De Valk Omgevingsrecht

Home Over ons Contact Cursussen Site Map




Need for natural resources and importance of conservation

Towards a World Conservation Strategy

The promise of Sustainable Development

Looking for Leadership

International treaties


Filling Gaps

UN Architecture




Reference Notes

Chapter 1: Variety of life

Chapter 2: Ecological background

Chapter 3: Adverse human impacts

Chapter 4: Structural factors



































































































































































































































































































































Home > Hypertext Book
-Chapter 5: Protection


Because life on earth depends upon the proper functioning of the biosphere the ultimate purpose of conservation or protection is to maintain the biosphere in a healthy (= biodiverse) operating condition. Although it is known that green plants supply oxygen to the atmosphere, that plants and animals recycle nutrients, and that plants and animals help maintain the fertility of soils, many of the elements that contribute to the proper functioning of the biosphere have not yet been identified. Because mankind lives with such environmental uncertainties, an attitude of care and protection toward the Earth's living resources is necessary. Conservation or protection of biodiversity might be essential to human survival.

Need for natural resources and importance of conservation

Like "conservation" itself, the term "natural resources" has undergone an expansion in meaning as a result of a greater understanding of the relationship of human beings with the world they inhabit. Early in the 20th century natural resources were viewed primarily as sources of useful commodities. They were the raw materials in the environment that were used or capable of being used by people for some purpose: minerals and fuels, forest and grazing resources, wildlife, fisheries, and the like. In a restricted sense, the term is still used in this way. More recently, however, the concept of natural resources has been broadened to include the total natural environment--the entire surface layer of the planet--because all parts of the Earth's surface are of use and of value in that they contribute to the production of the necessities and amenities that people require or demand. Thus, when considered in this respect, the atmosphere, oceans, deserts, and polar regions have all become valuable resources that must be managed with care to provide for the future.

The idea that biologic communities should be protected for their own intrinsic value is of relatively recent origin. Although natural communities have been protected since ancient times, the reasons for doing so have not been related to the value of the community per se but to some special feature that was of value to people. Natural communities, little affected by human activities, are thought to be worth preserving for a variety of reasons. First, perhaps, is the scientific benefit to be derived from studying them, particularly concerning the functioning of the biosphere. From studies of undisturbed ecosystems much can be learned about the behaviour of those systems modified for the production of useful materials. Also, the value of wild species has been little explored; in their totality they are known to be essential to the function of the biosphere, but the importance of individual species is little understood.

Experience has demonstrated that wild species of little apparent value may prove to be of major importance to medical research and human health. Nonhuman primates (e.g., monkeys and apes), for exemple,  are used for many studies of human functions and diseases and a great variety of wild plants are used as sources of drugs and medicines. Much of the knowledge of population growth and social behaviour under various conditions of crowding has come from the study of wild mammals.

Furthermore, it is known that more or less undisturbed natural communities are important to the continued operation of those systems that people have created. Watershed forests are protected so as to maintain streamflow and to avoid siltation of reservoirs; estuaries are protected so as to guarantee the continued production of forms of marine life important for food or other purposes. Finally, there are aesthetic and recreational values attached to wild areas and wildlife. It would appear that outdoor activities in a natural setting or contact with plants and animals in a wild state are important to psychological well-being, because people of all races and cultures seek such experiences when they achieve the affluence that enables them to do so.

Biologic communities can be protected in a variety of ways, depending upon the desired objectives. The most difficult and exacting task is the protection of unmodified natural communities, with their full array of wild species, for use in scientific research. Because such communities are becoming increasingly rare, the major efforts to protect them are undertaken at an international level, as well as at the national level. The International Biological Program, a worldwide research effort, has focused attention on the many kinds of natural communities that require protection. The International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, a semigovernmental international agency, devotes an important part of its activities to the establishment of reserves and parks for the protection of natural communities. The United Nations, through its Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), UNEP, and UNESCO, has contributed to the establishment of many parks and reserves in developing nations. Yet, despite such activities, certain kinds of natural communities will be irrevocably lost unless there is greater effort toward their conservation.

Programs for the protection of natural communities must involve, first, rational planning for the use of land and control over its exploitation by agencies charged with such responsibilities. Adaptation of land use for commodity production by using only those sites best suited for such purposes is a first step toward protecting other lands that are now being cleared unwisely. Although the establishment and proper management of parks and reserves permits the survival of certain species in certain areas, a more general program of rational management and use of all lands and species is essential to the long-term survival of wild nature throughout the world.

