Environment and Globalization: Introduction

article: Environment and Globalization: Introduction

The processes that we now think of as “globalization” were central to the environmental cause well before the term “globalization” came into its current usage. Global environmental concerns were born out of the recognition that ecological processes do not always respect national boundaries and that environmental problems often have impacts beyond borders; sometimes globally. Connected to this was the notion that the ability of humans to act and think at a global scale also brings with it a new dimension of global responsibility—not only to planetary resources but also to planetary fairness. These ideas were central to the defining discourse of contemporary environmentalism in the 1960s and 1970s[1] and to the concept of sustainable development that took root in the 1980s and 1990s.[2]

The current debate on globalization has become de-linked from its environmental roots and contexts. These links between environment and globalization need to be re-examined and recognized. To ignore these links is to misunderstand the full extent and nature of globalization and to miss out on critical opportunities to address some of the most pressing environmental challenges faced by humanity. The purpose of this paper is to explore these linkages in the context of the current discourse.

For its February 2007 meetings, the Global Ministerial Environment Forum (GMEF) of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has selected environment and globalization as one of its areas of focus. This paper has been prepared as an independent input to that process. The thrust of the paper, therefore, is on policy-relevant debates and its principal audience is environmental leaders assembling in Nairobi, Kenya, for the GMEF meetings. However, the paper aspires also to be relevant to audiences and debates beyond this meeting. We hope that the paper will inspire discussions—even if they are critical of our analysis—on the nature and importance of the links between environment and globalization. It is hoped that the discussions that will begin in Nairobi will not end there—that these conversations will not only be carried back to national capitals, but will also be carried forward by leaders of government, international organizations, civil society and business. We hope that this paper will contribute to a more vigorous conversation on environment and globalization at Nairobi, and beyond.

This paper has been produced independently by the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) with financial support from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Government of Denmark. The process was led by David Runnalls (IISD’s President and Chief Executive Officer) and Mark Halle (IISD’s Director of Trade and Investment and European Representative). The principal author is Prof. Adil Najam (IISD Associate and Associate Professor at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University), who was assisted in the research by Mihaela Papa and Lauren K. Inouye.[3]

The paper has benefited tremendously from the insights and ideas of an ad hoc advisory group that met twice in Geneva (October 2006 and January 2007). These meetings were attended by the authors and researchers as well as by Hussein Abaza (Egypt), Tariq Banuri (Pakistan), Susan Brown (Australia), Tom Burke (United Kingdom), Kim Carstensen (Denmark), Marion Cheatle (United Kingdom), Dharam Ghai (Kenya), Jean-Pierre Lehmann (France), Kilaparti Ramakrishna (India/United States), Phillipe Roch (Switzerland), Laurence Tubiana (France) and Dominic Waughray (United Kingdom), all of whom inspired and shaped the ideas contained here in countless ways. In addition, this paper has also benefited from the advice and encouragement of Achim Steiner, Executive Director of UNEP. We are also grateful to Aaron Cosbey of IISD for providing very useful comments on the final draft. We are especially grateful to Mihaela Papa and Lauren K. Inouye of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University, for their invaluable research assistance, and for their substantive and significant contributions to the ideas contained here. The paper remains a totally independent publication, and the views expressed here do not necessarily represent the official position of either the Government of Denmark or of UNEP.

The paper is divided into three sections. Following the introduction, we outline the nature of the linkages between environment and globalization, especially highlighting the fact that these are two-way linkages: not only can the processes of globalization impact the environment, but the dynamics of the environment can also impact and shape the nature of globalization. The next section, which is the bulk of the paper, begins exploring these linkages through the lens of five “propositions” that seek to highlight those elements that are particularly prescient for policy-making and policy-makers. The propositions do not seek to cover every aspect of the environment and globalization problematique. They are, instead, designed to highlight specific aspects of the relationship that are of particular salience in realizing key environment and globalization goals. The last section posits a set of suggested avenues for action on environment and globalization. This section is organized around the notion that better global governance is the key to managing both globalization and the global environment.


  1. ^ Carson, R., 1962. Silent Spring. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin.
    – Boulding, K.E., 1966. “The Economics of the Coming Spaceship Earth”. In Jarrett H. (ed.), Environmental Quality in a Growing Economy, pp. 3–14. Baltimore, MD: Resources for the Future/Johns Hopkins University Press.
    – Ehrlich, P.R., 1968. The Population Bomb. New York: Buccaneer Books; Reprint ed. December 1995.
    – Ward, B. and R. Dubos, 1972. Only One Earth: The Care and Maintenance of a Small Planet. New York: W.W. Norton and Company.
    – Meadows, D.H. et al., 1972. The Limits to Growth. New York: Universe Books.
    – Lovelock, J., 1979. Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth, 3rd ed. In 2000, Oxford, U.K.: Oxford University Press.
  2. ^ Brundtland, G.H. (ed.), 1987. Our Common Future: Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development. Oxford, U.K.: Oxford University Press.
    – United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), 1992
    – World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD), 2002.
    – Raskin, P., T. Banuri, G. Gallopin and P. Gutman, 2002. Great Transition: The Promise and Lure of the Times Ahead (a report of the Global Scenario Group). Boston, MA: Stockholm Environment Institute.
    – For a general overview see Brown, J.W., Chasek, P. and D.L. Downie, 2006. Global Environmental Politics. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, and International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD), 2006. The Sustainable Development Timeline. 4th ed. Winnipeg: IISD.
  3. ^ Prof. Adil Najam is an Associate at the IISD and teaches at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University. Adil Najam, Mihaela Papa and Lauren K. Inouye are all affiliated with the Center for International Environment and Resource Policy (CIERP) at the Fletcher School, Tufts University.
This is a chapter from Environment and Globalization: Five Propositions (e-book).
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Najam, Adil, David Runnalls and Mark Halle (Lead Authors); Cutler J. Cleveland (Topic Editor). 2007. "Environment and Globalization: Introduction." In: Encyclopedia of Earth. Eds. Cutler J. Cleveland (Washington, D.C.: Environmental Information Coalition, National Council for Science and the Environment). [Published in the Encyclopedia of Earth April 9, 2007; Retrieved September 17, 2008]. <http://www.eoearth.org/article/Environment_and_Globalization:_Introduction>


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