Book Review: Environment in the 21st Century and New Development Patterns

In International Review for Environmental Strategies (IRES) Volume 2 Number 1 (Summer 2001)
Peer-reviewed Article

Environment in the 21st Century and New Development Patterns
Editor: Kazuo Matsushita, Acting Vice-President, Institute for Global Environmental Strategies (IGES) /
Project Leader, Long-Term Perspective and Policy Integration Project, IGES
Publisher Information: Kluwer Academic Publishers 2001
ISBN: 0-7923-6721-9

This book represents an effort to conceptualize a new pattern of development, which is a very timely and interesting topic. However, sustainable development is very broad and complex, and it involves a great number of issues, some of which are discussed in this volume. Sustainable development has been a subject of global interest and debate for over three decades. Interest in this new concept of development originated from concern over increasing environmental stress and degradation. However, as it is now clear, despite all the efforts by many countries over the past decades, the world continues to be faced with important problems of widespread poverty, inequity, and deteriorating environmental quality. Sustainable development remains far from being attained, and indeed, conditions seem to be getting even worse than before.

The book contains a collection of 13 papers from academics, business executives, and researchers, mainly from Japanese and Asian organizations, with a preface by Akio Morishima, the Chair of the Board of Directors of IGES (Institute for Global Environment Strategies). The papers were commissioned specifically for this book. Each writer was requested to cover issues relevant to new development patterns. The book has a useful Introductory Chapter that, in addition to presenting a good overview of Asian development and the need for new patterns of development, presents a summary of the structure and the outline of the book. Moreover, the Editor, Mr. Matsushita (who is also Acting President of IGES) provides an Afterward at the end of the book that explains what the book is about and what the reader should expect from it. Therefore, it is highly recommended that the reader turn to the Afterward immediately after reading the Preface, in order to understand what the book is intended for and what major issues are covered. The placement of this chapter should be reconsidered in any future printings.

The book is divided into three sections. Section 1 introduces several issues relevant to the realization of new development patterns. The first paper deals with the issue of limits of resources of the Earth. Mitsuhashi proposes a "zero-emissions" approach and the building of an environmentally-conscious market economy. To build a Zero Emission society, five resolutions are needed: design, industrial clusters, environmental taxes, energy (efficiency) and lifestyle changes. The second paper (one of two by Tsuehiya in the book) is concerned with energy use and a proposed strategy of decentralized energy systems (instead of the centralized ones which exist today). Tsuehiya's other paper takes this issue further as he discusses the use of the New Economy to save energy (for example, through the use of e-mail and teleconferencing). Tsuehiya's point is further elucidated in Murota's paper, which discusses the potential impacts of information technology on various aspects of society, including political systems (the key word for this is "e-government"). The three other papers in this section discuss information disclosure, water resource strategies and sustainable agriculture. All the papers present interesting views and suggestions about new ways to manage the Earth's resources and environment in a sustainable way. Temorshuizen's paper on the role of information disclosure in corporate governance is of particular interest, showing through the case of a chemical industry in Canada how information disclosure can be a powerful tool to promote innovation, competitiveness and environmental protection.

Section 2 discusses new development patterns in regional and national contexts, i.e., throughout Asia, and in India and China. The first paper by Fukukawa provides a historical analysis of Asian development by focusing on Asian value systems of, for example, pluralism, harmony and self-discipline, which he believes help strengthen sustainable development efforts through desirable changes in lifestyle "in a way that people may coexist with nature". Srinivas' paper discusses development patterns of India and offers some future directions toward sustainability. The paper on China by Zhang and Xia gives recent environmental policy developments and also future policy directions. While the discussion on Asian value systems should be of interest to development scholars, it is still not quite clear how such systems can be applied to achieve the goal of sustainability in the age of globalization. The two papers presenting the cases of the two most populous countries of the world, both of which are experiencing severe environmental deterioration, do not offer much in terms of new concepts and strategies needed for sustainable development.

Section 3 of the book contains three very interesting papers. The first, by Bezanson, is quite thought-provoking as it touches on an important issue-the need to rethink development and the language of development. One of his important points is that "Most official development discourse continues to use the language of unlimited economic growth and expansion, of a North-South fault line separating wealth from poverty, of nation-state roles that no longer exist, and a 'here' versus 'there' which no longer accords with reality. This places development in a danger situation . . ." (p. 216). As for the future of development cooperation, Bezanson also calls for a fundamental rethinking of development and progress, as well as the transformation of development agencies from essentially transactional into knowledge-based institutions and the modification of the language of development. The paper by Parikh gives a good overview of existing development patterns that are unsustainable, and proposes new and desirable patterns that require, among other things, new consumption patterns. Finally, Hirono's paper emphasizes the failures of past development efforts, and calls for drastic policy and international reforms, especially on human resources and technological developments.

The authors of the papers in this book give a useful and informative overview of past development efforts and their socio-economic and environmental impacts, mainly in Asian contexts. They also attempt to identify major issues and propose some new approaches and concepts, which they hope will bring about new development patterns vis-a-vis sustainable development. Unfortunately, the topic is too complex to be adequately covered in one book. Nevertheless, considering that the papers written for this book are meant to identify issues and concepts to be further studied under IGES's research program on New Development Patterns, the book seems to serve its original purpose well.

With regard to research, several issues and useful concepts have been discussed and deserve further in-depth analysis. Some issues involve technological developments such as those concerning the zero emission approach, especially product planning and design, the decentralizing of energy systems (i.e. renewable energy sources) and information technology. Other related issues that need further research may include the impact of IT, especially on energy-use efficiency, and of information disclosure, which has been of increasing interest to businesses, especially MNCs and larger firms in developed countries. A study of this issue in NICs and developing countries may contribute to improvements in energy efficiency and productivity. Another important issue of global concern is water resources, which may cover a wider range of issues at the global to regional and national levels. Policy analysis on water resources at a regional or sub-regional level (like the Greater Mekong Region) may be useful for sustainable water resource management. While sustainable agriculture is an issue of great importance to the world, a good deal of effort on this issue is also being done by other international organizations such as the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization.

The book shows that there still appears to be a need for a forum focusing on new concepts of development. Bezanson presents an issue of great importance when he calls for the rethinking of development. It goes without saying that most policymakers at all levels follow the standard model of economic development. Such a model defines development almost exclusively in terms of capital accumulation and assumes an unchanging socio-political framework. The most important concern of the free-market economy is not to sustain the ecology and natural world, but to satisfy human consumption needs. But it has become obvious that what is most relevant today is to see development as a continuing process of self-generated and self-sustained change that is in fact sustainable development.

Finally, since this book is a product of IGES, it is encouraging to see that IGES, which has been set up as a new international organization to conduct practical strategic research on sustainable development, is giving its attention to this important issue of global development. It can only be hoped that the results from its research projects will help contribute significantly to the new patterns of development discussed in this volume.

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Tongroj Onchan