Towards a World Conservation Strategy

By 1970 the problems of the environment and natural resources had become international in scope. The oceans were seriously polluted, and no single country could control the situation. Pesticides and other toxic materials spread by air and water currents throughout the world were causing or threatening to cause environmental damage everywhere. But the need for an international approach to conservation problems found most nations generally unprepared to cope with the situation. Conservation-oriented recommendations aimed at controlling the use of radioactive materials, heavy metals, toxic pesticides, or the dumping of petroleum at sea could not be enforced internationally. The need to regulate the exploitation of marine resources was widely acknowledged, but such regulation was ineffective without an empowered international authority. In recognition of these problems many international conferences were held, new treaties and conventions were proposed, and the need for regulatory power over the environment at an intergovernmental level was stated frequently. The World Health Organization and the World Meteorological Organization began a global program to monitor pollution levels. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) launched a major scientific program directed toward the problems of "Man and the Biosphere," and an international conference on environmental problems was held in Stockholm in June 1972. Following the conference, the United Nations General Assembly established the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) to act on the recommendations of the Stockholm meeting. The UNEP surveyed the status of many aspects of the world's environment and natural resources, subsequently publishing its findings in numerous reports. In 1980 the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, with the support of UNEP and the World Wildlife Fund, published World Conservation Strategy. This document, which presented worldwide strategies for the rational use of resources, has served as the basis for many national conservation plans. But many critics feared that, until the nations of the world were more willing to delegate greater authority to international organizations and to support them financially, little progress toward the solution of global problems could be expected. In existing conditions of international relations, this left each nation to attempt to do what it could within its own boundaries.

The promise of sustainable development

On paper, at least, the 1992 Rio Earth Summit does provide a potential vision for moving toward sustainable development - that is, toward both greater environmental protection and greater economic justice. The Earth Summit yielded two legally binding treaties: the Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Convention on Biological Diversity. 

Today a great number of international treaties does exist to protect a specific subject of biodiversity: global climatic change, stratospheric ozone depletion, desertification and land cover change, deforestation, conservation of biodiversity, transboundery air pollution, oceans and their living resources, trade/industry and the environment, population dynamics.

Also a product of the Summit were a set of nonbinding general principles known as the Rio Declaration, a set of nonbinding principles on forest management, and the blueprint for sustainable development entitled Agenda 21 3). The assembled governments also established the Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) to integrate environment and development into the UN system while providing a forum to monitor the implementation of summit commitments.

Perhaps as important as the formal commitments was Rio’s endorsement of the 'concept of sustainable development' or 'sustainability'. Although the precise meaning of this concept was not clarified, governments emerged from Rio knowing that they had at least generally agreed to the further integration of the economy, the environment, and social equity. Beyond that, the constructive ambiguity of the concept sustainable development provided a framework that allowed both the North and the South to walk away with something from Rio. Essentially the South received renewed commitments for increased development assistance, a recognition that the North was substantially responsible for global environmental degradation, and a commitment that the North would take the leadership role in addressing global environmental problems. In turn, the North won the South’s promised cooperation in addressing environmental issues as long as they were integrated with issues of social and economic development. These reciprocal commitments offered a broader consensus for moving forward on the global environment than did any previous environmental negotiation.

Today, eight years later, the momentum from Rio has dissipated and the reciprocal commitments have been largely abandoned. Official development assistance from the North to the South has declined since Rio, and the new emphasis is on private sector flows of capital. Furthermore the Rio treaties remain poorly implemented. Negotiations on the climate change regime reflect a deep split between developing and industrialized countries. The Biodiversity Convention has had little impact. Perhaps most critically, institutions such as the Commission on Sustainable Development and the preexisting United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), as well as the environmental secretariats, continue to take a back seat to economic powerhouses such as the World Trade Organization (WTO), the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Looking for Leadership with Sustainable Development Perspective

Even today there is little doubt that the North is responsible for the existing gulf between Rio’s rhetoric of international environmental consciousness and the post-Rio environmental reality. The countries of the North are the largest polluters and the largest users of most important natural resources (forests, fish, minerals, fresh water, clean air). Although these countries (including the Netherlands) are often in the vanguard in recognizing global environmental threats and in calling for a multilateral response, they often lag in changing their own behavior. For instance, once considered one of the leaders in environmental regulation, the United States now lags well behind Germany and other European countries in adopting new and innovative regulatory approaches such as extended product responsibility, greening fiscal policy and the precautionary principle on avoiding probable environmental damage and biodiversity loss.

More important, many soevereign States (including the United States) still has no coherent or comprehensive commitment to sustainable development. There has been no concerted effort to progressively integrate governmental decisionmaking on environmental, social and economic issues; no substantial improvement in our existing legal framework to better foster sustainable development; no implementation of satellite systems of social and environmental accounting; and no governmental use of sustainable development indicators. In short, many countries are still without any meaningful strategy or framework for implementing Agenda 21 or the other Rio commitments. 

