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Introduction: Toward Planetary Stewardship
THERE ARE MORE PEOPLE AND ECONOMIC ACTIVITY ON THE PLANET THAN ever before, and the environmental consequences of actions large and small are now more widely felt than ever before. A house constructed in the United States often contains wood imported from fragile tropical ecosystems; the transportation of materials required consumption of polluting fossil fuels; many of the building supplies used in construction release gases that can be toxic to construction workers and to the occupants of the house. Small-scale decisions combine to have larger consequences, in terms of both public health and the broader health of the global environment on which human societies and their economies depend. As the number of people on the planet grows, and their consumer aspirations grow even faster, the collective human footprint on the planet is becoming increasingly heavy and global in scope.
How can we address these global environmental threats? This book investigates the various approaches that the community of nations, environmental groups, international businesses, and organizations have pursued in recent decades. It describes and evaluates the effectiveness of these efforts and, in so doing, shows what principles of governance we can apply to both policymaking and individual choices on behalf of an environmentally sustainable future.
These threats can be examined from global, national, and local perspectives. Each perspective has value, and each receives attention here. Through the global perspective, we can gauge the health of the planet and examine how human societies are interacting with the natural world. At the national level, where territory is controlled by sovereign nations, the most important political decisions are actually made in today's world. At the local level, individuals and communities make choices about what products to buy and what kinds of lives to live, at least those of us fortunate enough to live where such choices are possible. We know the local environmental quality because we see it, breathe it, work and play in it. There is tremendous power in this concreteness but also the potential for confusion if the threats are global—such as climate change—seemingly remote and certainly hard to perceive.
Few people deliberately set out to destroy the environment, although in war and on other occasions such intentional destruction has occurred. Corporate executives, government officials, and citizens don't begin each day with the intent to do environmental damage. People act to reap rewards, and most often the benefits of economic decisions are immediate and gratifying while the costs of these decisions are often borne broadly by others, sometimes others in far parts of the world who have no way of expressing their displeasure, or those in the future who are not yet even born. So we continue to drive inefficient vehicles and keep our houses overly warm in the winter and chillingly cold in the summer, and companies continue to produce gas-guzzling SUVs and generate electricity in outmoded coal-fired power plants—all despite strong warnings that our reliance on fossil fuels—coal, oil, and natural gas—is warming the earth.
These problems are not solved simply by decree; steps must be taken to provide a powerful new set of incentives and disincentives to institutions and individuals whose behavior affects the environment. Creating these incentives and disincentives is conventionally the realm of government, acting at all three levels and wielding powers to tax, spend, and regulate. But funds can also be raised privately without taxation, consumers spend far more than governments, and various means exist to accomplish de facto regulation even without governmental authority to coerce. So governance can sometimes be accomplished, up to a point, without governments.
The challenge of the global environment is fundamentally one of effective governance—global environmental governance. This book chronicles and critiques the international community's first attempt to build such an approach, which spanned the quarter century between 1980 and 2005. Of course the story is still unfolding, and there are many lessons yet to be learned. What will happen in the next era remains to be decided.
Stewardship Assignments: A Thought Experiment
Let us begin with a very global perspective. Can you imagine Earth without people, not today's Earth but an Earth that evolved to the present without us? If you can contemplate such a world with satisfaction rather than sadness—a world with forests of majestic old-growth trees, with oceans brimming over with fish, with clear skies literally darkened by passing flocks of birds, thriving with an awe-inspiring diversity of life and landscape but without people—then you not only have a vivid environmental imagination but, more to the point, you are ready for your first assignment as an environmental steward.
Imagine further that you live on a different planet that also circles Earth's sun. Though your world has become depleted and polluted, you and your people have decided to leave Earth alone—to protect it and all its beauty and let it evolve in its own uninterrupted way. It is enough to know that it is there in all its richness, protected for all time, wild, whole, and beautiful.
Your assignment of protecting the pristine Earth is almost entirely farfetched, but not completely. Consider that on Sunday, September 21, 2003, the space probe Galileo, having provided scientists extraordinary amounts of new information about Jupiter's moons, was intentionally incinerated in a fiery crash into Jupiter itself. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration scientists took this unusual step out of concern that organisms from our planet—stowaways on Galileo—might still be alive and therefore might contaminate one of Jupiter's moons, where life might already exist waiting to be discovered. A decision had been made to leave Jupiter's moons intact and unpolluted. And in the United States today an area the size of California has been set aside as "forever wild" in a magnificent system of national wilderness areas.
