Anno XXXII, 1990, Number 2 - Page 161



The ecological problem is recognized as an emergency affecting the whole world, and, together with the danger of a nuclear holocaust, represents the major challenge threatening the survival of mankind. So far the response to this challenge has been entrusted to inadequate instruments: in the international field to the traditional expedient of foreign policy, and in the national field to the policies of protecting and conserving the national heritage. These instruments have indeed contributed towards creating the minimum conditions for greater reciprocal trust between countries in the area of environmental action, but have made no impact on the global ecological emergency. In this connection, it may be observed that, on the one hand, as regards the limits of foreign policy, it is contradictory to recognize the growing interdependence of the world without trying to create conditions in which the ecological problem may become an aspect of a common domestic policy worldwide. On the other hand, as regards the policies of environmental conservation and protection, it has to be recognized that nature as such, i.e. spontaneous, wild and uncontaminated by man, no longer exists anywhere: what does exist is a humanized, and to a large extent urbanized, global ecosystem which can only be governed by an effective global land policy articulated at various levels.
As the ideological and military conflict between democracy and communism gives way to a new phase of detente between the USA and USSR, it is becoming increasingly obvious that the real obstacle to building a safe, just and democratic world, is nationalism in all its forms. If for example the European Community is unable to overcome this obstacle and become a real Union, it will be unable to provide an effective ecological policy. The same can be said for Eastern Europe and the USSR, and, even more so, for the whole world, in which the existence of over one hundred and fifty countries claiming an anachronistic sovereignty is incompatible with the need to establish a policy of ecologically sustainable world development.
In a report on behalf of the European Commission, a team of German experts analysed the probable environmental consequences of the Single European Market’s foundation in 1992. They ask “whether it is sensible to incur a further increase in the rate of development with the creation of the single market”, and observe how “in a whole range of specific cases the currently existing borders are crucial for enforcing regulations within the member countries, particularly those controls aimed at avoiding traffic in dangerous waste material, at safeguarding certain products, and at enforcing those tax regulations that are designed to sensitize people’s behaviour as regards ecological considerations”. The report then emphasizes how enhanced freedom of movement with the creation of the single market would lead to an increase in road traffic and in electricity production, such as to cause a significant increase in the emission of pollutants into the atmosphere by the year 2010. Having warned about these dangers, the report outlines the political and economic circumstances that could, instead, transform the single market into an opportunity for European environmental reorganization. As regards the political conditions, the authors of the report consider that “if decisions concerning environmental policy were delegated to individual member countries, a situation might come about whereby in some countries very strict regulations for the protection of the environment and of the quality of life would be observed, while in others this would not be the case, with all the imaginable consequences which such a situation would bring. On the other hand a framework or system of rules and guidelines might be created to which member countries would have to conform, taking account of local needs and conditions”. And finally, “it is improbable that environmental damage should increase at the same rate as economic growth: that will depend on the way in which economic activities instigated by the single market are carried out, with reference to the effects which this monetary union will have on the environment, and to how these effects are distributed across the territory”. (My italics.)
The response of these experts on the environmental impact of the creation of the single market is no less cautious and circumspect than that which other experts in turn gave concerning the adverse effects on the living standards of the European citizens which would arise from the creation of the Common Market and the European Monetary System. But when we are not deceived by the confusion, which is not only terminological, between single market and economic and monetary union, it has to be said that the report simply confirms the environmental costs of maintaining twelve national policies in a market which is not bound by effective democratic and legislative control mechanisms.
Indeed, as experience shows, things go quite differently in true unions of states. It was precisely in order to fill a gap, providing environmental legislation in a situation of growing pollution and legislative anarchy on the part of member-states and large cities, that the USA undertook about thirty years ago the step of passing federal legislation to co-ordinate pollution control. Although the environmental problem in the USA today is far from being resolved, and despite the attempts to reintroduce a laissez-faire policy on the environment, US federal planning has ensured that economic development did not correspond to a generalized deterioration of the environmental situation. The results are significant. In twenty years the population of the US has increased by 25 per cent – incidentally the same increase in percentage of the world population is foreseen at the world level during the next two/three decades – and GNP by 500 per cent. There are more cars and average consumption has risen. Yet in the same period, the major factors of atmospheric pollution have been drastically reduced. Thus, thanks to the federal laws approved by the US Congress from the mid-sixties on, the various local and state environmental policies, including some city laws dating from the end of the previous century, have been enshrined in a sub-continental federal context. And it is significant that the president of EPA (the Environmental Protection Agency, instituted in 1970 following the adoption of the Clean Air Act) last year declared that the results would have been better if over the period there had been better co-ordination among the various levels of government – city, state and union – and if international cooperation to tackle the environmental problems of acid rain, greenhouse effect and pollution of the seas had been promoted more quickly.