As far as the European Union is concerned this situation is only slightly better, on paper, at least. In the Netherlands too everything seems somewhat better. In 1995  the Netherlands adapted a Strategic Plan of Action on Biodiversity, building heavily on separate plans already adopted in a wide range of relevant sectors. An Inter-Departemental meets monthly to monitor and encourage progress. A review in 1998  highlighted a variety of issues, above all the differing rates of progress, among the wide range actors involved, in truly assimilating biodiversity considerations into other processes - especially those concerned with economic development. Successes to date include progress with in particular research and internation co-operation; weaknesses include patchy progress on integration and little awareness of the CBD and its aims. In July 2000 the Strategic Plan of Action had been integrated into a new policy document for nature conservation, landscape protection and forestry 4)

Given this overall patchy progress, global failure to fulfill the Earth Summit’s promises is not surprising. Over time, the details of the precise promises have been lost, leaving us with little else than the general concept of sustainable development as the framework for global environmental policy in this new century. Leadership with sustainable development perspective is more or less absent. 

The following discussion outlines several priority steps for moving global governance toward sustainable development and protection of biodiversity, including: (1) filling the remaining gaps in international environmental (including biodiversity) policy; (2) improving the institutional architecture for protecting global environment; (3) integrating the environment protection with the global economy; and (4) emphasizing the role of individuals and communities in protecting global environment.

Filling Gaps in the International Biodiversity Related Policy Framework

Despite the many biodiversity related regimes and action plans negotiated in the past quarter century, important gaps still exist in the international policy framework. This framework has not developed in any systematic or strategic way. Rather it is a collection of numerous treaties, each addressing relatively discrete global or regional environmental issues. Superimposed over these binding treaties are a set of broader, nonbinding declarations or resolutions, such as the Stockholm and Rio declarations. No binding set of general environmental principles currently exists. Moreover, some new or particularly complicated environmental issues still await international attention, compounding the international environmental policy gaps.

Defining the concept of Sustainability and Making it a Practical Policy Principle

Unfortunately, the words "sustainable development" mean different things to different people. A macroeconomist may see the concept in terms of the relationship between the rate of increase of Gross Domestic Product, the inflation rate, the fiscal accounts, and the balance of payments. This is essentially a short- to medium-term definition of sustainability. It neglects broader considerations. These include the lon-term variability of the ecological systems on which much economic activity depends, and whether the distribution of the growth in income is giving rise to inequalities between rich and poor which threaten social cohesion. On the other hand, an environmentalist will in contrast regard sustainable development as being about issues as global warming and the preservation of biodiversity. Economic and social side effects of environmental policies may recieve little consideration. Definitions of environmental sustainability are often expressed in quite general terms. This may make it difficult to translate them directly into workable policy prescriptions. Perhaps the most often cited and widely accepted definition of sustainability comes from the World Commission on Environment and Development (the "Brundtland Commission"). It defined sustainable development as development which "meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs".  Of course, this definition needs to be given substance to make it useful for policy makers. Therfore, recently  a "Guide to Developing a Biodiversity Strategy from a Sustainable Development Perspective" has been published on the website of the Convention on Biological Diversity.

In practise most policy makers apply a concept of sustainability that closely correspondents to a definition which is often referred to as the "weak sustainability". In such a framework, a policy aiming at sustainability would have to strike the right balance between the accumulation and depletion of economic, social en environmental assets. Alternative definitions of sustainability include: 

  • "strong sustainability": this stresses the importance of natural capital, on the grounds that it provides services which cannot be replaced or provided by other means;
  • "Environmental sustainability": this requires preserving the physical flows of goods and services from natural resources.

The differences between these and other concepts of sustainability essentially relate to the degree to which natural and fysical capital can be regarded as substitutes for each other 6)

In my opinion there is no substitute for biodiversity. It is a fact that once a species becomes extinct it vanishes from the Earth for ever. And the (rain)forest?. Once destroyed, it is gone for all time. Companies may plant a tree farm in its place, usually containing one type of tree, but this is not a forest. As advanced as our science is, we have no idea how to build a species or a (rain)forest. Even biotechlogy cannot bring one single species back to life. There is no coming back. Therefore, the concept of the 'weak sustainability' should be rejected.. 

Development of a Binding Framework of Environmental Principles. 

The lack of an overarching binding framework has many implications for the future effectiveness of international environmental policies. In trade and environment disputes, for example, environmental concerns are at a disadvantage, because the set of rules for global (international) biodiversity protection is not as clear as the WTO’s trade rules. Binding environmental principles could help to achieve more balanced integration between environmental protection and other social goals like trade. Such principles could also provide a substantive basis for coordinating the activities of the many international institutions that currently claim a role in environmental policy. Finally, binding principles could help in establishing minimum environmental standards—both for private sector activities and for governments—by assisting in the harmonization of domestic environmental laws.

