GREEN DOLLARS MISS THE POINT
PCDForum Column #39, Release Date July 20, 1992
by By Oliver Tickell and Nicholas Hildyard
"I'm scared of big money, which has always meant big destruction, big social disruption and inevitably corruption. What we need instead is a change in attitude with all the right attitudes, we could be needing less money, not more." So spoke José Lutzenberger, Brazil's special Secretary for the Environment, days before his sacking in March. He was specifically referring to the enormous "green" funds descending on Brazil under various auspices-money from the G-7 group of nations, from the E.C. and that anticipated from the UNCED "Earth Summit" held in Rio in June.
Though they produced nothing more than vague promises from the North to increase its funding at some unspecified future time, many of the South's positions in the UNCED deliberations turned on the demand for "new and additional" sources of funding. Underpinning the call for new funds was the view that environmental and social problems are primarily the result of insufficient capital, outdated technology, a lack of expertise; and faltering economic growth. In other words, environmental problems were persistently cast in the traditional language of development. Attention is thus diverted from the policies, values and knowledge systems that have led to the crisis and the interest groups that have promoted them. The development process itself goes unchallenged. All of which is music to the ears of politicians, corporate executives, bankers and business interests in both North and South.
Consequently, it is not surprising that the prior questions of whether money can solve the environmental problems facing us, of who benefits from capital and technology transfers, and whether increased capital flows to the South are desirable, are never raised. Rather the debate continues to center largely on the amounts of money to be transferred, with Northern governments maneuvering to ensure that the funds will not only remain under their control, but will also be used to promote their interests.
The North's preferred solution has been the so-called Global Environmental Facility (GEF), in which the World Bank has the lead role with UNDP and UNEP as nominal partners. The GEF proposal originated behind the closed doors of a G-7 summit meeting, thus excluding Southern governments from the beginning, effectively preempting discussion of alternative funding mechanisms at UNCED, and assuring the fund would be controlled by an organization trusted to implement the North's own agenda.
Mainstream NGOs critical of the GEF have called for the Facility to be removed from the Bank; for further funding to be suspended; and for the workings of the GEF to be opened up to NGO participation. They also point out that the Bank's main portfolio is just as destructive as ever, despite the green rhetoric of the World Bank's Lewis Preston and that 70-80 percent of GEF funds are being used in support of mainstream Bank projects and thus subsidizing the destruction. But does such criticism go far enough? Underlying the GEF is the prior assumption that the availability of capital is a prerequisite for addressing environmental destruction. In the debate over the GEF, and the funding issue more generally, that assumption has gone unchallenged even by many, though not all, NGOS. The debate has been about how to transfer funds to the South and how to raise them, not over whose interests will be served by such transfers or whether the capital is actually necessary.
To be certain, Southern elites are eager for new funds: indeed, their survival in times of high national debt relies on ensuring capital flows. Likewise, capital flows to the South are in the interests of the North, which for years has used aid and investment to ensure political acquiescence among its partners in the South.
But for the poor, the landless, those who have been marginalized by the development process and those whose livelihoods are under threat, "new and additional funds" hold no attractions. The solutions they seek are not financial, but political and cultural. Their concern is not to obtain additional funding for inherently destructive projects but to stop such projects.
It does not require large foreign exchange transfers to the South to reduce consumption in the North, to reclaim large plantations for peasant agriculture, or to plant the trees that will restore their ravaged homelands. But it does require addressing the questions of who owns the land, who controls decision-making, who should manage the commons and in whose interest. Only by insisting that such questions are made central to the debate will it be possible to drive a stake through the heart not only of GEF, but of any other financial monsters that subsequently emerge in the aftermath of UNCED.
Oliver Tickell is a freelance journalist, 379 Meadow Lane, Oxford OX4 4BL, U.K. Nicholas Hildyard is co-editor of The Ecologist, Agricultural House, Bath Road, Sturminster Newton, Dorset, DTIO 1DU, England, U. K. This column was prepared and distributed by the People-Centered Development Forum based on an editorial in The Ecologist, May/June 1992.