Willy Brandt (1972) - Environmental Protection as an International Mission (German presentation)

Mr President, Ladies and Gentlemen, A little more than ten years ago, the topic of environmental protection in this country appeared to be the preserve of fantasists. I can remember it well and, since then, I have since experienced the problems that can arise from delayed reforms, not only in this area. In recent years, however, we have witnessed a shift in consciousness of historical significance. The industrial and technological revolutions and economic growth extended human capacities to an unprecedented extent. At the same time, however, it is becoming increasingly clear that this process is causing severe damage to the physical and social environments and this, in turn, poses a threat to human existence. The use of raw materials and technologies has its limits. It is increasingly obvious that environmental damage does not come to a halt at national borders; to this extent the pollution of Lake Constance and fish death in the Rhine, to name two very local examples, have been correctly classified. The number of people, who are aware that the critical deterioration in the environmental situation in other parts of the world cannot remain a matter of indifference to us, is also growing. Here, as elsewhere, we sense that problems that still seem far away today could present on our own doorstep tomorrow. And it is not science fiction when we hear that automated monitoring and alerting systems are already being used in Tokyo to protect the population against the sudden presence of hazardous substances in high concentrations. The shift in the significance of the problem of the environment and the deep-seated change in global consciousness are also evidenced by the fact that, as we know, the United Nations has adopted the topic and is staging one of the biggest conferences since its establishment this month on it in Stockholm. The conference heading: “Only One Earth” demonstrates what is at stake here. It is not merely a question of teaching the world to fear for the environment, but of taking the warnings about programmed self-destruction as seriously as they need to be taken. Not to become resigned in the face of the serious risks we face, but to arrive at suitable solutions quickly through sober stock-taking. Ladies and gentlemen, environmental policy requires a consistent rethink and demands that we change our ingrained habits in two ways: we must learn to understand environmental hazards as a global problem that affects almost all areas of life at the same time, and we must examine whether our societal value system can accommodate the demand for an appropriate quality of life. Having limited ourselves to considering individual symptoms in isolation for years, there is now a growing understanding that multiple connections and interdependencies exist between the factors that shape our human environment. An important indicator of the special risk posed by environmental pollution is the fact that the damage caused by environmental impacts or intervention in the biosphere arises not only where they are produced. This means not only that whoever pollutes the upper reaches of a river almost automatically harms the residents in its lower reaches, but also, for example, that the damage caused by DDT can manifest both directly and indirectly due to the interaction with other processes in areas in which the pesticide has never been used. As the example of DDT shows, the impacts of environmental damage frequently manifest not only spatially but also at a temporal lag so that a considerable period can lapse between the event that causes the damage and the emergence of its harmful effects. The dangers are often only recognised when they have already reproduced a million times over. It should be clear to us from this that, overall, it is already much later than we would like to think. It may take years for the measures we take today to bring disastrous processes under control. I would like to add here, however, something I spoke about with the Mayor earlier: as I was recently persuaded by discussions in England, my most positive experiences and impressions of recent weeks also include the fact that certain aspects of environmental protection, that is the clean-up of rivers and lakes, can take effect faster than we believed possible a few years ago. In its report on the situation of humanity, the now much-cited Club of Rome forcefully conveyed the need to view environmental problems on a global and long-term scale. And this global perspective has preoccupied not only the MIT team in the calculation of its global model, but also, for example, the British scientists who published “A Blueprint for Survival” at the beginning of this year, that is a plan for the survival of the next generation and those to come. The insight into the harmful impacts of one-sided quantitatively-oriented growth has quickly extended beyond the inner circle of theorists. In terms of Germany’s concerns, among the things that come to my mind here is the fourth international conference of IG Metall (German Metalworkers’ Union) in Oberhausen, at which important things were said about this classification of environmental problems. Needless to say, a complex topic like this is the subject of heated debate as we are merely at the beginning of an intensive investigation of environmental conditions. Thus it will be possible to disagree on the assessment of individual facts. In my view, however, one fact should not be disputed: irrespective of whether certain catastrophic consequences of environmental pollution arise in ten, 50 or 100 years or whether certain resources will reach depletion in the lifetime of the next generation or later, ladies and gentlemen, what is at stake here is nothing less than preventing the collapse of our ecological system. This requires in-depth knowledge of the