The cases of America and Europe show how the task of facing the environmental emergency is a never-ending battle which can be successfully fought only if economic and technological development proceed in tandem with the reinforcement of federal policies by unions of states. This statement can be confirmed by observing how the thoughtless exploitation of natural resources and the increase of environmental costs goes hand in hand with underdevelopment and with an increase in bureaucratic centralization and in isolation from the rest of the world. In an ever-more interdependent world, these situations are bound to have repercussions at world level sooner or later, as shown by the example of certain developing countries (including China, India, Saudi Arabia and USSR), which have on various occasions declared themselves unable to sustain the cost of converting their industrial production along ecological lines alone. Once more this shows how the vicious circle linking underdevelopment to the environmental crisis can only be broken within a context that is not national but global.
The case of the USSR is emblematic. Let us consider the ecological aspect by itself, leaving aside the economic and political and military implications of the period of stagnation, i.e. 1965-85. It is beyond doubt that the incalculable environmental damage produced in the USSR, of which Chernobyl is still the most dramatic example (particularly in view of the effects it had on the rest of the world), are largely explainable in the following terms: the failure of the project – partly through the choice of a strongly centralized system, partly imposed by the international situation – of pursuing the development and welfare of the Soviet people independently of the level of scientific and technological development and interdependence attained by the rest of the world. The case of the USSR shows among other things the importance of the time factor in adopting the correct political institutions to face up to the ecological challenge. It is in fact only in the course of the last twenty years that the USSR has been left behind to a significant degree. Almost the same amount of time – two/three decades – is usually required to acquire the expertise to cope with the world ecological emergency.
Access to and exploitation of natural resources and land have always been of strategic importance in guaranteeing a country’s security. But whereas in the past, countries would even go to war to defend them, in the nuclear age this threat can no longer be resorted to, since it would mean dragging the whole world into a conflict that would mean the end of mankind. This is proved by the fact that on strategic questions such as the exploitation of the oceans, Antarctica, or outer space – which only a few decades ago would have been seen, in the prevailing political logic, as justifying recourse to war – it has been found preferable to resort to international diplomacy and agreements under the auspices of the UN. This means that: a) while governments still pursue national objectives, they are obliged to pursue them less violently than in the past by political means; b) at world level there is already operating a system of international relations, a sort of international government, which is not democratic and is still largely dominated by the state of relations between the superpowers; c) the UN, despite its inadequacy, is the world institution to which all peoples refer, which was not the case with the League of Nations between the two wars.
Thus world interdependence is having the effect of changing the objectives of the nation-state’s raison d’état. If until a few decades ago the principal objective of state policy was maximize the power of each individual state in order primarily to ensure national security, today the interest of the state has come to be primarily that of international co-operation and the establishment of the minimum conditions which guarantee mutual security. The common interest of mankind in survival is beginning to condition the practice of statecraft. It was to this end that the countries of Europe, having lost absolute sovereignty after the Second World War, took the course of pooling strategic resources (coal and steel) in the fifties, and it was again for this reason that the USA and USSR, having realized the impossibility of either side emerging victorious, began the new phase of detente in international relations.
Thus it is in the light of this change that we must view the ecological problem.
International co-operation – treaties, agreements, conventions – is the way in which international world government manifests itself today and the way in which countries seek to deal with the emergencies of military and ecological security without giving up sovereignty. But if the impossibility of nuclear war is the origin of the new faith which is placed in the prospect of governing the world by diplomacy and international law, it is equally easy to see how international co-operation is working now and what its limits are. We need only briefly consider the three international contexts in which attempts are being made to deal with the ecological problem.
