|Environmental Change and International Law: New Challenges and Dimensions (UNU, 1992, 493 pages)|
|Issues in international environmental law|
|3. Changing requirements for international information|
Great progress has been made during the past two decades in collecting and sharing information about environmental conditions and trends worldwide. Experience gained with pollution problems is now being applied to natural-resource issues and new accounting methods are being explored to capture values that escape normal economic analysis. With greater insights now available about anthropogenic inputs to "global change," it is clear that environment and development issues are linked and that global environmental issues cannot be resolved in the long run without major reductions of poverty and wasteful consumption.
As was foreseen by the Brundtland Commission, the breadth of information being sought will be difficult as we move from current experience, in which human activities and their effects were neatly compartmentalized within nations, within sectors (energy, agriculture, trade), and within broad areas of concern (environmental, economic, social). These compartments have begun to dissolve. This applies in particular to the various global "crises" that have seized public concern, particularly over the past decade. These are not separate crises: an environmental crisis, a development crisis, an energy crisis. They are all one.
Further progress in communications and other technical breakthroughs will make the world increasingly "open" to information flows of potentially great value during the transition to sustainable development. And much of this information can reach people at all levels whose day-to-day decisions contribute to global environmental change.
But, despite the unavoidable openness of an "interdependent world," expanding demands for information may prompt resistance by those who are unable themselves to take full advantage of it and are determined to protect state sovereignty in such matters. To the degree that international finance is required for national development, it is normal that the provision of supporting information will be a condition. Here too, great sensitivity is called for, as well as the provision of additional support to enable countries to strengthen internal capabilities to collect and analyse information pertinent to their own development, as well as to global security. While mechanisms are in place that lay down the rules for private finance, whether in the form of loans or investments, the fact that all countries have a voice in multilateral organizations of the UN system gives them the opportunity to use that system to encourage greater transparency and access to information being shared for the common good, and to negotiate the conditions under which this will flourish.
Clearly, a regime encouraging transparency and free movement of information to support sustainable development can be promoted - if governments wish it - by investing in traditional "technical assistance" programmes in which the UN system has extensive experience to strengthen human and institutional capabilities to handle information useful for sustainable development and global-risk reduction. Partnership in this exercise with the non-governmental scientific and other groups is offered, and financial support might be garnered through GEF.
UNCED provides a unique opportunity to agree on steps to strengthen human and institutional capacities to generate information useful for promoting global security and sustainable development.