Less ambitious, and perhaps more realistic in the short term, would be to strengthen the regional environmental policies that have being established to protect an to manage shared natural resources (wildlife). For instance, in February 2000 the European Commission has adopted a Communication on the use of the precautionary principle. The Communication underlines that the 'precautionary principle' forms part of a structured approach to the analysis of risk, as well as being relevant to risk management. It covers cases where scientific evidence is insufficient, inconclusive or uncertain and preliminary scientific evaluation indicates that that there are reasonable grounds for concern that the potentially dangerous effects on the environment, human, animal or plant health may be inconsistent with the high level of protection chosen by the EU. The Communication complements the also recently adopted White Paper on Food Safety and the agreement reached in Montreal this week-end on the Cartagena Protocol on Bio-safety 5).  

Development of  Fair and Just Rules Regarding Biodiversity  Related Topics

There seems no doubt that biodiversity loss (extinctions) and climate change are and will be the most significant environmental issues of the next few decades. For instance, in the Kyoto Protocol is a legally binding agreement to collectively reduce the greenhouse gas emissions of 39 industrialized nations to 5.2 percent below 1990 levels by the period 2008-2012. The agreement was reached at the Third Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, held in Kyoto, Japan, in December 1997. But the agreement will not come into effect until it is ratified by 55 percent of the nations emitting at least 55 percent of the six greenhouse gases blamed for global warming. November's meeting in the Netherlands is seen by some as the last chance for ratification. Within the UN framework, each country has its own target - in the case of Canada, reducing emissions to six percent below 1990 levels by the period 2008-2012. Other targets include an eight percent cut by many Central and East European states, and the European Union, and seven percent by the U.S. The agreement covers six greenhouse gases - carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons and sulphur hexafluoride. In addition, the parties also established an international trading system in carbon emissions. Tons of carbon emissions will soon trade like other commodities throughout the world. To incorporate as many countries as possible, the Kyoto Protocol was necessarily general, leaving many critical issues for future negotiations. In November 2000 the Conference of the Parties to the Protocol must address such issues as how to count the carbon sequestered by forests, landfills, and agricultural practices in calculating a country’s net greenhouse gas emissions; how to facilitate the trading of carbon emission credits between countries; and how to monitor and enforce such a trading system. 

In my opinion it is time now for all world leaders to wake-up. If they do not act to stop global warming, wildlife around the globe may suffer the consequences. World leaders must give top priority to reducing levels of greenhouse gases. They must not miss the chance of this November's climate summit for stepping up action and preventing a catastrophe that could change the world as we know it. However, given the position of the Northern countries as the world’s supreme carbon emitters and energy users, leadership within the North in getting these rules right (just and fair) will be critical if the climate regime is to have any hope of responding effectively to the threat of climate change and subsequent biodiversity loss.

Emphasizing Environmental Restoration and Fysical Compensation

Given how far we have come in damaging the global environment (in particular biodiversity), international environmental efforts in the future will have to be focused more on environmental (habitat) restoration and fysical compensation than protection. Although more expensive and less effective than protecting resources in the first place, restoration of habitats or compensation may sometimes be the only choice left. Restoration and fysical compensation are now a dynamic part of domestic environmental management and will undoubtedly begin to inform future global environmental negotiations. 

As mentioned above, however, when a (rain)forest is destroyed, it is gone for all time. Companies may plant a tree farm in its place, usually containing one type of tree, but this is not a forest. As advanced as our science is, we have no idea how to build a forest. The diversity of life in a forest can hardly be described in words. Each tiny pinch of soil and each breath of air is teeming with thousands of different kinds of organisms, all interacting with each other in a complex dance that cannot be duplicated by all the power of the modern technological world. Without this diversity, all that remains may be destined to be a wasteland, devoid of life. "How far can we go in the relentless quest for more? When will enough be enough? Why is it so hard to value another living thing for no other reason than because it is alive? We had better find a way to answer these questions soon. The Earth may not wait much longer." 1

Managing Fresh Water Shortages

Most experts agree that access to fresh water may be the most important natural resource issue for the next century. Human health, the environment, plants and animals and even a country’s national security depend on access to adequate water supplies. But according to a recent UN Freshwater Assessment, humans are already using "about half" of the 12,500 cubic kilometers of water that is readily available. With world population expected to double in the next 50 years and with water consumption historically increasing at twice the rate of population, our global water situation is bleak. To make matters worse, water is allocated unevenly around the globe. Today, 460 million people or 8% of the world’s population live in countries already facing serious water shortages. Regional water shortages may thus exacerbate international conflicts and threaten national security if international management efforts are not successful. A 1997 UN convention on transnational water uses provides a beginning framework for managing these regional disputes, but long-term financial and political leadership from the United States and other powerful countries will be required for the convention to be successful.

