SDC Special Bulletin
Vol. 11, No. 6 (November - December,
Seventh Sustainable Development Conference
Troubled Times: Sustainable Development and Governance in the Age of Extremes
The seventh Sustainable Development Conference (SDC), organized by the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) between December 8-10, 2004 in Islamabad, helped policymakers, researchers and practitioners examine the interface and relations between various dimensions of sustainable development and governance.
Various speakers discussed how problems and issues in South Asia could be dealt effectively at various levels based on prior experience of successful policy interventions.
Today we are a witness to deteriorating indices, increasing inequalities and disparities. These include disparities in incomes, shrinking sources of livelihood, increasing poverty, escalating conflicts, inter- and intra-state violence, sham democracies and abuse of religion.
In this context, issues of governance and sustainable development take on distinct significance. These issues are of particular importance to the South Asian region that has been affected by global developments and heightened conflicts.
The conference looked at the progress made in South Asia vis-à-vis governance, especially the transparency in the government today than a decade ago and if the governments have kept their promises to the marginalized.
The conference provided an opportunity to discuss the global economy, new terms of trade, transfer of resources from the developing world to the first world and whether such moves are benefiting a few only.
A host of sub-themes including globalization, livelihoods, water issues, food security, health and environment, resource rights, education, refugee repatriation and integration, gender-based violence and peace and security were taken up.
The discussions on governance and development addressed the new conditions emerging for labor, women, minorities and other marginal groups. The conference highlighted the crosscutting linkages between diverse themes and the increasingly complex demands upon the policy arena to respond to these issues quickly and effectively.
Questions of governance and sustainable development were tackled at several inter-related levels: in the context of the third world; in terms of the relationship with first world institutions; and, within and between third world. The conference questioned whether there is sound governance around development and whether this is ensuring just development and whether there is more sharing of resources, including natural and institutional.
“The idea of South Asia is clearly artificial and so probably its nation states…the term South Asia remains a compromise, a neutral terrain,” maintained Ashis Nandy in his keynote address at the opening plenary of the seventh Sustainable Development Conference organized by the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI).
“South Asia is the only region in the world where most states define themselves not by what they are but by what they are not…the region can be called a collective of very reluctant states, which are afraid to say that positive self-definition will take them far,” said Nandy, from the Center for the Study of Developing Sciences, India.
He discussed how the usage of the term had frozen a cultural region geographically and allowed the Indian state to hijack the right over Indian civilization, forcing other states in the region to seek new bases for their political cultures and disown crucial aspects of their cultural repertoire.
Nandy said when political leaders talk about SAARC, they have in mind a compact within the format of the global nation-state, and not within the format of the cultural system within which they have survived for centuries. This, he felt, is the reason that leads to fear and paranoia of anything that might push South Asia towards a people’s SAARC-free exchange of news, books, information, ideas, literature, art, films and above all free circulation of free thinking human beings.
Despite the age of extremes, Nandy saw a glimmer of hope: the building of another South Asia in reaction to the built-in bureaucracies of the states and the strident tones of the security community and political parties. The new South Asia, he felt, was taking shape at the ground level and on the basis of lowbrow exchange of cultural artifacts. Heralding the new South Asia are the electronic media and NGOs who have bypassed the existing state system to establish links among young activists. He said unlike America, South Asia and South Asians cannot and should not ignore the future since it is through “our children and grandchildren that we move forward and progress beyond the lines drawn across our borders.”
Saba Gul Khattak, SDPI executive director, Shamsul Mulk, chairman Board of Governors of SDPI, and Major (retd) Tahir Iqbal, minister for environment, were present at the opening session, in which an anthology, Sustainable Development: Bridging the Research/Policy Gaps in Southern Contexts, was also launched.
Major (retd) Tahir Iqbal, the minister, acknowledged SDPI’s outstanding record of academic and scientific leadership in sustainable development. The anthology, he said, was proof of SDPI’s concern for translating specialized multi and transdisciplinary research into effective policy measures in the global South.
He assured the audience that sustainable development was at the heart of the government's approach, with systems and processes being put in place at the highest level to apply an integrated approach to environmental problems. “The ministry fully realizes that the environment is an equal partner to the triple bottom line, and so is doing everything it can to ensure that it has a key place at the table in our government's decision-making.”
