Global environmental issues, by definition, cannot be resolved by US action alone. Some problems, such as acid rain, primarily involve industrialized countries and may be dealt with on a regional basis. Dealing with others, such as global warming, tropical deforestation and AIDS, will require the active participation of less developed countries.

          All of these issues involve conflicting interests, and a fairly complex set of regional and global bargains will need to be struck if they are to be satisfactorily resolved. The scientific and analytical competencies necessary for confident bargaining are in many developing countries fairly rudimentary. In their absence, political leaders are understandably skeptical that they can achieve a fair deal in negotiations with industrial countries. The alternative to bargaining is often confrontation, bombast, and nationalistic rhetoric masking ill-informed and short-term conceptions of national interests. 


Courtney A Nelson - Beirut 1973

Beirut, Lebanon 1983

          The point is not that environmental and natural resource issues are dealt with smoothly and rationally in US, nor that the US behaved more sensibly and responsibly while building its basic industries than newly industrializing countries are behaving today. The twin pressures of population growth and increased economic activity are placing pressures on natural systems today that were not evident in earlier times. We will all need to rely more on science and analysis in the future than was necessary in the past.

          The hypothesis of the study here proposed is that the importance of Third World competence to understand and act upon environmental issues is growing, and the US institutional capacity to work with them is very limited. Our science-based Departments, such as Agriculture, Energy, and Health and Human Services, are oriented to domestic issues. They have no mandate for strengthening scientific and analytical competencies abroad, even where the problems they deal with transcend national boundaries.

          AID, the agency typically engaged in assisting developing countries, is limited in its scientific endeavors by a relatively short time horizon, a largely non-technical staff, and a mandate to work with the poorer countries of the world. Many of the countries most rapidly increasing greenhouse-gas emissions or clearing tropical forests are of low priority for AID because of their middle-income status.

          The study assumes the need for a generalized strategy for work on global problems that would involve the major science-based Departments more deeply, and possibly more directly, in strengthening the capacities of developing countries to work on these problems. AID's intercultural experience needs somehow to be combined with the technical expertise of the line Departments, and the result accorded a significant role in the conduct of US foreign policy.

          Because there are limits to the extent to which it is appropriate for the US to concern itself with policy-making in other countries, it would be a serious mistake to mount a program with explicit policy objectives. Our purpose must be confined to helping to build sound policy-making capacities, recognizing that we will not always agree with the policies that result. Although promoting specific policy prescriptions would be unacceptable to most countries, assistance in building scientific and analytical capacities would be highly welcome.

          Global environment is an area in which the US has evident superiority in terms of science, technology, and programmatic experience. We have here an opportunity, and to my mind a responsibility, to provide constructive leadership in forging the kind of international environmental regimes which will be needed for dealing with the complex environmental interdependencies of the future.

Study Topic

          The study will focus on global warming as an illustrative example of a problem where US concerns extend to actions of developing countries. Industrialized countries can significantly affect the rate of climate change, and possibly its magnitude, by curtailing their emission of greenhouse gases, but without the cooperation of developing countries, the risk of substantial warming will remain.

          Among the activities contributing to global warming, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) cites energy production and use as by far the most important. Energy will account for an estimated 57% of the warming that will occur in the next century; chlorofluorocarbons 17%, agricultural practices 14%, and land use modifications including deforestation 9%. Some experts debit deforestation for closer to 20% of the problem.

          Deforestation and the increase in energy use will occur predominantly in countries outside the OECD. The share of commercial energy used by developing countries has increased from 6% in 1950 to 15% in 1985, and it is expected to continue to rise throughout the next century. The US, on the other hand, contributes around 25% of the carbon dioxide introduced to the atmosphere, but has increased its GNP substantially over the past 15 years without increasing the amount of C02 generated.

          Developing countries in general have great potential for conservation and increasing energy efficiency in the future; their energy use per unit of GNP is often extremely high. The technological and analytical capacity which would enable them to take advantage of more efficient options is, however, typically at a low level, and they may perceive external efforts to induce curtailed energy consumption as counter-developmental.

          How serious a concern is global warming?  A study by the US National Academy of Sciences in 1979 concluded that doubling the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere over preindustrial levels would result in an eventual global warming of 1.5-4.5 degrees Centigrade. Subsequent re-evaluations by the Academy and by the Department of Energy have reaffirmed this estimate, and other studies suggest that a warming of 5.5 degrees Centigrade as a result of C02 doubling is at least as likely as a warming of 1.5 degrees.

          Global warming of only a few degrees will produce major changes in the climate. The total global warming since the peak of the last ice age, 18,000 years ago, was only about 5 degrees. That change shifted the Atlantic Coast 100 miles inland and created the Great Lakes.

