Shaping Environmental Policy on a Worldwide Scale

IF you have a difficult time getting interested in the earth's global environment, maybe you should try harder. Here are some facts to ponder:* One billion more people will join us here on earth by the year 2000. * About 25 percent of all animals and plants will become extinct, or close to it, in the next 30 years. * Tropical forests are being leveled at a rate of 40 to 50 million acres a year. * Asia dumps 90 percent of its waste into the water or next to it. These estimates, gleaned from scientific sources, will be at the forefront of United Nations thinking when it convenes a Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) at Rio de Janiero next June. Regrettably, the United States administration has dragged its feet in giving priority to this prestigious environmental meeting. UNCED gives the US an opportunity to shape environmental policy on a worldwide scale. This policy would become the foundation for environmentally sustainable development practices well into the next century. Environmental issues have become significant factors in shaping US foreign policy toward the developed and the developing world. Major environmental issues such as ozone depletion, climate change, tropical deforestation, and loss of bio-diversity are now recognized as truly global issues because by their nature they ignore national borders. At the same time, most of the major economic, political, and social issues of our day reflect environmental concerns to some degree. For this reason alone, next year's UNCED meeting and its planning process deserve US action. The US has been at the forefront of environmental protection issues and should hang onto its leadership role. Particularly, this should be a high priority for an "environmental" president. So far, the US has said that it would like to see a convention on worldwide climate tied into an agreement on preservation of forests. We'd like such a convention to be ready before the UNCED meeting and a pact ready for signing in Rio next June. The US has supported preliminary meetings and has helped with work on such issues as bio-diversity and oceans. These are important, but other factors cry out for support. One of these should be to examine exactly what legal mechanisms and structures will be effective in carrying UNCED issues beyond next year's Rio meeting. We must press for a realistic set of principles and an agenda to implement them beyond 2000. Two of the most contentious issues at UNCED are going to be financial resources and technology transfer. In other words, where is the money coming from to put developing countries on a sound environmental footing? And will industrialized nations share their environmental know-how at an affordable price? Right now American foreign policy stands firm against giving away US environmental technology. And as the federal purse strings draw tighter, the US is seeking out other spigots of funding to help solve foreign environmental problems. Entreaties from developing countries for massive new aid for this purpose is unprecedented and unrealistic. Yet many of their arguments are compelling. They say that nations such as ours have over-consumed, thus creating many of the world's environmental problems. And they say that now that industrialized nations have environmental religion, we want to block their own national development - all in the name of environmental concern. We need a worldwide partnership in which developing and industrialized countries can work together. We will each have to make concessions. If we manage to steer aid and technology to developing countries, they must commit to following environmentally sound policies and actions. More important, if the US foregoes its voice and leadership in next year's UNCED meeting, the outcome will be determined by others who cannot be counted on to keep our best interests in mind. Our national interests and the interests of future generations are at stake.

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