a bulletin on global warming and the Third World

issue 7  January 1993

published by the International Institute for
Environment and Development (London, UK) and the
University of East Anglia (Norwich, UK) with support
from the Swedish International Development Authority in
association with the Stockholm Environment Institute

editorial office:  TIEMPO, c/o Mick Kelly, School of
Environmental Sciences, University of East Anglia,
Norwich NR4 7TJ, UK (email gn:crunorwich)


THE ANALYSIS of social, political and economic factors
is essential for an understanding of the dynamics of
successful sustainable development, according to the
United Nations Research Institute for Social
Development (UNRISD). 

Environmental degradation is a social, as well as a
physical, process and is largely determined by the
combined decisions and actions of vast numbers of
individuals at the local level. 

Sustainable development programmes cannot stop at the
development of more efficient resource management
techniques or the implementation of legislation. They
must be based on an understanding of what makes people
adopt or resist such programmes, what makes
technologies appropriate or inappropriate in particular
contexts and the circumstances in which local people
are themselves able to determine sustainable techniques
of resource use.

To further the coverage of social issues in the
environment and development debate, UNRISD has
published a report Development, Environment and People,
based on the deliberations of the Conference on the
Social Dimensions of Environment and Sustainable
Development held in Valletta, Malta, in April 1992.

The meeting was attended by 80 participants from 31
countries, bringing together policy makers,
researchers, grassroots activists and development
agency representatives. Sessions were held on
indigenous resource management systems, grassroots
environmental initiatives and movements, women and the
environment, population-environment linkages, Maltese
environmental problems, urban and industrial pollution
and water resources.

Key research findings and policy implications emerging
from the conference included:

Social dimensions. Policy makers, development planners
and the scientific community have given insufficient
attention to the important role played by social,
cultural and political factors in processes of
environmental change.

Women. Development programmes and projects should be
more supportive of women by encouraging greater
participation of women in both the design and
implementation of environmental protection schemes.

Rights to land and other natural resources. In many
countries, the traditional rights of local people to
land, trees, water and marine resources are being
abused and threatened by outside forces. This situation
threatens the sustainability and adaptability of local
resource management systems and acts as an obstacle to
initiatives to protect and rehabilitate the

Population. While population policies aimed at curbing
family size can play an important role in protecting
the environment, a more comprehensive approach is
required which emphasizes social development and a more
equitable distribution of resources such as land.

Local resource management and grassroots initiatives.
Because of the resourcefulness and wealth of knowledge
of local natural resource users in many rural and urban
settings, participants stressed the need to transfer
more responsibility, resources and power to local

Conservation programmes and projects. Many past
conservation efforts have adopted a technocratic and
 top-down  approach which neglects local people's
needs, priorities and knowledge. Greater account should
be taken of local knowledge, cultural perceptions,
livelihood and property rights. Also crucial are longer
timeframes for projects, greater flexibility in
defining project goals and methods, less reliance on ad
hoc interventions and a more process- oriented

The conference called for a holistic approach in
examining and addressing the problems of environment
and development.

Current models of environmental dynamics, which offer
simple narratives describing how environmental
degradation occurs due to, for instance, poverty, over-
population or the  tragedy of the commons , have been
useful in providing an initial level of understanding
and awareness. 

But real progress in promoting sustainable development
will depend on advancing to a more complete
understanding of the range of factors which determine
the opportunities, incentives and constraints affecting
the local people who must bear primary responsibility
for implementing sustainable development.

Further information: Adrienne Cruz, Programme
Information, UNRISD, Palais des Nations, CH-1211 Geneva
10, Switzerland.

Richard Kool
Environmental Education Coordinator
British Columbia Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks
(604) 356-2077                  (604) 356-6464 FAX