          If no corrective action were taken in the future, an EPA study suggests that the time C02 levels would reach double preindustrial levels would be between 2055, assuming a rapidly changing world, and 2080, assuming a slowly changing world. (That estimate may be optimistic; others think doubling may occur in the 2030s). EPA projects that the introduction of stabilizing policies could reduce the rate of global warming by 60%.

          Global warming is not produced only by C02 emissions. Other significant greenhouse gases include methane (CH4), the chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and nitrous oxide (N20). No single activity is the dominant source of greenhouse gases, so the range of stabilizing policies required is quite broad. Among the policies suggested for consideration are a 100% phaseout of CFCs by 2003, reforestation, improved transportation and other energy use efficiency, promotion of natural gases, solar energy and nuclear power, emission controls and fees, and improved agricultural practices and cement-making technologies.

          Global warming as a topic for this study thus has the advantages of being already of widespread concern, its dimensions and remedies have yet to be clearly defined, and the actions of developing countries over the next half century will have a major impact on the outcome. The disadvantages of the topic include the ominous fact that there is at this point no physical evidence that warming will occur of the magnitude expected, but by the time a warming trend can be convincingly demonstrated, it will be too late to do much about it.

Study Design

          Using global warming as the primary example, I would first seek to establish the potential ramifications of the problem: its importance to the US, the relative contributions of developing countries to greenhouse-gas emissions, and the opinions of experts about desirable remedial or preventive actions in the US and abroad. For this I would rely upon the literature, and interviews with knowledgeable people in Cambridge and elsewhere.

          Then I would examine the activities and plans of the major Government agencies with a stake in the issue, including EPA, DOE, DOA (especially the Forest Service), NSF, and AID, to gauge the official response to the problem. This examination would again involve reliance primarily upon secondary sources, supplemented by interviews with agency officials to determine their perspective on the problem and constraints on their actions. I would also seek to identify interagency coordinating mechanisms to determine the division of responsibility within the Government for dealing with the international dimensions of the problem.

          Resource allocations could then be compared with unofficial estimates of the sources of global warming, the urgency of action, and opportunities for intervention as developed in the first phase of the study.

          A third strand of the study would examine the development of scientific research and policy analysis on global warming issues in selected developing countries. Brazil, Thailand, and Nigeria would be logical choices of countries to study:

         Brazil is large and important in terms of energy production and deforestation, and because it is not an AID recipient due to its level of per capita income and the fact that the country is deemed to be in violation of Congressional resolutions concerning debt repayments and nuclear proliferation.

         Thailand is an AID recipient, largely due to its proximity to Indochina. The Mission there has given strong support to scientific research, and Thai scientists typically win about a third of all competitive research awards offered under AID-sponsored programs, including one administered by the National Academy of Sciences. The Government of Thailand places a high value on the development of an indigenous scientific capability.

         Nigeria is the largest sub-Saharan African nation, and has perhaps the largest scientific establishment in black Africa. The US ambassador, Princeton Lyman, is a former AID official who once was engaged in planning for the Institute for Scientific and Technological Cooperation (ISTC), a Carter administration initiative. His understanding of the history of US scientific relationships with developing countries, combined with his familiarity with Nigerian institutions, would be invaluable.

          In each country, the study would attempt to ascertain the allocations from government sources for research as a fraction of national income, the channels of communication between the science establishment and policy makers, international linkages between scientists or scientific institutions and counterparts abroad, and the perception of scientists and policy makers of priority requirements for strengthening their research and analysis capabilities. Their perceptions of the importance of global warming and other environmental issues will also be gained.

          The fourth strand would entail a review of existing mechanisms for scientific cooperation and collaboration between US institutions and institutions in developing countries, particularly those concerned with global warming issues and those involving the third world countries selected. (I conducted a preliminary study of this sort as International Fellow of the Kettering Foundation in 1981, resulting in a manuscript entitled "US Science and the Third World."  This could be updated, but a section on the participation of the US in UN agencies and their role in addressing global warming issues would need to be added.)

          On the basis of these explorations, it should become clear that our present policies and organizations for handling US scientific relationships with developing countries are seriously inadequate. I would hope to be able to recommend reforms enabling us to contribute more effectively to strengthening third world capacity for research and analysis. I would try to generalize from the example to suggest a strategy for cooperation applicable to a number of other fields, such as health research, forestry, and food production.

          Organizational alternatives, such as the Science and Technology Bureau of AID, the ISTC concept, the NSF, and international offices in the major agencies would be assessed. One hopes that a course of action with clear advantages over the alternatives will emerge. But whether or not a firm prescription for action comes out of the study, the case for increased US efforts to strengthen the capacities of third world countries for engaging responsibly in global environmental negotiations should be unmistakably made.

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