A year ago over 160 nations gathered at the "Earth Summit" in Rio de Janeiro, pledging to pursue environmental and economic objectives in tandem. They endorsed the idea that "sustainable development" would stimulate equitable economic activity while improving protection for the global environment.
But little progress has been made in carrying out environmental reform in the global economic arena. As the Group of Seven (G-7) nations meet in Tokyo this week, their leadership is urgently needed. The G-7 have less than an eighth of the world's population, yet comprise more than 60 percent of its economic activity; they bear the most responsibility for causing environmental damage.
The World Bank, the most important international development agency, is the institution in most need of reform. The Bank and similar agencies tend to impede rather than catalyze sustainable development in developing nations. Their outdated strategies, poor project design, and internal pressures to meet lending targets help bring about environmentally unsustainable and economically dubious programs.
The G-7 should require the Bank, which is half funded by the G-7, to make public full documentation of its activities. The G-7 should also promote the creation of a permanent independent appeals commission to investigate violations of Bank policy, as well as complaints of environmental and human rights abuses in Bank-financed programs.
The Bank's energy activities should focus on least-cost investments in efficiency and renewable energy sources, which would maximize energy services, minimize pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, and free scarce capital resources in developing countries for alternative uses.
The Bank's unsustainable practices have also exacerbated the debt crises faced by developing nations. Misguided repayment conditions imposed by the Interna-tional Monetary Fund (IMF) have led to over-reliance on massive exports of timber, minerals, and cash crops, undermining sustainable development by creating food insecurity and damaging the environment.
The G-7 should substantially increase efforts to reduce the debt of the poorest nations. They should also promote reforms at the IMF to integrate social and environmental needs into all IMF programs, and to give a voice to local experts and communities in projects which affect them.
LIBERALIZED trade is another area needing G-7 leadership to integrate environmental and economic concerns. New markets can aid in promoting sustainable development by helping countries gain access to environmentally sound technologies. Yet free markets alone do not address the environmental problems they create. To ensure that trade negotiations (the Uruguay Round of GATT) bring positive environmental benefits, the G-7 must support a country's right to enact justifiable, nondiscriminatory measures to pro tect the environment, public health, worker safety, and primacy of international environmental agreements. As the Uruguay Round nears closure, the G-7 must ensure environmental reforms.
Finally, the G-7 must take responsibility for implementing sustainable development at home. As a first step, they should cap their greenhouse gas emissions at 1990 levels by the year 2000 by promoting energy efficiency, reliance on renewable energy, and more efficient transportation.
In Tokyo, G-7 leaders should remember a key commitment made at the Earth Summit: Environmental concerns must be fully integrated into economic decision-making, not dealt with as an afterthought.