Emphasizing Zero Population Growth and Sustainable Consumption Levels

The Earth Summit recognized explicitly that achieving sustainability would require addressing both population growth and consumption. Therefore, the world's governments and NGOs should work to slow population growth and achieve a sustainable balance between the Earth's people and its natural resources. They should seek to protect biodiversity and ensure a high quality of life for present and future generations. The well-being and even the survival of humanity depend on the attainment of an equilibrium between population and the environment. Just as the earth and its resources of land, air and water are limited, so are the demands that can be placed upon them. Continued population growth is foremost among the factors aggravating deforestation, wildlife extinction, climate change and other critical environmental and social problems. It also erodes democratic government, multiplies urban problems, consumes agricultural land, increases volumes of waste, heightens competition for scarce resources and threatens the aspirations of the poor for a better life. The only acceptable solution to the population problem is through expanding educational, advocacy and service efforts that lower birth rates. Rather than support a larger population at a poorer level, it is my believe that it is preferable to support a smaller population at adequate standards of living. GOs and NGOs should recognize the gravity of global overpopulation and encourage citizens in every nation to work towards slowing population growth. 

Because the United States is the chief consumer of the world's resources, slowing its population growth is disproportionately important for protecting the global environment. Because the United States has a major influence on international political, economic and military affairs, reshaping its policies is important for the success of international efforts to slow population growth. The United States, in particular, has also blocked international efforts to address consumption levels. Domestically, the U.S. lacks any comprehensive effort to "green" consumption and lags well behind Europe, for example, in adopting green taxes, ecolabeling procedures, "take-back" legislation (requiring industries to take back and dispose of their by-products at the end of their useful life), or other policies aimed at greening consumption.

UN Architecture and Global Protection of Biodiversity

No single institution or organisation legislates or manages international biodiversity related problems. Scores of official and semiofficial organizations and agencies have at least some mandate. In the future, global environmental governance will continue to involve an array of multilateral, national, and intergovernmental organizations together with citizen groups and treaties. This is as it should be, given that the concept of sustainable development embraces so many different disciplines and issues. But the difficulty with existing international institutions that address environmental issues is that they have been given narrow mandates, small budgets and limited support. No one organization has the authority or political strength to serve as a central clearinghouse or coordinator.

The UN Environment Program (UNEP) is widely considered the primary international environmental agency. Its mission is to "facilitate international cooperation in the environmental field; to keep the world environmental situation under review so that problems of international significance receive appropriate consideration by governments; and to promote the acquisition, assessment, and exchange of environmental knowledge." In recent years, financial and political support of UNEP has lagged, and most observers question whether it can effectively champion environmental issues within the UN system.

Partly in response to UNEP’s weaknesses and partly because of the many different international institutions that exercise at least some environmental authority, governments created the UN Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) at the 1992 Earth Summit to coordinate and integrate environmental and economic issues within the United Nations. Unfortunately the CSD’s role is limited to providing a political forum for discussion, without any operational mandate or authority. The result is that international environmental governance is still spread across too many institutions with diffuse, conflicting, or weak authorities.

Given these problems in the UN architecture for international environmental governance, there may be no escaping the need for broad institutional reform. Several important leaders have called for such reform. In a 1997 speech to the UN General Assembly, German Chancellor Helmut Kohl suggested amending the UN Charter to include sustainable development as one of the two overall purposes of the UN and to establish a global environmental umbrella organization, with UNEP as a major pillar. In addition, Brazil, South Africa, Singapore, and New Zealand have also proposed a new, stronger UN environmental body.

Other specific proposals have been advanced, including the creation of an environmental organization with powers analogous to that of the World Trade Organization. Such an organization could consolidate the different environmental secretariats and UNEP, creating one organization responsible for ensuring the implementation and enforcement of environmental treaties. If a binding set of principles existed, a World Environmental Organization could also resolve environmental disputes more efficiently than can the current processes.

Less ambitious, and perhaps more realistic in the short term, would be to strengthen the growing number of regional environmental institutions that are being established to manage shared natural resources.

Integrating Global Biodiversity Protection into the Global Economy

The concept of sustainable development requires the integration of biodiversity concerns into the fields of property rights and international trade, investment, and finance. Since the Earth Summit, environmentalists have made significant advances. Biodiversity related issues are now legitimate concerns for discussion at such organizations as the World Bank and the WTO. Indeed most of the international financial institutions, e.g., the World Bank, have adopted new environmental policies and increased their environmental staffs. Even the IMF has created an environment (including biodiversity) unit. 

