Events

One Planet, Two Hemispheres

April 20, 2000 // 12:00am

As the recent protests in Seattle and Washington attest, the problems associated with international institutions are now at the forefront of public consciousness. The International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Trade Organization (WTO), and the World Bank have all come under heated criticism for flaws ranging from a lack of transparency to indifference to the need for environmental protection.

The latter concern was the topic of an April 20 seminar at the Woodrow Wilson Center "One Planet, Two Hemispheres."Anju Sharma (below), who works at an environmental think tank in New Dehli, India, gave a presentation on a book that she coedited with Anil Agarwal and Sunita Narain on environmental negotiations from the perspective of countries in the Southern Hemisphere. Entitled Green Politics, the book aims to increase the clout of developing countries in international environmental negotiations and to make the outcome of those negotiations fair to participants from both hemispheres.

Following the discussion, Justine Kwiatkowski of the Wilson Quarterly interviewed Dr. Sharma. She asked her to elaborate on how perspectives differ between Northern and Southern Hemispheres and on what would therefore be an equitable system of global environmental governance.

KWIATKOWSKI:Do you feel that the American youth protesting the World Bank and the IMF in Seattle and Washington in the past few months aided the environmental agenda of Southern nations? Or did they misrepresent the Southern views and goals?

SHARMA: The protestors meant well, though I sense they're not entirely sure about what they want.

Actually, I'm not so sure how much the protests in Seattle and Washington were linked. In Seattle, the protesters were concerned with issues such as Tibet and saving turtles. These are worthy goals, but they're what I call "sovereign issues," and the actions the protesters were advocating would infringe the rights and sovereignty of other nations. The protesters were asking industrialized countries to put pressure on India and other Southern Hemisphere nations to deal with such sovereign issues, which is unfair. Protesters and the general public have to realize one fundamental thing: any loss of sovereignty has to be across the board. That some countries preserve their sovereignty while forcing others to cede theirs is unfair.

However, as a civil society movement, the protests in both cities were impressive. I perceive a general lack of activism in civil society in both Northern and Southern hemispheres, so in that way, the U.S.-based protests were heartening.

KWIATKOWSKI:What inspired you and your colleagues at the Centre for Science and Environment to collaborate on a book about green politics? What does Green Politics: Global Environmental Negotiations add to the debate?

SHARMA:We were inspired to put together Green Politics when we realized that few Southern countries had an overview of what goes on in global environmental negotiations -- which is basically to promote the economic agenda of rich countries. Poor countries don't know what's going on in these negotiations, yet their environmental and economic future depends on the outcome. They have to realize how important these negotiations are, and hopefully this book will aid in cultivating that understanding.

We would also like to start a dialogue so that people everywhere perceive the importance of democracy in a global context -- especially countries in the Northern Hemisphere, which often overlook the need for equality and justice in their environmental negotiations.

KWIATKOWSKI:The thesis of Green Politics is that environmental negotiations have been transformed into mere "business transactions." Could you tell us what you mean by that?

SHARMA:Environmental negotiations become business transactions when the interests of the business world overtake a country's agenda. At major environmental conferences, developed countries tend to take positions that the industries in their countries want them to take. For example, at the Climate Change Convention, the United States took the position that their automobile and oil industries had instructed them to take. American car and oil businesses feared that their counterparts in developing countries would gain a competitive edge if the United States agreed to global environmental commitments, and so these native U.S. industries attempted to co-opt the process.

Clinton and Gore made it easy for American business to take over in that they didn't talk to the Congress first to get a unified opinion -- they just rushed off to the climate change meeting without a coherent opinion. That vacuum allowed the industries' perspective to dominate. And this conference is only one example of the North's failure to withstand business pressure. There are many others.

KWIATKOWSKI:One of the major obstacles to environmental management is the tension between economic development and environmental protection. You and the Centre have stated that the two goals can be accomplished simultaneously. Could you provide an example of how this tension has manifested itself in India -- a beneficiary of World Bank money -- and whether and how the tension was resolved?

SHARMA:The management of national parks is a good example of how this tension has manifested itself in India. India has adopted a Western concept of national parks -- essentially declaring certain areas inaccessible to human beings. But that is not practical for our country with a large and expanding population, not to mention a tradition of a symbiotic relationship between the people and the land. This Western method has isolated Indian communities from wildlife management, in many ways stunting their understanding of the importance of preserving the environment -- and thereby working against the very goals the policy set out to achieve.

Contrary to this Western conception, it is possible for human communities and wildlife to live together, but this only happens if the community is given responsibility for the resources of its land. If they have a vested interest in preserving the land and understand that it's their future, they will protect it. National parks in India remain as they are, however -- cordoned off from the community. But there are a few examples of indigenous groups in India that have integrated with the forest again.

KWIATKOWSKI:Some believe that environmental issues should be incorporated into existent organizations such as the WTO, while others advocate the creation of a separate global organization focused solely on environmental issues. What do you think is the best global governance framework for environmental protection, and how can it realistically be achieved?

SHARMA:The Centre for Science and the Environment where I work in New Dehli advocates a separate organization, one that acts as a counterweight to the WTO and addresses both environmental and development issues. Or, alternately, the UN could get its act together and become a more democratic and streamlined organization. As to whether it is possible or not, I am not sure. People have spoken about a separate organization , but if the current political nexus continues, it won't happen. It's in the current interests of the United States to keep the WTO dominant, and the United States determines most of what happens in the global environmental realm.

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