- The Washington Times - Monday, November 18, 2002

The recent United Nations Conference in New Delhi, India, concerning what to do about global warming did not go as Western environmentalists had hoped.
Leaders of developing countries are wising up to the con game environmentalists have been playing for too many years. On the one hand, environmentalists have argued that environmental quality and economic progress can go together. That is true.
On the other hand, they've claimed developing countries can develop economically without adopting the technologies that have improved the lives of people in industrialized countries. This is false, and Third World leaders are beginning to realize it.
This first became apparent at the U.N.'s conference on sustainable development held in South Africa in August, when developing countries refused environmentalists' demands that the conference focus on implementing the Kyoto protocol on greenhouse gases. Leaders of the world's poorest countries argued that addressing extreme privation (e.g., lack of access to safe drinking water, basic sanitation, adequate supplies of nutritious food and modern energy sources) now was far more relevant to improving the health and well-being of millions of the worlds poor than implementing a nebulous agreement on global warming.
In addition, angering environmentalists, poor nations backed an energy plan that promoted increased fossil-fuel and hydropower development but lacked targets for wind and solar power. Developing countries argued that increasing energy use was necessary to alleviation of poverty and that fossil fuels are the only inexpensive, reliable sources of energy readily available in the short term.
In New Delhi, developing countries have once again stood up to pressure from environmental lobbyists.
Environmentalists wanted developing countries to harangue the U.S. about its withdrawal from the Kyoto protocol and had hoped to finagle India, China and some of the larger developing countries into committing to their own greenhouse gas emission reductions in the near future. Third World countries were having none of it.
Indeed, in the initial draft declaration submitted by India, the Kyoto protocol was not mentioned at all, and greenhouse gas emission reductions were barely discussed. Developing countries recognize, as U.S. and Australian leaders argued when withdrawing from Kyoto, that reducing greenhouse gas emissions will cause serious economic harm but will do little if anything to prevent global warming. Accordingly, developing countries came to New Delhi to discuss what steps could be taken to prevent or at least mitigate the worst affects of potential climate change.
The best step that industrialized countries could take to help people in less-developed countries to prosper would be to foster creation of the institutions that have allowed Western democracies to prosper: private property rights, free markets and transparent governments with powers circumscribed by the rule of law. This would not only improve the lives of the poorest of the poor, but also enhance their ability to avoid the worst that a warmer world might have to offer.
Evidence for this comes from a recent National Center for Policy Analysis report by Steven Hayward of the American Enterprise Institute. Mr. Hayward examines the Environmental Sustainability Index (ESI) compiled as a joint effort of the World Economic Forum, the Yale University Center for Environmental Law and Policy, and the Columbia University Center for International Earth Science Information Network.
The ESI compares 20 indicators and 68 related variables for 142 nations. These indicators include basic measures of pollution trends and ecosystem conditions, along with measures of human well-being, social capacities, and governance.
The ESI's systematic cross-national comparison of environmental progress confirms that improving environmental quality in developing countries depends on economic growth, which leads to higher incomes. The evidence shows that while environmental quality degrades during the early stages of economic growth, it improves after a certain income level is reached.
Mr. Hayward then compared the ESI to measures of economic freedom as calculated in the Heritage Foundation/Wall Street Journal Index of Economic Freedom 2002. When the ESI scores are plotted against the scores from the Heritage/Wall Street Journal index, countries with freer economies have better records in improving environmental quality providing further evidence that free markets and democracy are the best path to sustainability.
Free markets satisfy people's needs and desires better than any other economic form. Once basic needs for food, clothing, shelter and health are met, people increasingly demand improved environmental quality. Research shows that markets satisfy this desire as well. By adopting market reforms rather than flawed treaties like Kyoto developing countries will not only improve the lives of their citizens, but will be enabled to implement programs that improve air and water quality, increase the food supply and adapt to, lessen the impact of and recover from whatever environmental calamities nature may throw at them.

H. Sterling Burnett is a senior fellow at the National Center for Policy Analysis.


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