Natural Resources & Environment
Building Bridges for Humankind, Repaying the Debts We Owe to Nature
Yuri Kostenko
Member, Parliament (Verkhovna Rada) of Ukraine, Kyiv, Ukraine

The re-evaluation of values and a change in the orientation of global society in its relationship to Nature, brought about by the cataclysms in the environment and its components, have been accompanied by the formation of new systems eco-law and eco-policy. The reference here is to the vector of Rio - Agenda - 21 and "Environment for the Europe" processes, to systems of global and regional eco-conventions and international institutions, and to the growth of citizen's awareness and willingness of governments to take into account new realities that depend on their understanding of the exhaustibility and fragility of natural resources and living nature.

At the moment the cardinal problem and most controversial element here is the ability of rich societies to balance the level of their profits and lifestyles in relation to the possibilities of the ecosystems of their countries and regions on the one hand, and on the other hand, the ability of poor nations not to take a leaf from the book of previous practices in which Nature was used to exhaustion, but to search for "prosperous," sustainable development. For example: if all countries were to attain the level of resource consumption/per capita, analogous to that of United States in the 1970s-80s, the world would have enough resources for only 50 more years. This is a blind alley.

In the context of a Changing World Order, a slightly transformed spirit of awareness of global interdependency, and the need for the Rule of Law, inter alia, will enable societies to remember to take Nature into account in this respect.

Specifically, in certain countries with so-called transitional economies the state of their natural resources is relatively good, (even in respect to biodiversity), but because of the continuation of non-ecologically sound technologies, the status of their environment is becoming less than satisfactory. The situation is worsened by a shortage of funds (because funds are necessary first of all for socio-economic matters). What is at principle here is the need for a change in psychology and an understanding of how to combine development with environmentally friendly progress. The advantage for countries in transition is their intellectual potential and their position at the starting gate: they are just beginning to build and democracy should help them do it.

It may be quite difficult to implement a sustainable development policy even under favorable conditions of a prosperous economy. Thus it is even more difficult to pursue this goal in Ukraine, since this country is now undergoing dramatic changes, trying to overcome a profound crisis and to solve numerous particular problems. The first steps have been undertaken, however.

Important instruments for the co-operative rebuilding of ecologically-friendly societies should be 1) a co-ordinated system of eco-law, being based on decisions of Rio-92 and global conventions; 2) strengthening policies to develop ecological alternatives (for example, via environmentally sound technical and technological assistance); 3) making global financial-economic and banking spheres environmentally responsible; 4) the development of international environmental institutions for the purpose of ensuring synergetic development (the best example now is the Global Environment Facility, GEF); 5) the development of regional environmental responsibility, inter alia, through regional conventions and agreements, policy documents, like the Environmental Program for Europe; 6) technological re-orientation; and 7) the "greening" of local communities. The point is to invest in Nature assets that will be returned in the future. Are we ready to do this: to develop new attitudes and to formalize them in new comprehensive rules, including eco-law? To co-operate? To lend money to a neighbor, so that the shade from his tree, which that neighbor has planted with these funds, will protect us all from a scorching sun? Are we ready to build bridges between our societies and peoples and to pay back our debts to Nature and to do this right away, while it is not yet too late?