By Herv Kempf
Saturday 27 October 2007
The planet's ecological future directly depends on the political choices that will be exercised: this observation had never before been clearly spotlighted by a United Nations decision-making body. Now it's done: the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) asserts in a thick report, the so-called "GEO 4", published Thursday October 25, that generalized privatization of resources and services would be the worst scenario from an environmental perspective.
That's the conclusion of an original approach to possible futures that a group of international experts has been conducting the last two years: it models each scenario as a function of the type of policies put into place. The point of departure for this modeling effort is the major ecological crisis, which the planet is already experiencing.
By actualizing the description through numerous sources, the UNEP report synthesizes changes in climate, biodiversity, soils' health, water resources ... It highlights the shrinkage in available resources per inhabitant, with the available earth surface for each human being going from 7.91 hectares in 1900 to 2.02 hectares in 2005.
The rapidity of the phenomenon is emphasized: the breadth and the composition of terrestrial ecosystems that "are being modified by populations at an unprecedented speed." The experts insist on the concept of a threshold: "The cumulative effects of the continuous changes in the environment may reach thresholds that will manifest themselves as abrupt and irreversible changes." This idea of "tipping points" is applicable not only to climate change, but also to the phenomena of desertification, drops in water tables, collapse of ecosystems, etc.
The continuation of present trajectories inescapably leads to these tipping points, the UNEP indicates. That's where the work with models comes in. The experts have defined four scenarios, according to the type of policy that is followed. In the first model, the State takes a back seat to the private sector; unlimited trade develops; natural goods areprivatized. The second scenario is based on a centralized intervention that aims to balance high economic growth with an effort to limit its
environmental and social impacts.
A third route would be to favor security to respond to civil disorders and external threats: a significant effort would then be devoted to security. Finally, the fourth option is one in which society chooses environmental sustainability and equity, with citizens playing an active role.
Modeling allows the influence on the environment of each one of these scenarios to be measured in terms of energy consumption, polluting emissions, the type of agricultural activity, water extractions and numerous other parameters.
The last scenario (sustainability) appears preferable from a social and ecological point of view, while the first scenario (privatization), although it assures the strongest growth, also manifests an environmental impact deemed unbearable, all while generating ever-greater social inequalities. In that case, "the environment and society rapidly reach, even cross over the tipping point."
The scenarios that are less bad for the environment are not exempt from flaws, however: the second scenario, which favors a strong policy intervention, may generate bureaucracy; the fourth, which emphasizes sustainability, demands that much time be devoted to cooperation among actors. And they do not guarantee a carefree future: in all these cases, "climate change and the loss of biodiversity will remain significant challenges."