• picture
  • picture
  • picture
  • picture
Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)


Air Date: Week of

Money remains the stumbling block to international cooperation on the environment. Billions of dollars are needed to pay for environmental programs around the world. But, as Living On Earth's John Rudolph explains, there are deep divisions over where that money should come from.


CURWOOD: To understand what happened at the recent United Nations Earth Summit in New York, it's helpful to think in musical terms. The melody had an environmental theme: protecting the Earth's ecosystem and encouraging people to lead more sustainable lives. But the constant beat in the background was all about money. Billions of dollars are needed to pay for environmental programs around the world. But as Living on Earth's John Rudolph explains, there are deep divisions over where that money should come from.

RUDOLPH: A cloud of frustration hung over the UN complex in New York as government officials and representatives of private groups from around the world gathered to take stock of the environment 5 years after the historic Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. Some of the deepest disappointment at the meeting was over the decline in funds for environmental programs and sustainable development. The President of the UN General Assembly, Rosali Ishmael, set the tone. In a speech on the conference's first day, he pointed out that wealthy nations like the US promised in Rio to increase foreign aid. But the amount of aid has actually declined, from about $55 billion in 1992 to less than $50 billion today.

ISHMAEL: There are no signs the decline will be reversed, and it remains a blow to international cooperation. This figure is less than a third of the $150 billion spent on average each year by industrialized countries to procure, research, and develop weapons of war.

(Mulling in the crowd; ambient conversations)

RUDOLPH: In many ways money has become the central issue. This is a dramatic shift from 5 years ago, when debates raged over whether scientists could prove the existence of the greenhouse effect. Today the debate is no longer scientific or ecological. It's strictly economic. Safoudin Saws is India's Minister of the Environment and Forests During a break in the negotiations in New York, he laid out the one condition that India insists on before it will reduce its emissions of greenhouse gases that cause global warming. The United States and other industrialized countries have to live up to financial promises they made in Rio.

SAWS: Unless the US commits itself afresh on funding, on the question of funding, it cannot ask India and other countries to reduce emissions. Because we basically need funding for that. What is possible within our resources we are reducing emissions. The US is not appreciating that. So making a statement that you reduce is neither here nor there. Let them help us. Then we help in US and other industrialized world.

RUDOLPH: As India and other developing countries see it, industrialized nations create most of the world's pollution, so they should pay more to clean it up. On the other hand, the US and a few other nations argue that developing countries need to start reducing their own emissions independent of what the industrialized world does. Despite this standoff, some industrialized countries have pledged to halt the decline in foreign assistance to the developing world. Britain, for example, says it will raise by 50% its support for health, education, and water projects in Africa. The Clinton Administration, however, takes a different approach. Administration officials argue that Washington can never provide assistance at the levels that everyone agreed to at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio. But according to State Department official Ray Pomerantz, there's lots of private money around to do the job instead.

POMERANTZ: What we've noticed is that the dominant financial flows are now in the private sector. So the issue is now how much aid, but it is the proper utilization, and having the proper framework for the flow of private funds. That's where the big money is, and that's what has to be used sustainably.

(Milling in the crowd)

RUDOLPH: All during the week, the hallways and conference rooms at the UN were a-buzz with talk about the growing role of multinational corporations and banks in funding sustainable developing projects. In recent years there's been a huge explosion in private investment in the developing countries of Asia, Latin America, and to a lesser degree Africa. The money comes mainly from the US, Canada, Western Europe, and Japan. At more than $230 billion a year, private investment is now nearly 5 times greater than government foreign aid. But this trend worries some people.

KORTEN: I just came from the roundtable titled, "Cooperation Between Governments, Private Sector, and the UN on Sustainable Development Objectives." That was organized originally at the behest...

RUDOLPH: David Korten is a former advisor to the US Agency for International Development. During the Earth Summit II conference in New York, he was invited to a private meeting of multinational corporations, UN officials, and government representatives. Korten was troubled by what he observed.