But now imagine that another decision has been made. Your world has just learned that it is going to be demolished to make room for an intergalactic hyperspatial express route. When your people complained to the Hyperspace Planning Council about this planned destruction, you were told that the proposed expressway plan had been duly posted in the local planning department in Alpha Centauri and that the time for public comment had long since expired! (With apologies to The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.)
As a result of these unfortunate developments, your people—all 6.5 billion of you—have now decided to colonize the pristine Earth. Your new assignment as environmental steward is to settle Earth in a way that allows all of you to enjoy a decent standard of living while having the smallest possible impact on Earth's environment.
In contemplating this difficult assignment, two things occur to you right away. First, if you are going to sustain Earth's environment, you had better understand how Earth works: how Earth's abundant species interact among themselves and with the landscape; how Earth's great natural cycles of water, oxygen, carbon, nitrogen, and others work together to sustain life; where the areas of greatest species richness and diversity and also the zones of greatest fragility are located. If you hope to disturb Earth minimally, then you have first to understand it. So there is first and foremost a huge science project to be undertaken—the science of environmental sustainability.
Second, you see right away that all the nation-states fleeing your planet together must agree at the outset on a set of principles to guide your settlement of Earth, to do so in such a way that the planet will provide a lasting home for you and your people. You're not going to want to undertake such a task more than once! Where do you begin?
One recent effort on the part of international lawyers to elaborate sustainable development principles for nation-states to consider was the New Delhi Declaration of Principles of International Law Relating to Sustainable Development, developed in 2002 by the International Law Association. It provides the following:
"States are under a duty to manage natural resources, including natural resources within their own territory or jurisdiction, in a rational, sustainable and safe way so as to contribute to the development of their peoples .. and to the conservation and sustainable use of natural resources and the protection of the environment, including ecosystems. States must take into account the needs of future generations in determining the rate of use of natural resources. All relevant actors (including States, industrial concerns and other components of civil society) are under a duty to avoid wasteful use of natural resources and promote waste minimization policies."
"The protection, preservation and enhancement of the natural environment, particularly the proper management of the climate system, biological diversity and fauna and flora of the Earth, are the common concern of humankind. The resources of outer space and celestial bodies and of the sea-bed, ocean floor and subsoil thereof beyond the limits of national jurisdiction are the common heritage of humankind."
But are these proposed principles of international law sufficiently ambitious and unambiguous to guide the contemplated settlement of Earth? Perhaps, but you may want to consider more demanding requirements. And in any event, such broad principles must be supplemented with specific policies and programs that address such fundamental issues as the growth of human populations, the choice of technologies to be used on Earth, the pattern of human settlements to be allowed, the permitted means of transportation and communication, and so on. Moreover, to deal with the problem of the sovereign nations of your planet cooperating in the settlement of Earth, you may wish to consider far-reaching provisions such as these:
"The Earth shall be used by all States Parties exclusively for peaceful purposes."
"In exploring and using the Earth, States Parties shall take measures to prevent the disruption of the existing balance of its environment whether by introducing adverse changes in that environment, by its harmful contamination through the introduction of extra-environmental matter or otherwise."
The Earth and its natural resources are the common heritage of mankind ..."
"The Earth is not subject to national appropriation by any claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means."
"Neither the surface nor the subsurface of the Earth, nor any part thereof of natural resources in place, shall become property of any State, international intergovernmental or non-governmental organization, national organization or non-governmental entity or of any natural person."
These are in fact actual provisions of the Moon Treaty, the 1979 Agreement Governing the Activities of States on the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies, with Earth substituted for moon in the text. As of 2005, only 11 countries had ratified the 1979 Moon Treaty. No country with a significant space program, including the United States, had ratified it.
In the end there is the question whether it will be possible for 6.5 billion of you to settle Earth and build a world economy that can provide everyone a prosperous standard of living, all the while protecting the treasured natural beauty and bounty of the planet. Whatever the odds of achieving this truly sustainable development on Earth, they are improved if the people and nations undertaking the colonization are at peace not at war, if they are democracies not dictatorships, if their people are well-informed about science and policy choices, if they share deeply the values of social justice and environmental protection and care about the future as well as themselves, if they have a tradition of working together cooperatively to forge common goals and solve mutual problems, and if they enjoy a level of economic development that enables them to spend resources on environmental protection. Do the nations of your world meet these tests? If they cannot agree on fundamental goals and how to realize them, and cooperate successfully among themselves, then their experiment in global governance on the new planet will likely fail.
