During the past four decades, the environment and natural resources in the developed and developing nations have come under intense pressure. People's health and longevity have suffered, natural resource-based livelihoods have been compromised, and ecosystem services and resources that underpin long-term economic development are at risk. Moreover, Asia's economic growth has been accompanied by resource depletion and environmental degradation threatening the physical security, economic well being, and health of many of the region's people, especially its poorest and most vulnerable.
In urban areas, the poor take the brunt of misuse of environmental resources such as water or air pollution or the disposal of human and industrial waste. This rapid urbanization has outpaced the development of environmental infrastructure in many large cities. The poor and disadvantaged are especially vulnerable to natural hazards. It is generally assumed that the elimination of poverty and economic growth are distinct from environmental goals. Market and policy failures have led to environmental considerations being externalized from the development process. The way to resolve the dilemma between economic growth and environmental sustainability is to change the character of growth. Economic growth should no longer be based on activities that increase pollution and the consumption of finite resources, but on activities that further sustainable development. The latter would be of major importance for increasing food production and raising farm incomes, especially in poor countries. It also involves improvement in the world's economic and social infrastructure. With economic infrastructure, the emphasis would be on improving transport and communications in both rich and poor countries. Work on the world's social infrastructure would focus on urban renewal, building low-income housing and, in poor countries, improving fresh water supply and sanitation.
Technical research on the substitution of non-renewable resources, recycling, and raising agricultural production in an environmentally sustainable manner would be of key importance. Environmental measures and infrastructural development would have an enormous economic impact. A global program for sustainable development would create huge numbers of jobs and allow lower and middle level incomes to rise. The environmental guidelines should set international standards for pollution and the use of nonrenewable natural resources. The combined proposal of a bottom line in trade and a global investment program for sustainable development would mean a new strategy for economic development. Today's strategy is to generate economic growth through increased international trade.
Real economic development requires growth in both internal demand and the local capacity to efficiently produce high quality goods. Economic growth, then, does not necessarily have to mean increased pollution and consumption of natural resources. If the price for finite and polluting materials is raised, producers and consumers will use them more economically. Pollution and the use of non-renewable energy should carry a cost. After all, pollution affects soil, land and water, which should be considered as public resources. Similarly, non-renewable natural resources should be considered as public property. There is need to stimulate private enterprise to invest in energy saving, pollution control and renewable energy generation. If environmental costs were included in production costs, environmental taxes would be certain to foster both short term and long-term growth. It would prevent business from countries not enforcing basic environmental norms from competing unfairly with business from countries that would. Moreover, companies from complying countries could move their operations to non-complying countries. To counter this, governments could subsidize the switch to environmentally sustainable production. Import bans or tariffs could be instituted on products from non-complying countries. Oil, gas and coal are burned for energy. Much can be achieved by increasing energy efficiency. The rich countries could, without affecting production or sacrificing economic growth, realize energy savings of up to 30%. It would also push the private sector to further develop renewable energy technology. Solar, wind and geothermal energy (earth warmth) are sufficiently abundant to satisfy all the world's electricity needs hundreds of times over. People can use the marketable resources of natural areas in more sustainable ways. Besides protecting natural areas, attention should be paid to reforestation. Especially in poor countries, a wide range of toxic products cause illness and death, and threaten long-term human health. The deterioration of agricultural land and the wastage of fresh water should be countered, by creating a global infrastructure for water management and a worldwide program for soil protection, land improvement and land reclamation. Many industries in developed countries have established clean production methods on a voluntary basis.
Industrialization is central to economic development and improved prospects for human well-being. If industrial development is to become more environmentally sound, three transitions must be completed
Environmental considerations must be incorporated into all aspects of planning for new industry.
1. Techniques must be developed which more easily and flexibly control pollution within a legal framework that provides strong incentives, particularly economic incentives, to minimize the release of pollutants and the production of waste, and which places greater emphasis on the "polluter pays" principle.
2. Producers of hazardous products should be required to be responsible for those products "from cradle to grave", i.e. from production to safe disposal.