23 June 1993

Doc. 6874



on North-South interdependence and solidarity:

Europe and the least developed countries1

(Rapporteur: Mr SCHEER,

Germany, Socialist Group)


      The Rio Declaration on Environment and Development which was adopted and signed on 14 June 1992 stated that:

"Human beings are at the centre of concerns for sustainable development. They are entitled to a healthy and productive life in harmony with nature".

It further spelled out that "the right to development must be fulfilled so as to equitably meet developmental and environmental needs of present and future generations" and it established the principle that "in order to achieve sustainable development, environmental protection shall constitute an integral part of the development process and cannot be considered in isolation from it."

      It is against this background that your Rapporteur in this opinion, relative to the excellent report by Mrs Verspaget, would like to draw the Assembly's attention to the crucial interdependence between under-development, environmental degradation and energy uses, and to the importance of giving more support to the informal economy at grass-root level.

Solar, wind and hydro generated energy will free land for food production and stop desertification in many regions of the least developed countries

      Man's traditional sources of energy included food for himself and wood for heating. This is still the case in rural regions of least developed countries. However, some urban centres in the Third World have followed the example of the industrial world and have become increasingly dependent on fossil fuels. The result is a steadily increasing pollution from these ever-growing urban monsters. Beijing, Sao Paulo and Mexico City have become famous for both their pollution levels and the inhuman life they offer their poorest citizens. Suffering due to pollution and diseases has reached alarming dimensions.

      The rural poor are at best left to struggle for their survival with no or little support from any central authority/agency, or they are being driven away from their homeland by war, drought or other disasters. The imbalance between populations and the ecosystem's carrying capacity has led to over-exploitation of vital resources and a general degradation of the environment causing deforestation, soil erosion, water deterioration, desertification etc.

      With regard to energy, we need first of all to remind ourselves of the equivalence of mass and energy (established by Albert Einstein), and of the first law of thermo-dynamics which in popular terms states that energy cannot be manufactured or destroyed. Energy can only be transformed from one form to another. The second law of thermo-dynamics says, somewhat simplified, that by each energy transformation a loss will occur and that the general physical term for this loss is "heat" (entropy). This heat-emission will eventually lead to the earth succumbing a "heat death". The question is only when this point in time will come.

      These laws, of course, also apply to renewable energies. In this case, however, one fundamental difference as compared with, for example, fossil fuels, must be understood, namely the fact that no additional heat in global terms is produced. The production of biomass for example consumes radiation energy coming into the atmosphere from the sun and biomass is only an intermediate user of this energy. The production and sustainable use of biomass also helps to maintain a natural stability of the earth's climate.

      Wind or hydro-generated as well as solar energy will be able to replace scarce wood resources and therefore help in preserving trees and forests in many regions of the least developed countries. There is a general consensus that this would contribute to stabilising climatic conditions, favour rainfall and retain humidity in the soil thus guaranteeing permanent vegetation (of grass and other plants) which in turn will prevent erosion and desertification. The satisfaction of poor people's energy needs by use of locally available renewable energy sources will therefore increase the land available for food production. Combined with control of population pressures, the goal of sustainable development could certainly be reached.

      The degradation of the soil is seriously threatening the food security of many least developed countries. These countries are also the least equipped to counter further soil erosion. According to United Nations sources more than 10% of the earth's soil cover has been lost since the second world war. The United Nations assessment of the earth's dry land regions estimated for 1990 that the degradation of irrigated crop land, rain-fed crop land and range land cost more than 42 000 million United States dollars per year in lost crops and livestock output. In Africa, where land degradation is most visible, the annual loss of range land productivity is estimated at 7 000 million United States dollars, more than the gross national product of Ethiopia and Uganda combined. Lost productivity on Africa's rain-fed crop land, largely caused by soil erosion, totalled 19 000 million United States dollars, roughly equivalent to Tanzania's gross national product. These few figures clearly illustrate the graveness of the situation — in particular for least developed countries with few possibilities of stopping soil erosion.

Renewable energies can preserve poor people's habitat

      Damage to the environment and tragedies for the world's poor people can occur fairly quickly. For example, in 1988, 25 million people were left homeless and more than 2 000 000 hectares of crops were damaged by floods that covered 85% of Bangladesh. When heavy monsoon rains fell in the deforested water sheds of the river system which flows into Bangladesh, the eroded land could not soak up the water and it went on to swell the tributary rivers and flood the plains.

      The damage could become even greater and permanently remove this soil from agricultural production if present world energy use patterns are allowed to continue and lead to an important increase in global temperature. The result would be an increase in the oceans' water level (a possible scenario for the year 2010 is one metre). This would threaten cities such as Cairo and Shanghai (the latter with more than 30 000 000 inhabitants) and water would cover important areas of Bangladesh. The combined effect of desertification and flooding would also have dramatic consequences for agriculture and food security in countries such as Somalia, Pakistan, India and China.

      The burning of fossil fuels, most of which takes place in the industrialised countries, is responsible for 60% of man-made CO2 emissions. These emissions account for half the likely greenhouse effect. In addition the combustion of fossil fuels release SO2 and NOx which are also "greenhouse gases" and at the same time atmospheric pollutants (inter alia responsible for acid rain) and cancerogenic and mutagenic particles. The only means of reducing CO2 emissions without incurring significant economic and social costs are improved energy efficiency and substitution of fossil energy resources.

