After years of prodding, the European Economic Community (EEC), which dishes out more than $1 billion a year in development aid to third-world countries, has begun to take into account the environmental consequences of the projects supported by the aid.
Environmentalists have been urging the EEC to consider the environmental effects of the projects - ranging from forest management programs to industrial construction - so that the already fragile ecosystem of the developing world will not be put under even greater pressure. They have said that the EEC should not grant aid for environmentally harmful projects.
Since 1957, the EEC has pumped nearly $6 billion into self-help development projects in some 60 countries in Africa, the Caribbean, and the Pacific.
But only in the past year have the EEC officials been required to take seriously the possible environmental consequences of projects funded through their development arm, the European Development Fund(EDF), which over the next five years will finance more than $6 billion worth of programs in the third world. While the recipient countries specify the projects, the EEC can refuse to grant aid for projects suspected of being damaging to the environment.
The EDF is one of nine international agencies, including the World Bank and the United Nations Development Program, which in April 1980 signed a declaration of principles promising to incorporate environmental considerations in their ''policies, programs, and projects.''
Among them, the agencies spend in excess of $14 billion a year on development projects around the world.
In the declaration, the agencies said they would ''ensure the integration of appropriate environmental measures in the design and implementation of economic development activities.'' A committee set up to review progress will meet under the chairmanship of the EEC next spring.
Now the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), the catalyst of the 1980 declaration, is pressing national, or ''bilateral,'' donors to make similar pledges.
UNEP Executive Director Dr. Mostafa K. Tolba said in Brussels recently that Denmark and the Netherlands recently became the first countries to approach his organization for assistance in drawing up environmental impact forms for their development aid programs. And he noted with satisfaction the statement last August by the West German Economic Cooperation Ministry that decisions on aid to developing countries would be based as much on environmental criteria as on economic and industrial ones.
But environmentalists are now worried about another aspect of the problem. They fear that the EEC - and other international lending agencies - will deduct the costs of calculating the possible environmental effects from the aid package rather than adding them on, leaving the recipient countries with less money to spend on the projects themselves.