Environment & Globalization

Environmental activists have been major sponsors of the recent protesting against the IMF and World Bank organizations. The activists include a variety of organizations and individuals advocating worldwide environmental protection and ecological preservation. Activist opposition to the Brettton Woods Institutions stems from a belief that the policies of these institutions are not only threatening the economic and political freedoms of developing nations, but are also producing disastrous ecological effects worldwide. From the environmentalists' perspective, the IMF and the World Bank, as well as the powerful industrialized nations that control them, have failed to make a commitment to ecological preservation in the past, and cannot be trusted to institute an effective program of environmental preservation for the future.

Environmentalist opponents believe the current program of development for economically depressed nations fosters environmental accountability in conjunction with economic growth. As supporters of the existing international aid and development institutions, these "institutionalists" believe environmental protection is an inevitable part of the program of economic and political development advanced by the Bretton Woods Institutions. Institutionalists argue the resulting unregulated political structure and economic system developed in such nations will form a system of environmental protection that caters to the specific demands of the region as well as recognizes the need to participate in global reform. Those nations who fail to produce these reforms internally will be pressured externally to create them. The current trend of globalization will promote interdependence among nations. This interdependence will cultivate international reform. In this way, unlike the environmentalist policy, the goal of environmental responsibility will be harmoniously achieved will the simultaneous goal of economic stability.

In response, environmentalists argue that unregulated development will foster international competition among emerging markets in developing nations. In order to come out on top, developing nations will deregulate as much as possible so as to demonstrate their willingness to accommodate new business and investment. This causes a "race to the bottom" -- a race that environmentalists state we are in danger of winning with the prize being a complete exhaustion of the earth's resources and an alteration of the earth's climate.

The environment and globalization offers a unique perspective. Many within the environmentalist movement recognize that halting globalization is no longer possible, and instead have focused on reforming the current system. Institutionalists have also recognized that their political as well as environmental survival requires that they address environmental concerns more closely. While the lines between the different factions have become blurred, recent events, such as the Kyoto Protocol talks at the Hague, demonstrate that the discussion continues between the environmentalists and institutionalists as to what is the proper way to ensure environmental reform.

  • Environmentalist: A Race to the Bottom: Creating Risk, Generating Debt and Guaranteeing Environmental Destruction, March 1999, A Report by Berne Declaration, Switzerland; Bioforum, Indonesia; Center for International Environmental Law, U.S.; Environmental Defense, U.S.; Eurodad, Belgium; Friends of the Earth, U.S.; Pacific Environment and Resources Center, U.S.; Urgewald, Germany available at http://www.environmentaldefense.org/pdf.cfm?contentid=480&filename=ecareport%2Epdf

    The report focuses on publicly owned bilateral export credit agencies (ECAs) and investment insurance agencies , and their growing role in privately owned project ventures abroad. In a series of case studies, the report provides insight into the impact these ECA ventures have on the surrounding environment and society. Written by a conglomeration of prominent environmental activist organizations, the report argues that OECD country-supported bilateral aid agencies and multilateral development banks, such as the World Bank, circumvent environmental standards through the ECAs, which have no detailed social or environmental procedures for their lending. Already low environmental safeguards are decreased even further as the market for ECAs becomes more competitive. This fosters a "race to the bottom" where ECAs attempt to diminish environmental standards that may hinder new investors and affect their ability to compete for new lending projects.

    The fifteen case studies covering many of the developing regions of the world demonstrate that ECA projects can be traced as a source of social and environmental hazards, such as population displacement, flooding, water pollution, air pollution, and other serious health concerns. The case studies are divided into two types of lending: project finance operations and private investment in institutional reforms, such as lowering government corruption or stabilizing monetary policy. In addition to providing specific examples of how unchecked globalization can hurt developing countries, the report ends with a list of reforms that should be enacted that would alter the effect of these ECA projects. The case studies also show that the ECAs foster an increasing amount of debt in developing countries, causing developing countries to become more financially dependent on outside sources. This limits the progress less developed countries can achieve. The entire report provides a comprehensive assessment of what individual ECA projects are doing the world's environment. Each case study provides insight into the potential hazards of unrestricted lending, and also provides the recommended action that OECD aid agencies should take with regard to these projects.

  • Institutionalist : The Global Environment in the Twenty-First Century: Prospects for International Cooperation, U.N. Univ. Press (Pamela S. Chasek ed. 2000).

    When analyzing international environmental policy, the question emerges: what type of actor is best suited to develop and implement international environmental safeguards? This book attempts to answer that question. Divided into five research groups, this book identifies and analyzes the major international actors that participate in the development of global environmental policy - states, non-governmental organizations, market forces, regional arrangements, and international organizations. Each section within the book provides a detailed examination of the actor's activities, functions, and capabilities accompanied by an assessment of the actor's ability to provide effective, long-range protection of the world's environment. The analysis addresses problems faced by these actors, as well as suggested solutions to each actor's most glaring deficiencies.