Saba Gul Khattak welcomed the community of likeminded thinkers, activists, intellectuals, and policymakers, bonded not only by friendship, humor, hope, shared experiences in different professional contexts, but also by ideas and visions for a future. She shared how choosing the conference theme had been both easy and difficult owing to the frustration that despite complex debates about sustainable development and governance nexus, little had actually changed at the macro level, be it Vision 20/20 or the Millennium Development Goals.
“Given the neoliberal economic policies and political formations that have characterized the world recently, where is the politics of the possible…is it possible to solve the issues that we face in a segmented manner? Must we look at everything sectorally? Or, is it possible to comprehend and resolve issues in all their complexity?
“Indeed, is it possible for us to even lend some sense or logic to our dirty and sordid realities, that have politics and contested histories, with no linear logic running through them?”
She felt that in the present times our troubles appear to have undergone a change since in addition to the problems we faced previously, we now wonder if we might be producing terrorists and fueling the clash of civilizations in which we as a community appear to be unwilling actors, forced to participate due to the sheer fact of being. It is important to “understand that the ways in which the current war on terrorism is defined will also define or redefine our issues and their solutions in a vastly changed international environment.”
Shamsul Mulk gave an overview of SDPI’s past, highlighted some of its current work and activities, and took a brief look at the Sustainable Development Conference series and its significance. He informed the audience about the institute’s strong research program and its involvement in over 50 research assignments in collaboration with regional and international partners.
He also highlighted SDPI’s efforts to raise awareness about globalization and WTO agreements, farmers’ rights, discriminatory laws against women, cement plants’ licenses, change of Master Plan of Islamabad, Freedom of Information Act, Save Murree Hills initiative and curriculum revision during the year.
He discussed SDPI’s involvement in South-South as well as North-South partnerships and collaborations with likeminded research institutions and academia, saying the approach was likely to have more credibility with the policy community, especially where regional and global issues were concerned. “North-South and South-South associations can help dispel misperceptions and identify converging interests that lead to win-win situations.”
He felt that the SDC was a unique platform for many of the North and South’s finest development thinkers and academics to present their perspectives and ideas. He hoped the conference would lead to effective strategies for overcoming extremes the South is facing presently.
He thanked the Department for International Development (DFID), the Gender Equality Project (GEP), Heinrich Boll Foundation (HBL), International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) and National Institute for Competence in Research (NCCR) for funding the conference.
Global Governance for Trade and Sustainable Development: An Agenda for the WTO
Session I: Regional Agreements
Concurrent Session A-1
Adil Najam, from the Tufts University, USA, in his presentation, Is the global trading system disintegrating: is that good or bad?, said the developing countries got many things they asked for in the World Trade Organization (WTO), but asked if it is good for them.
Najam said the WTO has a more Southern face compared to the exclusive club of Northern countries that negotiated the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), its precursor.
Its agenda is influenced by the South: by those demonstrating in the streets of Seattle and Cancun during the past WTO ministerial meetings and by “those without ties and socks,” according to Najam. He said they managed to put development issues on the WTO agenda – human rights, labor standards, and the environment. “Whoever disputes that the environment is a Northern issue should tell me whether the lead-poisoned child in Kasur is of no concern for the Pakistani society,” Najam asserted.
But, for Najam, the developing countries may become victims of their own success. The more the WTO agenda reflects Southern interests, the more the organization’s major players, the United States and the European Union, resort to regional trade agreements. These are characterized by a power balance in favor of the North, potentially marginalizing the developing world again.
Hernan Blanco, from RIDES, Chile, concluded his presentation, South American perspectives on trade, environmental and sustainable development: WTO and beyond, on a similar note, asserting that regional trade agreements do not provide the right forum to tackle sustainable development. He backed his assertion with an overview of regional trade agreements in South America.
For South America’s rich biodiversity, trade in natural resources-based goods, such as mining and timber products, is vital. However, environmental issues are absent or poorly considered in the various trade agreements signed in South America. Blanco concluded that the current system of trade governance is biased towards obtaining products from the world’s ecosystems rather than taking care of its proper functioning and conservation.
Focusing on the economic bottom line of sustainable development, Huma Fakhar, from Fakhar Law International, Pakistan, emphasized that successful regional trade integration is a question of proper preparation.