The European level. The Franco-German agreement over common management of coal and steel, which led to the creation of the ECSC in 1951, would not have had the historic significance which it is still accorded if on the one hand it had not been established from the very beginning within the context of a project for the political and economic unification of the continent and if, on the other hand, a battle had not begun, which is still going on, for the creation of democratic supranational institutions in Europe. Without this context the Franco-German agreement would have ended up as yet another failure. From 1979, after the first direct elections to the European Parliament, the problem of the management of all the continental aspects of the ecological emergency, was finally placed under European federal legislation and agencies controlled by the European Parliament.
The ecologists’ battle in the countries of the Community can be fought at a more advanced level than elsewhere in the world, but only if: a) the European Parliament, a democratically elected body at continental level, and not governments, have the last word as regards the Constitution of the European Union and thus as regards the continental ecological legislation of the Union; b) the immediate setting up of economic and monetary union will defeat any idea of diluting the Community into an area of free trade, within which increases in competition would inevitably lead to a deterioration of the ecological situation on a continental scale, and, consequently, on a world scale.
The pan-European level. The Helsinki agreement has since 1975 constituted the framework for international co-operation on the environment as on other matters, and in 1979 it produced the first form of collaboration among the 35 signatory states: the convention on the limitation of emissions considered responsible for acid rain. In 1985, with the opposition of Poland, Great Britain and the United States, the Commission created by the Convention proposed a 30 per cent reduction of these emissions by 1993. Clearly these are only early forms of intergovernmental collaboration, yet they should not be undervalued, for they were begun even before the improvement in relations between the USA and the USSR. This example shows how the Helsinki agreements can indeed become the institutional framework for an ecological policy within the common European home, creating for example a pan-European Agency for the environment and energy along the lines of what was done with the Community of Coal and Steel in the 50’s. This agency however must transform itself into a federal agency subject to the control of a pan-European Parliamentary Assembly.
World level. “The European Community was the dream of a few federalists fifty years ago. The international seas authority provided for by the Law of the Sea adopted in 1982 by 119 countries, was a utopia only 20 years ago. Something is moving”. This comment by Elizabeth Mann Borgese in 1983, while overvaluing the Community, clearly depicts the present situation at world level as regards environmental control. In effect, something is moving, but too slowly. The Convention on the Law of the Sea has not yet come into effect; indeed in these last few months the role, competence and powers of sanction of the authority, of the special tribunal, and of the secretariat has once more come up for discussion at the UN. The Convention on the Law of the Sea is something more than the usual treaties, and may in the immediate future have a strategic function in promoting an accelerated reform of the UN. Firstly, it affirms the principle of having to safeguard part of the Common Heritage of Mankind with a worldwide Authority, which would constitute an embryonic supranational government” with powers of sanction and management of its own resources. Secondly, its, jurisdiction – it is impossible not to consider existing relations between marine, terrestrial and atmospheric resources – “risks” bringing about an important transfer of sovereignty from national to supranational level, according to many governments, including that of the USA. The Convention poses a very important question: how can the majority of the world population accept a world government of the ecological emergency without creating world democratic institutions?
These examples confirm how world government based on international co-operation is useful in instilling a climate of greater trust among countries, but also how inadequate it is to cope with the world problems. The more international co-operation leaves global problems unresolved, the more the possibility opens up of starting political action to: a) reassert the need to transfer part of national sovereignty to supranational sovereignty; b) ask for democratically-controlled institutions and not governments to decide; c) ask for the reform of the UN.
But while international co-operation is destined to be fed by government action and the simple extension of interdependence, there is not yet a strong political movement able to act towards creating a supranational world government: there exists only a multitude of federalist, pacifist and ecologist non-governmental organizations scattered around the world, trying to operate a global strategy. It is precisely the organizational strength of such a movement that should be the first objective to pursue if initiatives are to be promoted which will favour a transition from international co-operation to supranational world government. The first contribution of the European federalists to a debate on these themes consists precisely in once more raising at world level: a) the objective indicated in 1941 in the Manifesto of Ventotene, and for which the federalists, led by Spinelli, began to fight during the Second World War, i.e. the objective of creating a “solid international state”, that is a world federation; b) the federalist strategy which has brought the European Community to the threshold of federation.
Franco Spoltore

*Report presented to the seminar “Ecology as a Global Problem”, held in Pavia, April 28-29, 1990.


Share with