    The problems that plague these actors, such as actor self-interest, institutional incompetence, and lack of enforcement power, prevent these groups from addressing environmental issues that exceed national boundaries. The authors conclude that each actor's input and resources are vital to the process of developing environmental policy, but that very few actors have the resources, structure, and political organization to successfully manage global concerns regarding development and the environment. There is, however, one institution, better suited than all others to efficiently attain the environmental objective of sustainable development. With the increase of global interdependence, the authors find that the United Nations, "as the only truly global organization," is the actor that can best implement effective policy and foster sustainable development.

    While the authors concede that the United Nations and its institutions have, like other actors, failed to make sustainable development a reality, the authors argue that the United Nations is the organization best suited to address global environmental concerns. The authors state that international consensus must be reached by states and organizations as to the objectives of international environmental policy, but the solutions to global environmental problems are most effective when implemented on the local level. Only the United Nations provides a forum where global and regional structures can interact with local ones. It is the global/local structure of the United Nations that establishes it as the premiere organization to initiate global safeguards and manage environmental development.

  • Institutionalist: James M. Sheehan, The Greening Of The World Bank: A Lesson in Bureaucratic Survival, Foreign Policy Briefing 2000.

    James M. Sheehan, author of Global Greens: Inside the International Environmental Establishment and adjunct scholar at the Competitive Enterprise Institute provides a unique analysis of the changing relationship between the World Bank and environmental non-governmental organizations. Sheehan argues that the World Bank, to survive politically, has conceded to environmentalists and adjusted its approach to developing environmental policy. Environmental organizations, which once criticized U.S. funding of the World Bank, now benefit from that funding by overseeing bank development projects. The author states that with the World Bank's adoption of a "sustainable" approach to development, World Bank and environmentalist rhetoric have become nearly identical. However, the author argues that while many environmental organizations have regarded the World Bank's acceptance of their participation as a type of victory, little has changed in terms of how the World Bank regards the environment. The World Bank continues to fail to assess properly the environmental impact of its projects and to institute safeguards to protect the environment when such hazards are brought to the attention of the Bank officials.

    Moreover, Sheenan states that the "greening" of the World Bank has hindered the World Bank's ability to achieve other policy objectives. The World Bank's new environmental partnership strains the Bank's efforts to cut bureaucratic red tape. More of the Bank's resources are being used to foster NGO participation, environmental assessment, and project consultation. The author argues that the Bank's limited resources could be better employed elsewhere.

    Sheenan ends by admitting that NGO participation has lessened the political fallout that could have resulted in the loss of funding to the World Bank. The author also argues that the World Bank has effectively silenced its prior adversaries by making them a part of the process. Environmental NGOs that had previously monitored World Bank development projects now are constrained by their own involvement in World Bank development policy. The result is a loss of environmental watchdogs that tempered Bank development, and a major amount of Bank resources being devoted to political maneuvering. Sheenan states this can only result in a halt of any effective improvement in the World Bank's environmental performance.

  • Environmentalist: Joel Kovel, Global Warming And Realo-Fundi Greens: What's being done to transform the system? Z Magazine, Feb. 2001.

    This article addresses the failure of the November 2000 Hague talks to ratify the 1997 Kyoto Protocols. The author asserts that the United States, in order to retain economic stability maintained by status quo fuel consumption, consistently denigrates global environmental standards. The lack of successful environmental reform within the United States can be credited to several groups including left-wing environmentalists who spend much of their time vilifying the right and disagreeing amongst themselves rather than producing tangible alternatives for revamping the system. The organizations that take credit for putting ecology first have failed to reform or develop a system that will allow them to achieve their goals.

    The author divides environmental reformists in the United States, also known as "greens", into two camps: the Green Party U.S.A. and the Association of State Green Parties. The Green Party U.S.A. (GPUSA) concentrates on gaining support for a green-conscious social structure (known as "Fundi" green), whereas the Association of State Green Parties (ASGP) concentrates on gaining political support through electioneering. By work within a pre-existing political framework, the ASGP tends to be more realistic in its approach to environmental reform (known as "Realo" green) than its green counterpart. The author feels that the Realo greens are too quick too assume that the current institutional structure can support the level of reform needed to truly halt the advance of global warming.

  • Institutionalist: Hilary French. Globalization Straining Planet's Health: Alliances Needed to Safeguard Environment, Worldwatch News Release, Mar. 2000.

    This article argues that globalization can be used as a means of procuring greater environmental safeguards. While the current trend of globalization seems to be ravishing the earth's environment, commentators in this article provide insight on how globalization could be used to champion environmental reforms. The same advances in technology and communication that have fostered economic relationships and reform may be used to develop new environmentally conscious methods of doing business as well as strengthening global environmental coalitions.

    The article does not ignore many of the alleged environmental hazards that threaten the planet, but rather accentuates them. It also provides a brief, but sound analysis of the roles that international institutions, such as the IMF and World Bank, have played in promulgating environmental reform. Finally the article offers new approaches to environmental reform by describing the ways in which non-governmental organizations, private corporations, and even investors have changed their traditional means of doing business. The article ends by stressing that even with these developments, major policy reform is still needed in order to significantly alter the impact globalization has had on the environment.

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