global links between raw material reserves, food production, population growth, industrialisation and environmental pollution – to name but the most important factors. The interdependency between these factors has been demonstrated again very impressively in recent times by the studies of the Club of Rome. Even if we must note that what is involved here are just forecasts of possible developments, whose preconditions still require critical investigation, it may be stated that the reserves of raw materials are finite; that, with or without pesticides, the possibilities for producing enough food to feed an explosively expanding population are limited; and that the constant one-sided rise in economic growth in the face of already observable environmental damage runs serious risks that cannot be managed without a change in our consumption habits. If I understand correctly, we have been warned, and the task we face now is not only to incorporate the available data into our system of political coordinates, but also to extrapolate new priorities from them without undue delay. The painful experience that high technical standards do not eliminate existing violations of human dignity or exclude the emergence of new ones is one we have already made. It follows that demands are being expressed at national and international levels for environmental protection to be incorporated into the regime of fundamental rights. But we must not deceive ourselves. Environmental protection comes at a price. And if we really want to make a better living conditions a reality, we must find answers to the questions that arise from the interconnection of economic interests and environmental protection. An exclusively economic rationale is clearly unable to guarantee the well-being of society as a whole. In other words, what we need is greater collective effort to consolidate the very foundations of life. Environmental protection is a societal task that must be made to prevail over the resistance of wide-ranging special interests; and, accordingly, one that requires the broadest possible support. To achieve this many people must understand that all polluters are basically also victims of the circumstances they have created. Everyone is responsible for the environment in which they live. Above all, there must be a greater realisation that personal prosperity is composed of two components, an individual and collective one, and that the second of these is gaining in significance. If conclusions are not drawn quickly enough from this insight, the social order is at risk from serious failures that go beyond inhumane materialism. What I am saying, ladies and gentlemen, is that we need action so that we can master the tasks of the future, so that we can do justice to them. We will also have to make greater use of our intelligence in figuring out how we can move on from mere growth maximisation to balanced growth optimisation or, in other words, how we can create better living conditions. New issues and tasks arise here for science and political practice. Above all, we must ask how we can achieve an optimal use of limited resources. I would like to add here that I do not agree with the environmentalists who are pushing prematurely - in my view prematurely - for zero growth. In my opinion this demand must seem like a mockery to all of the groups and countries that live in poverty and aim to establish the economic basis for a dignified human existence through development. In my view, it is not a question of halting economic growth but of restructuring it. This means, that in the context of reasonable environmental planning, we curb the growth of certain products but increase that of others, for example environmentally friendly goods. The justified objection is made here, ladies and gentlemen, that this kind of attitude is unrealistic because it is not possible to expect that the environmental awareness in relation to all products will develop at an equal rate, either here or in other countries. This is clearly true. For this reason – and there is no way around this – environmental regulations must be developed which avoid competitive distortions and barriers to trade where possible. Based on our experience with tax harmonisation in the European or west European Community area, for example, this is likely to be a thorny issue. Nevertheless, it will become the touchstone for the will to solidarity in questions of survival, not only regionally but globally. To this is added the fact that the implementation of environmental protection for the highly industrialised countries alone would be a very short-sighted solution and, moreover, morally unacceptable. Environmental damage is also arising in developing countries through imbalanced land-use, the application of high concentrations of chemical substances and incipient industrialisation, and will probably intensify in the years to come. The emotionally-charged nature of the North-South conflict is clearly not the only reason why developing countries have misunderstood the environmental protection policy of the industrialised countries up to now as an attempt to conserve their economic supremacy. Without effective measures for stemming the population explosion and without carefully considered and substantial aid, through which developing countries can be supported in establishing environmentally friendly production processes from the outset, where possible, environmental protection in developing countries will remain a half-hearted affair. Experts tell us that there is little or no possibility of halting the population explosion in this century. Family planning has no chance of succeeding in places where education, employment, food, social security and health services are most badly needed, and there can be little progress in education, employment, food, social security and health services in places where family planning cannot be