In her presentation, An economic and legal benefit of regional agreements, she said the planned South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA) still faces too many problems – competition between South Asian countries’ major export goods, lack of a strong leading economy in SAFTA, and uplifting poor countries of the region.
Fakhar maintained SAFTA would not be a better deal for the region than, for example, preferential access to Northern markets through the so-called Generalized System of Preferences. According to Fakhar, a South Asia moving towards greater regional trade integration has to do some homework. It includes better research and business advocacy.
The discussant, Faisal Bari, executive director of the Mahbub-ul-Haq Human Development Centre, Pakistan, disputed the panellists’ pessimistic appraisal of the benefits of regional trade governance for sustainable development. Issues of regional interest, such as water disputes between India and Pakistan, may be better confronted at the regional rather than at the multilateral level. These regional concerns may provide a powerful incentive to bring countries to the negotiating table. Speed is warranted, according to Bari, because if agreements were delayed, they would only lead to weak institutions.
The audience pointed out that Najam depicted the WTO as representing Southern interests, a point it strongly rejected. Critical realities – WTO’s impact on the livelihood of women, small farmers, and on access to scarce resources like water – were not mentioned in his talk. They were termed as major sustainable development concerns.
Najam clarified that he related to the rhetoric within the WTO rather than to its practical impact. As the South has moved the discourse forward, Najam feared, “people are moving out of the room”. For him, the trend of regionalization in trade governance raised doubts about the future of multilateralism.
Haroon Sharif, associate economic adviser of the Department for International Development (DFID), Pakistan, chaired the session.
Global Governance for Trade and Sustainable Development: An Agenda for the WTO
Session II: Trade and Sustainable Development: A Southern Agenda.
Concurrent Session B-1
Dawood Mamoon, from the Institute of Social Studies, the Netherlands, analyzed the relationship between international trade and various forms of labor in his paper, Trade liberalization and wage movements of unskilled labor in the South.
Mamoon’s study points out that the processes of international trade are negatively biased towards the wages of unskilled labor as opposed to the wages of skilled labor. This means that human capital accrued through trade contributes to exacerbate inequality, leading to welfare distorting outcomes.
Yousaf Haroon, from PTCL Academy, Pakistan, said Pakistan had liberalized its telecom sector but the issue of “digital divide” remained a bottleneck for access to necessary means of governance. In his paper, Trade, telecom and sustainable development: are current telecom market trends leading us towards sustainable development?, Haroon blamed reduction in tariffs for putting more burden on the domestic industry and users.
Shaheen Rafi Khan, from SDPI, Pakistan, argued that there was a need for the South to develop an agenda for multilateral trade negotiations for finding a convergence between Northern and Southern positions. In the paper, The WTO, trade and sustainable development: A Southern agenda, Khan analyzed various agreements under WTO and identified two principal negotiating premises for the South: persisting with sustainable development and injecting realism in their approach knowing that Northern MNCs are driven by profit motives.
Haoling Xu, senior deputy-resident representative at the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Pakistan, chaired the session and David Boyer of the International Institute for Sustainable Development, Canada, was the discussant.
Global Governance for Trade and Sustainable Development: An Agenda for the WTO
Session III: The WTO Agreement on Agriculture
Concurrent Session A-8
Nepalese farmers’ cigarette consumption is a stumbling block for the kingdom’s export performance. How’s that?
Ratnakar Adhikari, from South Asia Watch on Trade, Economics and Environment (SAWTEE), Nepal, explained that traces of Nepali tea farmers’ nicotine consumption are left on tea shipped to the European Community (EC), leading to rejection of these exports and causing losses to the country.
In his presentation, Market access barriers on select agricultural exports of Nepal, he said it is just one example of the barriers South Asian agricultural producers face when trying to access Northern markets.
He said South Asian countries are united in the critical role the agricultural sector has in their respective economies, adding that agriculture represents a source of livelihood for the vast majority of the population. South Asian economies are competing, however, in their efforts to convert this role into export income from Northern markets, such as the EC and America.
“Invisible brands” was a term coined by Parashar Kulkarni, from the Consumer Unity & Trust Society (CUTS), India, denoting the lack of visibility of Indian seafood products in the markets of industrialized countries in the presentation, Producer-consumer linkage: the case of the Indian seafood sector.
Kulkarni said India is the second largest exporter of seafood products worldwide but it has to tackle the poor quality of the ice used to keep fish and other marine products fresh if it wants to increase its revenues from trade in seafood. In the European market, he said India’s products might be rejected because of resulting microbial contamination.
