- Equity Decisions: Economic Development and Environmental Prudence
Environmental danger, ironically, has engendered new concern and interest on the part of many countries and people towards the environment, and towards one another. This paper will suggest that a common sense ethic of equity demands that those who have caused a wrong should correct it if possible. Some countries may not be able to do so at present. But we in the United States can, and other industrial countries can as well. Why should we? Because it is in our self-interest to do so. But that is only one reason. It is also the right thing to do. This is no less a reason, though perhaps less motivating. Without a notion of what is right, what we ought to do might deteriorate into what we actually do.
The Brundtland Report 1 established a precedent of linking environmental decisionmaking and economic development issues. Environmental risk amidst equity was given a public format. We, for example, in the developed countries, have used products such as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) in refrigerators and other appliances. When released, these CFCs deplete the stratospheric ozone layer, diminishing its capacity to shield the earth from ultraviolet wave lengths. This has not only hastened the depletion of the ozone layer but may also contribute to global warming. Such effects were not intentional, but we are responsible nonetheless. Those outside the Western developed world that use products like CFCs are also accountable (e.g., Eastern Europeans, China, Brazil, and India).
The problem is more pressing because recent evidence indicates that environmental hazards from CFCs may be of greater magnitude and [End Page 382] destructiveness than first projected. Ozone depletion has accelerated at a rapid rate. Moreover, because CFCs have an estimated lifetime of 100 years, their combined cumulative consequences could be exponentially still greater over time than what is now being experienced.
The magnitude and scope of these issues and decisions clearly transcend national borders. National security must be redefined to include environmental issues. 2 This has set the stage for both international cooperation such as the Montreal Protocol and for greater environmental responsiveness. The Montreal Protocol, signed in 1987 by nearly all CFC-using countries of the world, launched a significant effort to phase-out the use of CFCs by the year 2000 in developed countries, and by the year 2010 in developing countries. To help implement the Protocol, a Multilateral Environmental Fund (money to be used in the phase-out of CFCs) was established to provide compensation to developing countries to assist them in meeting the costs of phase-out activities. The World Bank will be the administrator of this Multilateral Fund, carrying out policies determined by the Executive Committee for the Montreal Protocol concerning funding and the monitoring of CFC phase-out projects.
The Multilateral Fund in support of the Montreal Protocol, and others likely to emerge in support of other areas of sustainable development, may represent the dawning of a new ethic regarding nature. One acknowledges that it is weak and muted, and easily silenced. But it is present, and can be nurtured. This ethic has a long history, but has only reached international prominence recently—remarkably recently. The ethic is international; it transcends the confines of particular habitats and customs. Indeed, the guiding spirit of this ethic is that of global cooperation and equitable burden sharing in combatting a common threat. The Multilateral Environmental Fund is but one sign of the growing sense of equitable burden sharing in this area. Oddly enough, the environmental crisis has fostered a climate conducive to the economic development of less fortunate nations—a development funded by the resources of more affluent countries.
Environmental abuse is not a product of any specific political system. In the end, responsibility for environmental destruction is shared by individual people, organizations, and countries whose immediate self-interest was without long-term vision or knowledge. But the challenge remains: how can governments be motivated to care about environmental issues? The world is pressed by many concerns of immediate standing, the more dramatic ones being starvation, war, and abject poverty. These can easily override such seemingly abstract concerns...