implemented. A third of the global population still controls around 85 percent of global capital and consumes over 80 percent of the world’s energy and raw materials. As long as this equation exists, it will remain difficult to explain our ideas for a better quality of life to developing countries. But – and this applies for all sides – nobody can hide from the knowledge that the world has become indivisible. For this reason alone we cannot evade our global and regional responsibility. Due to its economic and political importance, the European and west European Community also assumes a key role in the area of environmental protection. Sicco Mansholt’s letter of February of this year to the then President of the European Commission, Mr Malfatti, also constitutes a remarkable attempt to redefine the role of the European Community in this way. I cannot – and I wish to state so quite openly – I cannot agree with Mansholt on a series of points. But I agree with him that we should establish clarity about the social dimension of the European Community and, as I said, without agreeing with him on all the details, I nevertheless admire the courage with which he tackles an entire herd of sacred cows. However, it is not necessary to adopt an extreme interpretation and throw the trappings of civilisation over board, as Georg Picht put it. Instead, as I have already tried to show, it is necessary to establish a reasonable correlation between private consumption and the communal tasks of social security, education and infrastructure and the largely immaterial goods of cultural development, leisure and recreation. As some of you will know, according to Mansholt’s plan, the conservation of the natural foundations of life would be served by proposals for the promotion of more environmentally friendly technologies, which extend the lifespan of capital goods, and for the development of a production system that protects the environment. In my view, the broadest possible debate on securing our foundations of life will contribute to fostering a willingness to engage in collective action. Environmental policy needs to be harmonised in a way that prevents unfair competition and ensures that there are no ‘flags of convenience’ when it comes to environmental protection. In referring to flags of convenience, Count Bernadotte, I introduce a seafaring metaphor and I am grateful that you drew attention to the fact that I also dipped my toe into this sector as a very young man. We also need coordinated measures for the elimination of environmental damage. Therefore, I welcome the fact that the ideas developed in recommendations of the European Commission largely coincide with those of the German environmental programme, which is still in its relatively early stages, but had to start some time. Hence, like us in the Federal Republic of Germany, the European Commission also avows the polluter-pays principle. The partners of the European Community will have to examine the measures that must be taken in hand collectively as a matter of urgency, and we will also have to ask ourselves whether sufficient legal scope is available to the European Community. When it is a question of fighting acute environmental threats in our own country, however, we will not be able to wait for collective solutions in all cases. We also need pan-European and international cooperation in the area of the environment. In reality, the problems of environmental contamination arise independently of our social systems. And cooperation must not be hampered by ideological barriers in this area in particular. Given that environmental issues throw up new areas of conflict in the relations between states, this is all the more essential. It is important to take timely precautions for managing and regulating any conflicts that arise in a peaceful manner with the help of suitable processes and international organisations. However, allow me to add immediately ladies and gentlemen, a global technocratic management system as obviously envisaged by the representatives of the Club of Rome is not a very promising solution in my view. To have any prospect of success, our plans cannot bypass today’s political realities. The solution to these issues should be sought as far as possible within the context of the existing international organisations. The organisational options available through them must be used more effectively, however. This would appear a more rational approach to me than the establishment of new institutions. It is necessary and, hopefully also, possible here to develop shared views regarding priorities and define long-term aims. The Stockholm environmental conference, which ended a good week ago, represented an important preliminary step towards a concerted global effort for establishing a better quality of life and living conditions. I regret that it was not possible to overcome the difficulties, which the Soviet Union and other Warsaw Pact states saw as preventing their participation. But I assume that it will be possible to set aside the differences that have nothing to do with the topic itself, and that the work for the good of people in both east and west will soon continue through all of the states represented in the United Nations. The Declaration on the Human Environment adopted in Stockholm appears to me to provide a very suitable basis for this. It establishes reference points for a new international law regime in the area of environmental protection, and forms the basis and framework for the plan of action that incorporates the numerous recommendations of the working groups. By way of example, I refer to the recommendation on the development of environmental research through the use of a ground monitoring system, with the help of which global environmental damage can be identified and controlled, the recommendation that waste substances should not be dumped in the middle of the ocean, and the