Three to five percent of India’s seafood exports are denied access due to violations of such product standards. The fear of bio-terrorism in the United States leads to a requirement to register producers in the South, which is yet another hurdle for small fisher folk in Kerala and elsewhere.
Ultimately, as Kulkarni put it, the challenge is how to meet the twin goals of environmentally sustainable marine and agricultural production and the development of small producers’ livelihoods through trade.
Agricultural subsidies in the North are a major impediment for competitiveness of Pakistani and other Southern producers.
Moeed Yousuf, from SDPI, Pakistan, warned that even if such subsidies would come down in progressive WTO negotiations, it might only benefit big farmers and actually widen the income gap between small peasants and big landlords in Pakistan.
In his presentation, Potential impact on Southern farmers of reducing Northern subsides: reflections from Pakistan, he said one of the problems in pinpointing this threat is the lack of data about the equity dimension in international trade.
Adhikari pointed out that it is no longer mainly high tariffs in the North that prevent agricultural exports from developing countries. But other non-tariff barriers (NTBs), for example, hygienic standards for the products to be exported — the nicotine-free tea leaves — and prescriptions for the way they are produced, particularly under the World Trade Organization’s agreements, give a headache to Southern producers.
Both the Doha Declaration in 2001 and the recent package of WTO framework agreements, the so-called July 2004 package, remain silent about NTBs.
Wahid Abdullah, from the East West University, Bangladesh, indicated that NTBs are not just a burning issue for market access of agricultural but also for industrial goods. His research, Market access issues: EU-Bangladesh trade regimes, revealed that they head the long list of obstacles for trade between Bangladesh and the EU.
Adhikari also outlined strategies for making agricultural producers in South Asia more visible on the world market. Internally, he recommended more research and development in agriculture to increase the sector’s productivity and product quality. It is essential that better practices are passed on to the farmers, including smallholders.
Yousuf added that the inequity between small and corporate agricultural producers are to be tackled internally before South Asia can benefit more from agricultural trade.
Externally, developing countries should develop strategies to deal with the threat of NTBs. They should demand technical assistance available from the WTO to enable them to meet the requirements of its various agreements.
He quoted the positive example of Nepalese honey exported to Norway. Pesticide contamination made the sweet spread unsuitable for Norwegian consumers, leaving a bitter taste with the exporters deprived of their export revenues. However, Norway offered technical cooperation to help Nepalese beekeepers to meet their quality requirements.
The discussant, David Boyer of the International Institute for Sustainable Development, Canada, also chaired the session.
Governmental Structural Adjustments for Better Governance Towards
Environmental Protection and Pollution Control in South Asia
Concurrent Sessions A-4 & B-4
Two sessions were held on environmental protection and pollution control in South Asia. Ali Tauqir Sheikh of Lead-Pakistan chaired both the sessions.
In the first session, Ram Charitra Sah, from NGO FUWS, Nepal, traced the formation of the Ministry of Population and Environment in his presentation, Environmental regulation and its compliance status in Nepal.
For him, a series of environment protection related acts, regulations, decisions, and various standards of air and water pollution control have been promulgated in Nepal, but implementation and monitoring of compliance remains a problem.
He said no serious attempt has been made to expand the required network for effective implementation of activities and strengthening the ministry. Instead of enforcing and compliance monitoring of the standards by the ministry, such responsibilities have been handed over to the Ministry of Industries, Supplies and Commerce in the name of coordination, where the prime aim is to promote industry, and not to penalize them for pollution, he said.
Sah maintained it is leading to continuous environmental degradation in the presence of specific ministry responsible for environment conservation, laws, regulations and standards. He demanded immediate compliance monitoring of the act, regulations, standards and environmentally friendly decisions made so far in Nepal.
Bharati Chaturvedi of Chintan Environmental Research and Action Group (CERAG), New Delhi, examined the handling of municipal waste management in the presentation, Pollution control through planning for waste management: the case of Delhi.
Chaturvedi said the Municipal Solid Wastes (Management and Handling) Rules, 2000 were made in isolation with no participation from any other agency or organization, leading them to a path of technology rather than governance while controlling what is essentially a social, cultural and infrastructural problem.
