United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)
Environment Outlook-1 - The Web version

Chapter 3: Policy Responses and Directions

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Current Changes in Approaches to Environmental Policy

Changing Consumer Attitudes and Patterns

The policy initiatives described so far are, however, not sufficient by themselves to prevent further environmental damage or reverse existing destruction. They do not sufficiently address the fundamental issue of unsustainable consumption patterns, do little to encourage more environmentally sound industrial processes all over the world, and do not pursue vigorously the permeation of sound environmental knowledge and technology to all sectors of the global society.

For example, a major cause of global and regional environmental problems such as climate change and acidification continues to be the unsustainable consumption of natural resources in industrial countries and by more affluent groups within developing countries. If the number of cars per person in the United States were ever matched in China, some 20 per cent of the nation's arable land would be covered by roads and parking spaces (Wuppertal Institute, personal communication, 1996). If the world's 5 billion people emulated what the advanced industrial nations have reached, rapid ecological collapse would be the inescapable consequence.

What is needed is a fundamental change in the hearts and minds of everyone. As Maurice Strong, Secretary General of the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, said in Singapore in early October 1996: "Greater co-operation between developing and industrialized countries is needed, with the rich prepared to share in solving environmental problems of the poor. We really need a change in ethos and culture. We need to move from a culture of greed and competition to one of co-operation and stewardship, a culture of sharing." This requires more than Governments providing an environment that will accelerate the process. All major groups need to feel responsible: women, children and youth, indigenous people, NGOs, local administrators, workers and trade unions, business and industry, scientists and academics, and farmers, including all rural people who derive their livelihood from activities such as farming, fishing, and harvesting the forest (UNEP, 1996b).

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