More recently the European Commission, too, came with an communication to the European Council and the European Parliament. In that Communication EU Commissioner for Economic and Monetary Affairs Pedro Solbes argues that "there is no inherent contradiction between economic growth and the environment. Moving our societies onto environmentally sustainable trajectories will require change. Market-based instruments should be increasingly used in the effort to integrate environmental and economic policy objectives". According to EU Commissioner for Environment Margot Wallström "greening fiscal policy, by removing subsidies to environmentally harmful activities and implementing the polluter pays principle should enhance economic efficiency and competitiveness. It will lead to sustainable economic growth with more and better jobs and greater social cohesion." The Communication responds to the European Council's request to integrate environmental protection into Community policies in order to achieve sustainable development, in line with the requirements of the Amsterdam Treaty. It is considered to be also an important input to the long term Community strategy dovetailing policies for economically, socially and ecologically sustainable development 6). 

Howver, despite these policy and staffing advances, the successful practical integration of the environment and the global economy lags far behind. The approach of the international financial institutions (IFIs) continues to emphasize mitigating environmental impacts from poorly designed and inappropriate projects, rather than finding ways to proactively promote environmentally sustainable development. More importantly, the IFIs and trade institutions have not fundamentally reconsidered their general approach to building a global economy in light of the constraints implied by the concept of sustainable development. As a result, these institutions have failed to reduce significantly their adverse impact on biodiversity.

Greening the Global Financial Architecture

In light of the role that foreign capital flight played in precipitating the Asian and Russian economic crises, an increasing number of people have begun to question the dominant global economic prescription offered by the IMF and the World Bank. Many capital investments have increasingly become short-term and speculative, the social utility of protecting capital flows is increasingly questionable. Speculative, "hot flows" of capital are not intended for long-term productive investments. Protecting the rights of countries to impose capital controls, particularly on short-term investments, may be critical for ensuring both long-term stability and increased benefits from natural resources for local people.

Over the past decade, environmentalists have also shown that the IFIs frequently saddle developing countries with loan conditions that increase the pressures on natural resource exploitation with devastating environmental consequences. Among other things, these structural adjustment policies (SAPs) significantly increase the rate of forest harvesting, mining, and fishery harvests. While these SAPs are increasing natural resource exploitation, many governments are also being directed to reduce public spending, including funds for environmental protection and natural resource management.

Greening International Trade

Despite occasional promises to the contrary, free trade has become the paramount value driving most international relations. Lost is the balanced goal of integrating environment and trade as pronounced at the Earth Summit. Ultimately, the problem may be that liberalizing trade and investment is too often viewed as a positive goal in its own right. Lost is any critical analysis of whether such liberalization always leads to improvements in human welfare and quality of life. Goals such as environmental (biodiversity) protection, human rights, and social equity - which are arguably more closely linked to human welfare than is liberalized trade - have been relegated to the back seat during the drive toward free trade. Only by honestly evaluating the environmental and social impact of liberalizing trade and investment, sector by sector, can we determine whether expansion or contraction of the world trade system is more likely to lead to a sustainable future. Thus the rich countries of the North should support calls by environmentalists for a thorough analysis of the impacts of current trade policies on environmental sustainability before supporting any expansion of liberalized trade and investment policies.

Respecting Global Environment Agreements

IFIs and trade institutions also need to do a better job of mainstreaming concerns about the environment into their day-to-day operations. This general issue is highlighted by the way in which these institutions relate to the multilateral environmental agreements (for example, the climate change regime). The IFIs have yet to prohibit funding projects that exacerbate the very same problems that these global environmental regimes are meant to address.

Balancing Property Rights with the Polluter Pays Principle

The question of whether polluters or victims receive the property rights has some important implications for equity and social justice - for the question of who owns society's resources. If the polluters receive property right, they are paid to reduce their pollution; if the members of society get the rights, then the polluters pay them for the right to pollute. Integrating environmental issues into economic policy by application of the Polluter Pays Principle will have profound implications. Not only is the Polluter Pays Principle a sound basis for environmental policy, it can also lead to efficient and equitable economic policy, and contribute to social cohesion. Of course their are many exceptions. Many forms of air pollution causing biodiversity decline, for example, are caused by thousands of sources and affect millions of people. In such circumstances, it is impossible for any individual to precisely identify the source of pollution that affects him or her. It is also unlikely that it is in the interest of any individual to take action against any source of pollution, because this pollution will also affect many others: the costs of taking action will be borne by the individual , but the benefits will be felt by several. In these circumstances, each person has an incentive to "free-ride" on the efforts of others. Thus, assigning property rights will not on its own be sufficient to lead to an economical efficient outcome.

Balancing Charges, Tradable Permits, Subsidies and other Incentive Payments

Every soevereign nation can use market forces to improve or maintain environmental quality by levying charges or offering payments (subsidies). These put a price on enviromental resources. They thereby make progress towards internalising the environmental externality by bringing private and social costs closer together. 

