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Environmental Policy as a Task of the Future

Democracy and social justice are two sides of the same coin. The preservation of nature is essential if people are to share life on this planet in a dignified and socially just manner, and it is therefore also a prerequisite for democratic development. As a result, ecological sustainability, democracy and social justice are in principle inseparably tied together.

The UN Conference on Environment and Development (Rio 1992) called for the implementation of the targets which had been negotiated between the North and the South regarding, for example, reduced air pollution and the use of tropical forests, in order to resolve existing global problems of the environment. In fact, the final documents (in particular Agenda XXI) call for co-ordinated action between industrial, industrializing and developing countries. Such action, however, would require a minimum of consensus between the major players both within the different societies and across hemispheres. But it remains a fact that governments, entrepreneurs, political parties, trade unions and other influential organizations in society are still not trying seriously enough to reach such a consensus. Instead, the North is pursuing a policy which assumes that given even more technology and more market everything could be resolved satisfactorily in the end ¤ including global problems of the environment like climate change, massive migration of people, and growing global poverty.

At the same time, the South continues to regard industrial growth as an important goal, thus following the example of the North; the élites in these societies hardly ever look for alternative modes of development.

As a political foundation, FES defines the aim of its international activities as working for an institutional framework adapted for an alternative, sustainable development and for large-scale political involvement in favour of a needs-orientated development of the country concerned. In this context, the slogan "think globally, act locally" applies to major areas of FES activities in environmental policy.

The Foundation's activities in Chile, for example, are concerned with both modernizing environmental legislation and strengthening associations of ecologists and their cooperation with plantation workers' unions and local politicians; what both activities have in common is to prevent the use of internationally banned agrotoxica. The primary objective ("locally") is to protect the health of female plantation workers who, without such support, would continue to give birth to children who are mentally and physically handicapped as a result of the pesticides. In a wider context ("globally"), FES is interested in enabling groups or large sections of the population concerned to participate in a qualified manner in decisions which affect directly the quality of their environment today and that of coming generations. Polluted soil, rivers, lakes, coastal areas will spoil the chance of sustainable development in a short period of time, will aggravate the pressure to migrate to the cities and will turn structural poverty (due to the environment) into a dangerous political time bomb.

In other words, FES is not content with simply publishing deficiencies in the environment and development. The Foundation is equally involved in elaborating alternatives for sustainable future development. To this end it makes use of the set of instruments which it has developed over decades (North-South and South-South exchanges of experts; regional and international seminars; experts' opinions and studies). However, in view of the fact that sustainable development requires very complex political solutions, the Foundation cooperates not only with its traditional partners from politics and unions in this context, but acts as a kind of mediator between the conflicting groups using the experience of round tables and applying the most modern communication techniques. To be credible in its role as mediator, FES brings together European politicians, NGOs, and scholars in Germany to talk about "The Future of the Industrial Society"; at the same time, it initiates similar exchanges in Argentina, Egypt or Korea on the topic "Development or Growth?". Its specific activities as mediator have increased the Foundation's legitimacy to address such issues as democratization, social justice and sustainable development and the question of how these relate to each other. Its environmental policy consulting cuts across all areas in which the Foundation is working. Environmental policy is not a separate line of work apart from cooperation with trade unions or with small and medium-sized industries or the promotion of international media cooperation between countries of the South. In fact, cooperation in environmental policies is and must be reflected in all fields of FES activities, adapted to the specific conditions of the host country.

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©Friedrich Ebert Stiftung | technical support | net edition mv&ola | August 1997