MARGARET WARNER: For more on the summit and what it might achieve we're joined from Johannesburg by Jan Pronk, whom we just heard in our report on the conference - he's the United Nations secretary general's special envoy to the summit and the former housing and environment minister of the Netherlands; and Jocelyn Dow president of the Women's Environment and Development Organization, an international advocacy group. She's a native of Guyana.
Here in the studio with me are Myron Ebell, director of international and environmental policy at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a research organization, and Gregg Easterbrook senior editor of the "New Republic," a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution and an author of "A moment on the Earth: The Coming Age of Environmental Optimism." Welcome to you all.
And, Gregg Easterbrook before we launch into the debate on this explain what's meant by the term "sustainable development."
GREGG EASTERBROOK: There are many possible definitions based on your politics, Margaret, but I think the most useful one would be economic growth without environmental harm. People would agree on that as a consensus value today. It's technically possible today. In the 19th century, our economy and other countries' economy could not have grown without environmental degradation.
The last 30 years the United States and the western world have dramatically cut pollution even if economies have grown. This is possible for the world now as well and very important because with half the people of the world living in poverty compared to the United States global use of resources must increase in the next century.
MARGARET WARNER: So Jan Pronk, how realistic a goal is this? In other words, some would consider these conflicting goals; that the developing world needs to grow its way out of poverty but without environmental harm, the same kind of environmental harm that many of the wealthy countries caused when they grew their way to wealth. Can you reconcile those two?
JAN PRONK: It is possible but it requires a change in production systems which, for instance, have to become much more energy efficient, using much less energy per unit of output, and at the same time also the northern countries, western countries, rich countries, should give more space to economic growth in developing countries by themselves, indeed using less natural resources as by polluting the environment, much less than they have done in the past.
MARGARET WARNER: So Myron Ebell would you agree that the burden's on both the wealthy countries and the poor countries.
MYRON EBELL: Certainly, I think that the lack of economic development in the so-called "developing countries" has become a tremendous problem. Luckily this summit, unlike the earth summit in Rio ten years ago, is concentrating on the development side, the economic and social pillars underlying sustainable development rather than simply focusing on environmental protection.
MARGARET WARNER: And why do you think that's a good idea?
MYRON EBELL: Well, because environmental protection and environmental quality follows wealth creation. The World Bank has done a number of studies that show very clearly as countries become richer their environmental quality improves.
As a person, if you have to spend a large part of your day gathering fuel to cook your meals, you're not going to have very much time or you're not going to really worry too much about whether you're deforesting your country. You're going to be worrying about where the next meal is coming from and where the next load of firewood is coming from.
But as people become part of the electrical grid, they have electricity, they can cook their meals with stoves, they have refrigerators, pretty soon they start worrying about the environment. And so consequently their nations then start to provide environmental improvements and protections.
MARGARET WARNER: Jocelyn Dow, do you see it that way, that really the economic development has to come first before the environmental concern and sensitivity?
JOYCELYN DOW: Well, I would challenge what he said because it's in fact not true. People who depend on the environment solely for their capacity to live have a great interest in how it is conserved. The fact is if we look at the statistics, it is not the poor who are depleting the world's resources but the rich. It is not people who are cutting firewood that are deforesting the world.
It is people who are creating value-added products out of forests, a lot of that value is added outside of the owners of the forests. So those of us who live in forested communities know that our logs are exported.
We get very little for our primary resources and certainly it is not the poor who are depleting the world's resources.They are really the objects of a system that pushes them into the margins of the worst degradation, but the consumption patterns in fact are quite the opposite.
MARGARET WARNER: Gregg Easterbrook, is that the case that it's really the consumption patterns of the wealthy western countries that is driving the environmental problems even in the developing world?
GREGG EASTERBROOK: No, I would, you know, I would take that point and play off it in a different way. There's a famous statistic that everyone at the Johannesburg summit is familiar with, that the United States has 3 percent of the world's population and consumes 25 percent of current resources.
What that... to some people what that statistic tells you is the United States must reduce its resource consumption. To me what that statistic says is the developing world must increase its resource consumption. If the United States were magically overnight to cut its resource consumption in half, this would not help anyone in the developing world one bit. The developing world needs to burn more fuel, it needs to process more resources. These things are not easily done but they are all possible. Most importantly they're all possible today with reduced environmental harm.
The onset at the beginning of your interview that the... that pollution from the develop... from the western countries keeps increasing, the fact is it's been declining for 30 years including from his home nation the Netherlands. All forms of pollution with the important exception of greenhouse gases from the West have been declining for decades now.
If you can take this model to the developing world and allow the developing world to seek prosperity without the forms of gross pollution that plagued the West a century ago, this could be the solution to some of the world's poverty.
MARGARET WARNER: Mr. Pronk, of all the goals we set out in our tape piece about what you hope to achieve there in Johannesburg, what would be the most important for you to call this conference a success?
JAN PRONK: It is undoubtedly so that we will get the agreements. The mood is good. The important thing is to have a commitment to implement the agreement because we have so many agreements in the past which we have not implemented.