In our world today, we easily assign value to a piece of land, a planted tree, a car, a house or a book, however. Those items have a monetary value. Therfore, in many situations it will be possible to determine precisely the cost of the loss or  the damage caused by pollution or the benefit provided by an environmental service. In any particular case this fact does not invalidate the economic and environmental arguments in favour of making polluters pay and of compensating service providers. 

But what about wild life? In my opinion the greatest loss we sustained is "the loss of a reverence for life". It used to be widely believed on this Earth that wild life had an 'intrinsic value' as well. Intrinsic value is value for its own sake, for moral, spiritual, symbolic, cultural or aesthetic reasons. It is not a value that is assigned or given. It just is. But the concept of intrinsic value for life doesn't fit in a world that defines progress in terms of "units sold" or "shares traded" or "accounts balanced." But what about the economy? How can we afford to value the smallest creatures or a plant that we may never see in our lifetime? The answer to this question lies in one of the most nebulous concepts in modern science - biodiversity. It cannot be adequately explained in purely scientific terms why it is important to have a large diversity of life forms in our world. But it is, and without that diversity, it is questionable whether we can survive.

And of course, nation-states should remove payments ( subsidies) to environmentally harmful activities. This will enhance economic efficiency and competitiveness.

Balancing Investment Rights with Privileges

Sovereign nations should be able to retain the right to regulate how foreign investors operate in their territory and to determine the extent to which local people should be given preferential treatment with respect to local resources. Although this may in some cases lead to reduced environmental protection, ensuring that local people benefit from natural resource exploitation is not only fair but, in the long run, it may lead to more sustainable development. 

Furthermore and although transnational corporations often operate in developing countries with higher environmental standards than do local companies, transnationals typically follow lower standards than they practice at home. Adhering to lower standards in developing countries raises serious questions of equity and competitiveness. To minimize the impact of lower standards abroad, sovereign nations should ban the export of domestically prohibited technologies and goods and should impose minimum environmental standards on national corporations operating abroad. They should also provide fair and equal judicial access to foreign citizens and communities harmed by environmental damage caused by national corporate activities.

Greening Technology Transfers

Many oportunities for environmental investments are being created or stimulated by international and domestic law. For example, the Kyoto Protocol under the climate change regime now requires a reduction in net greenhouse gas emissions in industrial countries, which may in turn create a massive new market for renewable and efficient energy technologies. Transferring these green technologies to developing countries should be a priority of Northern finance lending. Such lending should be earmarked for shifting societies to appropriate, nonpolluting technologies and not simply for improving the efficiencies of fundamentally unsustainable technologies, such as coal-fired power plants or nuclear reactors

Individuals and the Global Protection of Biodiversity

Perhaps the most promising development for protecting the global environment since the Earth Summit is the rise of a global environmental movement. The number of environmental nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) addressing international issues, particularly in developing countries, has exploded in recent years, as has their capacity to build networks, gather and analyze technical information, and gain the attention of key policymakers. Virtually every country has at least one environmental NGO, many of which actively seek to collaborate with their colleagues from other countries.

Protecting Unrestricted Citizen Access to the Internet

Today’s communication technology has also increased the effectiveness of the global environmental community considerably. The Internet, in particular, provides a vast opportunity for forming and maintaining global networks, sharing information and experiences, and coordinating international lobbying efforts. In this regard, the most important developments are not in the formation of permanent federations or groups of formal networks but in the ability of temporary networks and campaigns to form, adapt, and dissolve readily. This dynamic process allows for concentrated efforts through new and changing alliances that focus on specific issues. It allows coordinated action in many different countries around the same issue, with little need for expensive infrastructure or costly planning meetings. Success often depends as much on internal diplomacy—the ability to maintain the interest of a large number of NGOs through the use of information technology—as on any external communication strategy. In the Internet world, NGOs may have a slight advantage over corporations in that the informality of the NGO community helps in conducting business through the Internet, and trust can build quickly among NGOs with shared goals and vision.

Effective Internet use by citizen movements has not gone unnoticed by those who benefit from isolating civil society. Given recent pronouncements by several countries about restricting or monitoring international Internet communication, and given the ongoing discussions by U.S. law enforcement agencies about obtaining the capabilities to monitor Internet messages, maintaining unrestricted access to the Internet must be a high priority for the global environmental movement.

Democratizing International Environmental Law

Traditionally only nation-states have had the right to participate in the making, interpretation, and implementation of international law. This model is being challenged with respect to international environmental law, however, as many nonstate actors assume more prominent roles. Nowadays nonstate actors - for example, transnational corporations and NGOs - gather their own information, make their own alliances, and expect to participate fully in international affairs. To be sure, the primary impact of NGOs is indirect - through pressuring national governments - but in recent years NGOs have also begun to participate directly in international environmental negotiations. For example, the U.S. delegations to international meetings now routinely include both environmental NGO and industry representatives as unofficial observers. Given that environmental NGOs are generally more likely to insist on environmental protection than are government representatives, this trend toward the democratization of international environmental law will generally work to the environment’s advantage.

