wild animals and landscapes. It requires that each of us should realize what is at stake, examine our behaviour and set an example. Without delay.

Michel Batisse

Discover this issue. Download the PDF. 

Read Jacques Cousteau's interview about the protection of the environment in an age of rapid economic expansion and population growth here or in the pages 8-13 of the PDF.

November 1991

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