We are going to focus on five areas: Water, sustainable energy, sustainable agriculture, biodiversity, and health. If we in these five areas are able to agree on the implementation of action plans, which both result in a conservation of the environment and an eradication of poverty, then this conference will be successful.
MARGARET WARNER: Mr. Ebell, do you see that as a possibility here, that the wealthy countries and the poorer countries could at least on those five goals make firm commitments?
MYRON EBELL: I think that the United States under the Bush Administration has really tried to come up with a plan that is workable. And that plan is based on emphasizing the internal institutions in developing countries that we must put some focus and some resources into helping poor countries develop institutions of governance.
The European Union is opposed to that idea. They believe in the old eco imperialist model. I'm afraid Mr. Pronk is part of that eco imperialism.
MARGARET WARNER: So you're saying that the Bush administration-- and you support them in this-- is saying to these poorer countries, "you need to first get your internal house in order and end corruption and mismanagement," rather than being an advocate for any kind of greater aid or even reduction of trade barriers?
MYRON EBELL: Well, the Bush Administration has proposed more aid but they've made it conditional upon demonstrating that you can use it effectively, not just throwing money at problems but actually using it within the context of your own governmental institutions.
Secondly, the Bush Administration has put tremendous emphasis on clean drinking water, which is a huge problem for hundreds of millions of people in mostly poor countries.
MARGARET WARNER: Jocelyn Dow, what do you see as the realistic possibilities for this conference given what you've just heard both from Mr. Pronk and Mr. Ebell?
JOCEYLN DOW: I think that the conference must acknowledge what has happened in the ten years. I think if we look around the world, we can see every form of disaster: Health disasters, environmental disasters, and there must be a recognition that these have not come about because developing countries are not behaving in a proper manner and not into good governance but because there's an essential system of trade and economic processes that are really exclusionary of the poor -- the poor in your own countries and certainly the poorer countries across the world.
And this notion that we are in any way trying to get a new agreement, what we would like is for them to honor the agreements that they made in 1992. We in the developing countries have done everything within our power, I think, to meet sustainable development goals in a deteriorating economic environment.
We have burdened some debt. We have terms of trade that are pushing countries to the margins. Goods are able to access less and less money. Technology has not been transferred in the way that it was committed to in Rio, and then we are told that we are at fault. And this is, in fact, a lie.
MARGARET WARNER: Gregg Easterbook, many of the promises and pledges made at the Rio conferences, as previous guests have noted, have not been carried out. Do you think this will be any different, given the divergent views we've heard expressed right here?
GREGG EASTERBROOK: It may not be different ten days from now when conference ends but I think the mood is shifting. Americans should feel embarrassed at the low level of foreign aid that we send to the world.
Today even with the welcome increase that President Bush has proposed, which is small sadly, America spends less on foreign aid than we did in the final year of the Reagan Administration - only about 1/10th as much on foreign aid as we spent during the Eisenhower Administration.
Yes, it's true that some foreign aid has been wasted but mainly it's had a tremendously beneficial humanitarian effect on the world -- with the exception of some countries in Africa -- most of the predicted humanitarian disasters of the postwar era have not occurred because of foreign aid. We have a strong moral obligation to increase both money aid and technological aid to the developing world.
And it's also true that our trade barrier situation is unfair to the developing world. Through the WTO we have demanded that developing countries drop their barriers. We have not dropped many of our barriers against them. So we do need to practice what we preach on money and trade, yes.
MARGARET WARNER: Finally, Jan Pronk, as we noted President Bush is not attending this conference. What signal does that send and what in practical terms does that mean?
JAN PRONK: It is not a good signal. We have done our best to invite President Bush and indeed we are quite disappointed. On the other hand, Colin Powell is coming, as a politician of the United States who is inspiring a lot of confidence in other countries, so he's very welcome. We are very much looking forward to his contribution.
MARGARET WARNER: Mr. Ebell you signed a letter to the President urging him not to go. Why? And do you think it will have a practical effect that he himself is not there when so many other world leaders are?
MYRON EBELL: We sent a letter to President Bush thanking him for deciding not to go. But I think it's very important to understand how these world pow-wows are now being treated.
They're traveling circuses for every sort of leftist in the world who oppose progress, who oppose economic development, who oppose globalization, who oppose trade, and I think if President Bush had gone, he would have helped raise the media coverage, the world's attention to these... to the sort of goofees and lunatics that attend not as delegates but as the 40,000 or 50,000 people who hang around.
And so I think it's very important that he not go, and I'm glad he isn't. And I hope that we put... start putting some of these problems in the proper context, which is they require long-term effort by a lot of people, not huge meetings that attract massive amounts of protests and television coverage.
MARGARET WARNER: Mr. Pronk, do you want to respond to that?
JAN PRONK: We are working together with representatives of all countries in order to agree on a long-term program of action in a proper context. We are not a bunch of leftists or a bunch of lunatics as was said just like a couple of seconds ago.
We are people working within the system of the United Nations and the system of the United Nations has been created under the leadership of the United States just after the Second World War.
And we are working together in order to preserve peace and to get away with world poverty, poverty is breeding violence, and that is not in the interest of any country including not of the United States.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. We have to leave it there. Thank you all four very much.