KORTEN: You know, you see the government and UN people lining up to get into the discussion with the corporations.

RUDOLPH: What's wrong with that?

KORTEN: Well, since foreign aid is declining, this translates into well, we need more foreign investment. Now, nobody is addressing the question that if you're bringing in foreign investment, particularly, you know, from firms that are driven by this global financial system, they expect very high rates of return.

RUDOLPH: Korten believes that the pressure to maximize profits is incompatible with the need to protect the environment. Companies, he argues, will strip clean forests, mineral deposits, and fisheries to maintain their bottom line. Despite these reservations, billions of dollars are riding on the free market approach to sustainable development and environmental protection.

ISHMAEL?: It's my pleasure to introduce to you Mr. James Wolfenson, President of the World Bank.

WOLFENSON: Thank you very much. I have distributed or there is being distributed...

RUDOLPH: At a news conference at the UN, James Wolfenson unveiled the World Bank's new green portfolio of investments. For years the bank has been criticized for funding projects that harm the environment. Coal-burning power plants that contribute to global warming, or huge hydroelectric dams that destroy rivers and flood valuable farmland. Now the bank wants to use its financial clout to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and to encourage sustainable forestry and fishing practices around the world. The World Bank hopes private corporations can be enticed to join these efforts. But Mr. Wolfenson admits there's no way to force the private sector to accept an environmental code of conduct.

WOLFENSON: You can justify it on the basis of ethical and moral standards. But I think if you bring in the reality that it's just quite obvious that unless you have sustainability, you're not going to have long-term economic framework in which you can operate. I think it's starting to work. And I tell you, my own personal experience thus far is that I'm getting a lot more response from corporations in terms of their willingness to adopt it than I am in the case of some governments.

RUDOLPH: It's clear that corporations and other private interests are filling a void that's been created by cuts in government funding. In the meantime the stalemate over the shrinking pot of official aid continues. This impasse could jeopardize negotiations later this year in Kyoto, Japan, on strengthening the global climate change treaty. Barbara Bramble is with the National Wildlife Federation.

(Traffic sounds in background)

BRAMBLE: And the United States has really only one card in its deck when it goes to Kyoto in December. They are proposing to trade carbon emissions with developing countries, which many people in the south feel is essentially forcing them to give away or sell their development future to those of us who have taken up so much of the carbon space in the atmosphere. And if the US delegates go there with this one fairly unacceptable idea, and haven't made any progress whatsoever in honoring very modest commitments to help the developing countries with aid that they recognize, then the US is going to get no support for its ideas. It's going to be completely isolated. And the Kyoto negotiations have a big danger of falling apart.

RUDOLPH: If the talks were to fail, getting them back on track could take years. Meanwhile, many people believe that if global warming is not halted, harmful changes in the Earth's environment will accelerate. The price of environmental clean-up in the future could make today's costs look like a bargain. For Living on Earth, this is John Rudolph at the United Nations.



Living on Earth wants to hear from you!

Living on Earth
62 Calef Highway, Suite 212
Lee, NH 03861
Telephone: 617-287-4121
E-mail: comments@loe.org

Newsletter [Click here]

Donate to Living on Earth!
Living on Earth is an independent media program and relies entirely on contributions from listeners and institutions supporting public service. Please donate now to preserve an independent environmental voice.

Living on Earth offers a weekly delivery of the show's rundown to your mailbox. Sign up for our newsletter today!

Sailors For The Sea: Be the change you want to sea.

Creating positive outcomes for future generations.

Innovating to make the world a better, more sustainable place to live. Listen to the race to 9 billion

The Grantham Foundation for the Protection of the Environment: Committed to protecting and improving the health of the global environment.

Contribute to Living on Earth and receive, as our gift to you, an archival print of one of Mark Seth Lender's extraordinary wildlife photographs. Follow the link to see Mark's current collection of photographs.

Buy a signed copy of Mark Seth Lender's book Smeagull the Seagull & support Living on Earth