The Real World: Only One Earth
However difficult planning the sustainable settlement of a pristine planet might be, it is child's play compared with the real-world task we all now face on Earth. As the 1987 World Commission on Environment and Development (the Brundtland Commission) wrote, "the Earth is one but the world is not." How do we achieve environmental sustainability in our world today? The real world's 6.5 billion people are already spread across six continents, settled in geographic patterns that have been determined historically over thousands of years. They work in a $55 trillion world economy (in 2003 U.S. dollars) made possible by technologies designed when the environment was not a concern and obeying price and other market signals that do not take environmental protection into account. They live in nation-states claiming sovereignty within their geographic borders, including the sovereign right to develop the natural resources within those borders as they see fit. These nation-states are divided between rich and poor, democratic and nondemocratic. They are divided by race, religion, ethnicity, language, history, and natural resources. The leading examples of their cooperation among themselves are wartime collaborations, and like the tribes and clans that preceded them, they are prone to conflict to advance their interests as they see them. Since World War II there have been 38 significant international wars (defined as conflicts with more than 1,000 battle deaths and with more than 5 percent of the combatant national troops involved); however, the vast majority of armed conflicts have been civil wars, often of long standing, where the principal casualties are civilians.
The willingness and ability of human societies to wreak havoc on the environment is not new. In 1948 Fairfield Osborn wrote in his prescient book, Our Plundered Planet, that, "Man's misuse of the land is very old, going back thousands of years." He chronicled how the "cradle of civilization" in the Middle East gradually became a desert, how Greece and Turkey were deforested, and how the more recent destruction of the American prairie contributed to the Dust Bowl. Historians speak of numerous other civilizations, once mighty like the Khmer Empire in Southeast Asia or the small tribes that lived on Easter Island in the far Pacific Ocean, that have collapsed, caused in part by destruction of their environments.
Despite these serious depredations in times past, historian J. R. McNeill is correct in asserting that the twentieth century brought something new under the sun. The twentieth century, and particularly the period since World War II, he writes, "shattered the constraints and rough stability of the old economic, demographic and energy regimes." McNeill goes on to write, "In environmental history, the twentieth century qualifies as a peculiar century because of the screeching acceleration of so many of the processes that bring ecological change."
So extraordinary has been this scaling up of environmental impacts in the twentieth century that by 1980 it became obvious that nations would have to collaborate in framing responses to a set of environmental threats of global significance. As noted, we can think of this collective response as the birth of global environmental governance. Why were societies driven to make that effort? What have been the principal means governments have chosen for environmental cooperation? How have they fared? What could be done in a second phase of global environmental governance to correct past and current deficiencies? These are among the key questions taken up in this book.CHAPTER 2
Global-Scale Environmental Challenges
AN IMPORTANT THING HAPPENED IN 1975 AND THE YEARS IMMEDIATELY following: for the first time, an aroused American public acted as stewards of the global environment.
In 1974, Mario Molina and F. S. Rowland, two University of California scientists, realized that the widespread use of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs)—highly stable compounds used in aerosol propellants, refrigeration, foam-blowing, and industrial solvents—could damage Earth's stratospheric ozone shield. They hypothesized that CFCs could add chlorine to the stratosphere and, through complex chemical reactions, reduce the amount of stratospheric ozone, thus weakening the shield and allowing more harmful UVB radiation to reach Earth's surface.
Excerpted from Global Environmental Governance by James Gustave Speth, Peter M. Haas. Copyright © 2006 James Gustave Speth and Peter M. Haas. Excerpted by permission of ISLAND PRESS.
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|Ch. I||Introduction : toward planetary stewardship||1|
|Ch. II||Global-scale environmental challenges||12|
|Ch. III||From Stockholm to Johannesburg : first attempt at global environmental governance||52|
|Ch. IV||Environmental accord : treaties and international environmental law||82|
|Ch. V||Key actors, expanding roles : the United Nations, international organizations, and civil society||107|
|Ch. VI||Paths of the future : a second attempt at global environmental governance?||125|