NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

U.N. Conference Backs Development, Rejects Radical Greens

September 6, 2002

Free market observers who dreaded the outcome of the U.N. World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg have been pleasantly surprised at the outcome.

Rather than the usual festival of anti-U.S. vituperation by greens and global bureaucrats, the radicals were sent packing and their pet issue, global warming, barely got a mention. Instead:

  • The U.S. scored a stunning victory on energy policy -- with the help of developing nations -- when negotiators rejected specific targets for renewable energy like wind and solar power avidly sought by Europeans.
  • Instead, poor countries said, in effect, windmills may be fine for the Danes but poor Asian and African countries need cheap, abundant energy, including coal and oil.
  • Rather than promoting "sustainability," the notion that caught on was that what developing nations need is economic development -- and environmental progress will follow.
  • Consequently, the conference gave the green light to "efficient affordable and cost-effective energy technologies, including fossil fuel technologies" -- in other words, the summit endorsed the use of sources like clean coal.

As the late Indian leader Indira Ghandi put it, "Poverty is the worst polluter." Academic research proves this simple idea to be true: economic progress leads to environmental progress.

  • Once per-capita incomes get to about $8,000 a year, nations start aggressively improving their environments.
  • Thus, with three-quarters of the world still poor, the best way to clean up air and water is to help make them richer.
  • Studies show the U.S., Europe and Japan have the cleanest environments, while Haiti, China and Bangladesh have the dirtiest.
  • Thirteen of the 15 worst-polluted cities in the world are in developing Asia.

Source: James Glassman (American Enterprise Institute), "A Bright Idea on Development," Wall Street Journal, September 6, 2002.


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