Developing Minimum and Uniform International Administrative Procedures

Transparent and accountable procedures in international affairs can temper rising corporate influence. Campaigns to press for increased access to information and to attain citizen rights to participate in international institutions are ongoing simultaneously at many different international institutions. Thus, for example, efforts to ensure minimum levels of transparency and access to information are currently being waged at the WTO, the IMF, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and the multilateral development banks.

A minimum level of citizen-based rights to information, participation, and independent review should be provided at all international and supranational (e.g. European Union) organisations and institutions. Currently no minimum procedures or standards exist, and civil society ends up duplicating its efforts for improving governance at every institution. To avoid repeating the same battles with each regulatory body, governments should negotiate one international "administrative procedures" treaty covering all the relevant institutions. Models currently exist that can be used for the development of such a treaty—for example, Europe’s Convention on Public Participation in Environmental Decisionmaking 7).

Integrating Human Rights and Biodiversity

Human rights laws may also present important opportunities for gaining better biodiversity protection. Intuitively, people support the fundamental human right to enjoy minimum amounts of air and water free of contamination; to grow crops in a stable climate system on land protected from harmful ultraviolet radiation; to enjoy the variety of life; in short, to live and raise their children in an environment conducive to human life and health.

Regardless of whether the human right to a healthy (and biodiverse) environment is recognized, however, the relationship between biodiversity protection and human rights is a natural one. Biodiversity loss and environmental damage are often worse in countries and in areas where human rights abuses are greatest, particularly where outside forces are driving the exploitation of valuable natural resources - for example, gold or oil - over the objections of local communities. Repression is often the only way to force this type of "development," particularly when little or no benefit is obvious for the local community. Leading environmental activists such as Chico Mendes and Ken Saro Wiwa have been killed and many others have been beaten for raising their voices. In many of these instances, the international human rights movement offers the best hope for protection from internal oppression.


In hindsight, we can now see that the UN Conference on Environment and Development held in Rio de Janiero never effectively addressed the speed and scale of the global economy. Although UNCED raised questions about unsustainable levels of consumption and emphasized the goal of sustainable development over economic growth, the conference did not herald a significant shift away from the global preoccupation with economic growth. Indeed, at least until the economic crises in Asia, Russia, and Brazil, the 1990s witnessed an unprecedented and uninterrupted drive toward a global economy, with virtually no recognition of the goal of sustainable development.

Globalization is being supported by international policies and institutions that attempt to remove regulatory barriers to the flow of goods, services, and capital. No set of governments or institutions is managing the global economic tide, which is strong and unpredictable. At least with respect to biodiversity protection, international organizations (both economic institutions and environment and development bodies) lack both the authority and the will to manage the global market for sustainable development. Moreover, some national agreements  - designed to facilitate global markets - will undermine national efforts to impose biodiversity protections.

Global economic regimes could be greened from the inside if leading economic powers made sustainable development a priority. Human rights, too, may provide a mechanism for checking the environmental excesses of the global market economy, although complicated and technical environmental problems are generally more conducive to complex management regimes than to a black-and-white system of minimum rights. Yet whatever mix of these approaches is used to nudge the global economy toward more sustainable development, it will have little chance of success until the United States, the European Union, Japan and other rich nation-states take a leadership role in pursuing global biodiversity protection above unbridled economic growth. It is my believe that these countries should take a leadership role as soon as possible. There is no time to waste: the survival of the human species may depend on immediate, fair and just global protection of biodiversity.

Reference Notes

1) "Possibly the scariest part of these statistics is the fact that the Earth is home to an estimated 14 million species. But only 1.75 million have been identified and documented. This could mean that the number of plants and animals at risk of being exterminated is more like 88,000", said Jackie Alan Guiliano, Ph.D in "Extinctions Not Just a Fact of Life" (October 2000)

2) Amman 2000 World Conservation Congress comes to a conclusion "No loss of species is acceptable", says IUCN (11 October 2000)

3) Legally binding treaties create a legal obligation on all countries who sign and ratify the agreement. Non-legally binding instruments do not create a legal obligation, although they can set politically or morally important standards.

4) Nota Natuur voor mensen, mensen voor natuur, July 2000

5) Communication on the Precautionary Principle, February 2000

6) Communication on Integrating Environmental Issues with Economic Policy, September 2000 COM (2000) 576 final

7) Convention on Public Participation in Decisionmaking and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters, U.N. Doc. ECE/CEP/43 (adopted at Aarhus, Denmark, June 25, 1998) and Proposal for a Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council  on public access to environmental information, June 29, 2000, COM (2000) 402 final


Copyright 1998/2011 © "De Valk Omgevingsrecht" (