Musharaf Ali Talpur, from Sindh University, Pakistan, discussed the factors determining compliance of the environmental legislation by the industry by generally using simple mathematical model for pollution control policies.
In the paper, Monitoring pollution under asymmetric information and enforcing environmental regulation: implication for NEQS compliance process in Pakistan, Talpur maintained that a successful implementation of an environmental policy requires a proper enforcement, which involves costs, including mainly the cost of monitoring pollution. With proper monitoring, environmental regulation can be effectively enforced but the problem of asymmetric information between the polluting industry and the regulator may result in non-compliance.
In Pakistan, the enforcement of National Environmental Quality Standards (NEQS), in the wake of National Conservation Strategy (NCS) and Pakistan Environmental Protection Act, 1997, poses almost same problems of asymmetric information and poor compliance, he said. Environmental Protection Agencies, responsible for enforcing NEQS, are understaffed, under-equipped and unprepared. He said they are unable to fulfill their roles of monitoring pollution and enforcing environmental regulations.
Himayatullah of the NWFP Agricultural University, Pakistan, looked at the nexus between poverty, environment and development in the paper, Poverty, environment and development: exploring the links between three complex issues with specific focus on the Pakistan case.
He said environmental degradation could inflict serious damage on poor people because their livelihood often depends on natural resource use, and their living conditions may offer little protection from pollution of air, water and soil. Similarly, poverty-constrained options may induce the poor to deplete resources and degrade the environment at rates incompatible with long run sustainability. In such cases, degraded resources may precipitate a downward spiral, by further reducing the income and livelihood of the poor.
He said Pakistan should be careful when targeting both poverty and the environment, adding that more understanding on how poor people depend on, interact with, and use their environment in rural and urban areas is needed.
M Irfan Khan, from the Allama Iqbal Open University, Pakistan, emphasized an effective balance between developing new resources and managing the demand while addressing the water scarcity issue in his paper, Improving governance for increasing water use efficiency in Pakistan.
He said population growth, economic development, rapid urbanization and industrialization are applying significant pressures on water resources of Pakistan and it is fast becoming a country of water scarcity. He called for institutional reforms in irrigation sector to improve the governance of water.
The second session started with the presentation of Mahmood A Khwaja, from SDPI, Pakistan, on Introducing Extended Producer’s Responsibility (EPR) in Pakistan. He stressed the idea of EPR, also called “producer take back”, to support waste reduction, reuse, recycling and compositing. He said it is the manufacturer’s primary responsibility to reshape product and process, and to pay the price for recycling by managing the product price.
Cai Kui, from Yunnan University, China, presented her paper on a survey of four sites representing different types of poverty in China, identifying close linkages between livelihood and environment.
Her study, An assessment of development of environment linkage in village based integrated poverty alleviation project in Yunnan Province, P. R. China, advocated a wide definition and concept of environment. She called for developing a strategy to improve poor communities’ livelihood.
The paper, Augmenting environmental regulation for effective environmental governance in India, of Ravi Agarwal, from Toxics Link, India, argued for more holistic approach where regulation is a key component. But he added it needed to be augmented with information access and broader initiatives for long-term sustainable environmental change. He said it should help improve people’s quality of life effectively and equitably.
In the paper, Environmental mal-governance in depleting environment – a case in Sri Lanka, Hemantha Withanage, from Center for Environmental Justice (CEJ), Sri Lanka, focused on international organizations’ double standards regarding environmental decisions. He said their policies have become more powerful in environmental governance, regulations and decision-making. Withanage maintained that local people are losing their powers to make decisions about natural resources and environment in Sri Lanka.
Saiful Islam, from the Rajshahi University, Bangladesh, described the extent of environmental degradation in Bangladesh and the government’s initiatives for its mitigation, including approval of a National Environmental Policy and Guidelines for Environmental Action Plan in 1992. His paper, Governance related issues of environmental policy development and implementation in Bangladesh, identified weaknesses of the current governance structure in environmental policies in Bangladesh.
During discussion, a participant from Germany said no environmental regulatory authority would make effective policies unless there is civil society’s participation. The speakers mentioned local governments’ system in their countries, saying they represent the local community and help in making regulatory policies.
About polythene bags being a dangerous waste, Withanage demanded a worldwide ban on them. The participants applauded when Saiful Islam revealed that in Bangladesh polythene bags were banned on January 1, 2003.