      It seems therefore fair that the industrial world must not only stop the pollution which degrades the environment in the developed, as well as the developing world, but it must also offer assistance to developing countries allowing these to take advantage of decentralised and renewable energy systems.

The "political will" and human resources development

      Needless to say that starving, malnutritious and sick persons are in a poor condition to take care of themselves not to mention their capacity to take part in the construction of a better common future. At least 20% of people in the developing world do not have enough to eat. Poverty is the main cause. Millions of people simply cannot obtain the food they need for a healthy productive life. The United Nations has reported that at least 500 000 children become partially or totally blind each year because they do not get enough vitamin A. Two-thirds of them die within a few months of losing their sight. Water scarcity is taking a terrible toll on people everywhere. Globally, at least 1 700 000 000 people do not have an adequate drinking water supply and at least 3 000 000 000 lack access to proper sanitation. Twenty-five thousand people worldwide die each day from water-borne diseases.

      The lack of adequate schooling is a major factor for underdevelopment. The despotic attitudes of some Third World leaders and their misuse of power, religion and cultural traditions to exploit the population have been part of the vicious circle of many least developed countries. Information and education could hopefully help people remove these totalitarian leaders in favour of people's participation and democracy.

      Human capital formation and population quality are of vital importance for economic growth. Children must be physically and mentally fit in order to learn. When they are not there is a risk that learning goals will not be reached, classes will be repeated and scarce educational resources will be wasted. When children walk long distances to school without eating breakfast, their alertness, attention span and ultimately their learning capacities are gradually reduced over the course of the morning. Poor scholastic performance is the result. Food provided at the right time of day helps prevent this problem. At the same time, the income transfer element in such programmes is a strong inducement to parents to send children to school, particularly girls.

      Most of us are aware of the indispensable role of the informal economy for economic growth. (One might ask whether it still is a valid idea to calculate the gross domestic product per capita without including non-monetary economic parameters and the cost of environmental degradation.) Most poor people are self-employed: either they hire out their labour, act as petty traders or are small-scale producers. Many poor households use food aid provided to them and other "unexpected income" to invest in their future. Experiences of the World Food Programme suggest that "food for work" projects, school feeding and support for mother and child health-care programmes as a means of direct aid to the hungry and poor will at the same time be of assistance in overcoming the causes of their poverty and encourage active participation in the development process. However, the problem of poverty, malnutrition and hunger will not be overcome unless the governments of poor countries have the political will to overcome it by applying policies which deal with the underlying injustices and inequities in their societies.

A new policy is needed

      It is evident that a policy approach to solve the present crisis, where symptoms rather than the causes of problems are being addressed, must be global and integrate energy as well as agriculture, development, education, environment and health policies. Relevant technologies must be made available for the development of a sustainable agriculture and energy production system, and an education and health service alongside adequate food supply must render people fit to take part in self-reliant development. The approach must be decentralised and it must integrate with local cultures and traditions to fully involve those concerned. The simple transfer of financial resources and traditional sectorial expertise have so far given few results.

      A strategy for assisting the peoples of the least developed countries must therefore include the following elements:

      —to       re-establish a balance between population levels and the carrying capacity of ecosystems; —

      —to       adopt sustainable resources management policies;—

      —to       encourage the sustained development of the agricultural sector in order to increase household food security, food quality and safety and to promote healthy life-styles;—

      —to       stop pollution resulting in a degradation of local as well as the global environment, in particular by favouring the introduction of clean energy — and other technologies;—

      —to       assist the least developed countries in using renewable sources to satisfy their energy needs;—

      —to       guarantee the poor people "access at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life";—

      —us       e food aid to promote development work in general and human resources development in particular — including the promotion of nutritional well-being ("food for work" programmes — including the use of locally produced food). Pr

Proposed text to be included in the draft resolution:

      Add at the end of paragraph 3 the following words: "including a guarantee for poor people to have access at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life".

      Add at the end of paragraph 4 the following words: "Food aid could be used to promote economic and human development, including nutritional well-being, notably through targeted food subsidies, such as 'food for work' programmes, based wholly or partly on the use of locally produced food."

      Add three new sub-paragraphs (viii), (ix) and (x) to paragraph 6 of the draft resolution as follows:

"viii.       to promote the sustained development of the agricultural sector in order to increase household food security, food quality and safety and to promote healthy life-styles;

ix.       to assist the least developed countries in using renewable, locally available sources to satisfy their energy needs thus improving their economies and avoiding unsustainable pressures on their natural capital.

x.       to take steps as a matter of urgency to stop further soil degradation and soil erosion for the enhancement of food security and for the promotion of economic development."

      Add at the end of paragraph 7 the following words: "Due consideration must be given to the re-establishment of a balance between population levels and the carrying capacity of ecosystems."


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      Reporting committee: Committee on Economic Affairs and Development (Doc. 6865).

      Committee for opinion: Committee on Agriculture.

      Budgetary implications for the Assembly: none.

      Reference to committee: Doc. 6576 and Reference No. 1777 of 11 March 1992.

      Opinion approved by the committee on 8 June 1993.

1 1See Doc. 6865.