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Environment and Development A Challenge to Our Lifestyles - 2. The Special Responsibilities of European Countries

The process of economic development in Europe, both East and West, over the last decades has caused environmental and human damage out of all proportion to our share of the world's land, resources and population. Moreover, there are unsupportable imbalances which can be recognised at several levels:

  • between Western- and Eastern European countries, recognising that there are also significant imbalances among countries within both regions,
  • between the rich and the poor within European countries,
  • between most of the countries of Europe and developing countries, and
  • between present and future generations.

Several examples illustrate these imbalances:

  • approximately 36% of global CO2 emissions are produced by Europe, East and West, alone;
  • despite the existence of international conventions, some Western European countries are still continuing to take unjust advantage of less stringent regulatory standards abroad by exporting hazardous wastes to Eastern Europe or developing countries, in exchange for hard currency, instead of managing their own wastes themselves.
  • although the GNPs of most of the industrialized countries indicate economic growth, high levels of unemployment continue;
  • while the European Union spent over 8.000 million ECU in 1994 on subsidies for the export of its excess agricultural produce, it spent only half this amount on development aid to the poorer regions of the world.

Affirming the principle that a sustainable future requires an equitable sharing of resources, the countries of Western Europe must assume a special responsibility for making changes in their patterns and levels of growth and consumption. Eastern European countries need to act urgently to address their serious pollution problems in ways which would achieve environmental goals without causing undue economic destabilisation. In many cases this might be done in conjunction with Western European countries. The question of nuclear energy and safety is particularly critical.

It is now evident that the Earth could not support all countries of the world reaching the levels and patterns of production and consumption already practised in Western Europe. This situation again puts Europe in an unjust position of benefit and power with regard to the process of development. Such imbalances must also be regarded as present and potential root causes of international disorder and conflict.

Developing countries and countries in transition have a right to an equitable share of the common goods of the Earth. Their development cannot be guided by the unsustainable practices adopted in Western Europe. Rather, the most industrialised countries must reduce their demands on the environment, achieve environmentally-sustainable technologies and lifestyles for themselves, and, where appropriate, assist other countries to do the same.

With regard to the crucial issue of climate change and acid air pollution, for example, it is the clear responsibility of Western Europe to reduce drastically the demand for energy and the consumption of fossil fuels. It must also make every effort to improve and apply the appropriate technologies and infrastructure towards the implementation of renewable energy sources and efficiency measures. In addition, Western Europe must be prepared to share its best practices of efficient, renewable and sustainable technologies with the poorer areas of Europe and with the developing world.

Peoples in different countries and of different cultures need to be given the space to develop their own models of sustainable societies. Spreading a "western" model of society to Eastern Europe or developing countries through the use of development aid needs to be questioned. Participants from Eastern European countries strongly expressed the view that the consumption-based society characteristic of Western Europe at present is not the model they would wish to follow. They stated: "we hope to develop a more human society, to learn from the mistakes of the western countries".


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