recommendation that environmental protection must not be implemented at the expense of development aid. The environmental fund established in response to President Nixon’s suggestion and with German support enables the development of global monitoring and information systems. Therefore, a consensus was reached among the 114 states present in Stockholm that can have a positive influence on developments. It is to be hoped that the General Assembly of the United Nations will accept the recommendations of the working groups and that environmental protection will give new impetus to the global organisation. The new Governing Council and environmental secretariat will coordinate, consolidate and advance the global initiatives in the area of environmental protection. The federal Republic of Germany – and I wish to leave you in no doubt here – is willing to make an active contribution to these forums. Nonetheless, ladies and gentlemen, allow me to say that we must not delude ourselves. The activities that have now been set in motion will be far from sufficient to halt the disastrous process of the destruction of our environment. After all, these activities merely mark the start of the emergence of a global shift in consciousness that must be fostered using every available means. To define the direction in which our efforts must be made in future, allow me to repeat here what I said in November 1970 in Bonn at the end of the European Year of Nature Conservation. What I said at the time was: We will have to go without some things in the future which are economically viable but socially questionable. And we will have to enforce some things on a social level that may appear economically unacceptable. In my view, this is the direction we must take. It is also the problem. Of course our liberal society is entirely capable of changing but the difficulties are increasing more rapidly now than the capacities and possibilities available to our political system to resolve them. Environmental problems still represent uncharted territory for all or almost all of us today. They pose a challenge for everyone who bears political responsibility. And it is not just the politicians who bear political responsibility, it is the citizens and, not least, the scientists, whom I would urgently beseech here and now to provide more help and support. We need their research findings and advice so that we can base our decisions on solid and extensive knowledge, and we also need their public commitment. It seems remarkable to me that the MIT scientists, whom I have already mentioned a few times when I referred to the Club of Rome, it seems remarkable to me that they are deliberately address the public and not a scientific audience with their book on the limits to growth. It was their opinion that the consequences arising from their study, and I quote them directly here “go far beyond the proper domain of a purely scientific document”. Hence these scientists consciously sought to engage with politics and all of the actors who make decisions every day and form opinions that can influence physical, economic and social conditions in the world for decades. I am grateful for such an offer. The path taken by science to public responsibility is based on the conviction that disasters can be prevented if everyone involved has access to the necessary information in good time. This was not the case, ladies and gentlemen, with the atom bomb. If it was not actually responsible for key changes in some areas, through its self-conception, science had a considerable influence on the developments in this field. We should take its socio-political commitment to a better quality of life very seriously. Responsible environmental policy requires well-honed scientific tools and comprehensive scientific advice. In the future it will be called on to an ever-increasing extent to provide not only specialised information but also analyses of the highly complex interactions between nature and society, which are difficult to grasp in terms of their causal progression. This naturally requires extensive rethinking in the area of science. It will be shaped by interdisciplinary behaviour and will have to be complemented by an often politically motivated transfer to the realm of practical application. Despite all its deficits, which I can, of course, identify, the emergence and implementation of my government’s environmental programme, which was developed here in the Federal Republic of Germany under the auspices of our Minister of the Interior Mr Genscher, provide a useful example of the form that can be taken by the dialogue between science and politics. For the first time for the Federal Republic of Germany as a whole, scientists and administrative experts jointly developed an inventory that provided a basis for the decision made by cabinet, and, for example, for the changes to the Constitutional Law for the Federal Republic of Germany, which we strove to achieve despite all of the other conflicts and which we needed to move forward. Through the publication of this material, parliament and the public were able to find a direction in relation to all the preconditions and assumptions and evaluate them critically. An independent expert council for environmental issues involving scientists from different disciplines was established to provide scientific advice to the Federal Government and to provide opinions on important environmental policy issues. Ladies and gentlemen, there is still time for us to change course. Our efforts to ensure a peaceful future for humanity must not end with the prevention of armed conflict. We will have achieved very little if people’s survival in the future is threatened not by wars but by environmental disasters on an unknown scale. Hence environmental protection also serves the purpose of safeguarding peace. It is an extended peace policy, if you will. Thank you for your attention.