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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

2006, Vol, 6 No. 1 .

Human Development and the Environment: Challenges for the United Nations in the New Millennium
Hans van Ginkel, Brendan Barrett, and Julius Court (eds.)

Tokyo, New York and Paris: United Nations University Press, 2002. 313 pp., PB, ISBN 92-808-1069-3.

As its title suggests, this edited volume of chapters by different contributors sets out to explore the role of the United Nations in global efforts to pursue environmental sustainability and economic development. In the introductory chapter, the editors emphasize that the pursuit of these objectives requires an appreciation of the many links between them, and that success will depend on integrated strategies. The book is then separated into two sections ? one containing a series of chapters on human development, and the second a set of chapters on environmental issues. The overarching context for understanding and addressing the challenges of development and the environment is the process of globalization, which several contributors present as a problematic dynamic requiring a concerted response.

The individual chapters come in two kinds. Some are focused technical analyses, containing much concrete data and information (see, for example, Chapter 5 on income inequality, Chapter 7 on demographic trends, or Chapter 11 on future prospects for global water supplies). These chapters provide the reader with a rapid introduction to a specific topic, and present facts and figures that inform an initial understanding of the context for the topic in question. Other chapters take the form of more conceptual argumentation (for example, Chapter 2 on globalization, Chapter 10 on urbanization and industrialization, or Chapter 14 on global food security). While drawing on some examples, these sections of the book rely more on ideas and frameworks, exposing the reader to modes of discourse relating to a particular environmental or development issue.

The editors sought to appeal to policy-makers, the academic community, and civil society, and both types of contributions to the book described above may interest a broad audience. However, the book does not leave a particularly clear impression regarding the future role of the United Nations, at least not in any sense that is distinct from what the United Nations already is generally perceived as doing with respect to these issues. The editors express an intention to ?promote a more humane form of globalization? (21), which most would agree is an appropriate United Nations role. How it will do so, though, is left somewhat nebulous, beyond serving as a forum for discussion, promoting the participation of a broad array of stakeholders in these discussions, and ensuring that particular concerns appear on the agendas of these discussions.

Nevertheless, several themes that reappear throughout the chapters result in an interesting book that informs discussion of critical issues. The role of international development assistance, for example, is touched on by several authors, and critically assessed in Chapter 8 against the backdrop of weak institutions and corruption that characterize many countries in need of support. Given that advancing global development and environment objectives will likely depend on substantial flows of financial and technical assistance, questions surrounding the effectiveness of foreign aid are crucial. Another recurring theme is problems with global economic governance, as embodied in the World Trade Organization, and the inadequacy of global environmental governance, especially with respect to biodiversity. While most contributors acknowledge the need for some form of global governance in these two arenas (which should be seen as closely interlinked), they also express concern about how imbalances in north-south power relations shape such governance.

As a whole, the book stands as a compelling argument that global efforts to address linked problems of development and the environment are vital to future political stability. Inequitable distribution of the benefits of globalization, continuing pressures of poverty and underdevelopment, and increasing resource scarcity and degradation already can be seen to fuel tensions and conflicts within and between countries. Unless these trends improve, we can expect such conflicts to proliferate and intensify. Therefore, it is clearly incumbent on the United Nations to seek a more assertive role with respect to development and environment in the new millennium.

Dr Eduard Niesten, Director, Conservation Economics Program, Conservation International

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