SIRPA Pietikainen, Finland's environment minister, says the world has quite a few things to learn from India, especially when it comes to environment and more specifically, forests. Eloquent on issues on which there are strong perceptional differences between the North and the South, Pietikainen believes the North will do little to stop multinationals from dumping wastes. She has for long been actively involved with issues of trade and environment and environment impact assessment. A member of parliament since 1983, she has held her present position from 1991. In a conversation with SUMANTA PAL during her recent visit to India, Pietikainen touched upon the most contentious issue in the whole question of environment: Who pays in a depressed world?
What have been Finland's major environmental concerns? How has your government responded to global environmental issues in general?
Finland and other industrialised countries use 80 per cent of the world's resources. We are part of a problem and are responsible for it. That's why our emphasis has always been on environment impact assessment and on checking consumption patterns. However, in our country, the problem of consumption is a problem of rampant growth and is linked with our culture.
We are trying to reduce exploitation of energy and resources. We have evolved programmes to cut emissions by 80 per cent by 2000 and have been active in promoting the second sulphur protocol -- an agreement to reduce sulphur emissions. We expect to reach an agreement by the end of 1994.
After Rio, it was agreed the Nordic countries would contribute 0.7 per cent of their gross domestic product to official development assistance. Though Finland has maintained this figure, it is surprising that it did not cross 1 per cent mark as was expected. How do you explain this?
The economic situation in Finland is always held responsible for this shortfall. However, I am not particularly proud of the developments in Finland in the post-Rio period. We had taken definite decisions that the 0.7 per cent target for development aid would be achieved. But the gloomy economic situation in the last couple of years in Finland necessitated a temporary reduction in development aid.
Nevertheless, to me it is significant that the government has stuck to the level of 0.7 per cent. Our policies had to be reformulated so that we are ready for a situation where we may have to go even below 0.7 per cent. In this context, any thing around1 per cent is a very difficult proposition.
You say you are unhappy about the decision to cut aid. Are you criticising the Finnish government's lack of response to developmental issues? In this context, don't you think we need to put our mouth where the money is?
Our economic depression is severe. However, the environmental degradation of the South has been enormous and the North cannot absolve itself of its role in this. Moreover, our principles on national and international levels need to be more even. We are not prepared to allow a reduction in the income of the poorest of the lot in the North, in the name of humanitarianism. By the same token, it becomes mandatory for the rich nations to care for the poorest of the lot in the South.
Besides, the North consumes four times as much as the South. Such overconsumption makes it all the more obligatory on the part of the North to harness its resources and think of aid flows. The important question is, if the whole world is starving, who pays or who provides? Who pays in a depressed world?
Would you agree that those who make a noise about global responsibilities and conceive of the $2 billion Global Environment Facility (GEF) as something mammoth forget this is actually peanuts and would be used for implementing the various treaties that followed Rio?
In the past few years, the situation globally has not been very different from what it has been in Finland. It is getting increasingly difficult for industrialised countries to allocate resources. While I do agree that most countries have suffered economic depressions, some have been more responsive to the demands of the South. During the pre-UN Conference on Environment and Development negotiations, we talked of allocating 2.5 per cent of our gross national product for development, assuming we would be able to solve our environmental problems with this. But this, in my opinion, was a very moderate target.
I agree the amount we are talking of may seem to be small. But this is possibly the most we could have got under the circumstances.
On climate change, the North, particularly the US, pitches for non-market solutions when it comes to matters of the South. However, on matters of the North, it does not hesitate to push for market-based solutions. Why are the Nordic countries so shy of fighting the US position? Are you afraid of the US?
I would say that in Finland we have considerable discussions at government and non-governmental levels on the US position on various environmental issues, simply because any decision involving the US has global implications. It is not true that we support the US position without consideration. We first consider our own position and there are occasions when our positions are somewhat aligned to the South's. On the question of energy tax, for example, we have informed the US about our position. However, even while we are aware of the North and South dimensions, we don't state them very clearly.
I would say market-based solutions to environment problems can work at national levels. As far as international market solutions are concerned, the clearing-house mechanism can be an example. This could be done on a regional or global basis. I see more sense in doing this on a regional basis. However, if you have a general clearing house on a global basis, it doesn't enhance the development of environmental technology. Ironically, polluters always have the resources to "buy" shares for polluting. There would be little motivation for the industry to develop eco-friendly technologies. I think that in the short run, market solutions may work well but in the long run, the market will develop systems within itself that will allow the industry to pollute.
Most Northerners wax eloquent on how the South should conserve its forests because forests act as carbon sinks. Do you recognise that our concern for our resources should be from the viewpoint of local communities who depend on such forests? Besides, in a country like India, forest issues are far more complex than in a country like Finland. Why teach us?
I think you are quite right. The North, even the US, has to recognise the value of forests in the South within the context of the South. Even the whole issue of biodiversity needs to be explored within a Southern context. Under the present patent regime, patenting of species and genes in the South has disturbing implications.
I agree that we have a few things to learn about forests from a country like India. However, I don't think any living being can have ownership rights over another living organism. I often feel Northern consumers should be asked to pay a much higher price for wood and the money used by governments to plant trees.
What is your response to the greening of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade?
If you have trade without regulations, multinational corporations will indulge in indiscriminate dumping. The developing countries have to be very conscious of this. No industrialised country will force multinationals to check indiscriminate dumping. No Northern country would like to affect the trade of its international partners. The end responsibility will always lie with the South. We have to identify the various elements of environment in the context of trade. It has to be at a multilateral level and a steady dialogue has to develop between the North and the South on this.
Equity and responsibility became buzzwords after Rio. Two years after Rio, would you say we are moving towards greater equity?
I wish I could say we are more equal. But this is not so. I think the world is getting more and more unequal. I am an optimist and I think there is a growing awareness of environmental concerns. People are trying to be more responsible.
In the years to come, what do you think will be India's role in the area of environment?
India will soon be a major global player in the area of environment. It always had sound principles. At all international meetings, the Indian government came up with clear solutions. Its delegations have been very outspoken in international fora. India has dominated the position of developing countries, especially on contentious issues like forests, GEF and technology transfer. Finland is looking forward to India's cooperation in the field of environment and trade issues.
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