Resources Article

Thinking Globally about Growth and the Environment

Jun 8, 2012 | Phil Sharp

Celebrating Resources for the Future’s 60th anniversary gives us an opportunity not just to look back at past successes but also to look forward with a renewed focus. Our theme for the year— “60 Years of Investing in Ideas”—reflects this notion. It is true to our history and a reminder that we must continue to replenish our intellectual capital.

Looking forward to the next 20, 40, and 60 years, the connections among nations, communities, and their ideas and decisions become clearer. We know that choices in the developed world have impacts that spill well beyond its borders. Developing countries often feel the impact of those decisions tenfold because they lack the infrastructure, human capital, financing, or other mechanisms for effectively managing the consequences. And especially within developing countries, the imperative for growth puts significant pressure on environmental and natural resources. In this special issue of Resources, experts from RFF and our colleagues at Environment for Development (EfD) explore some of the most pressing challenges facing those countries.

They examine best practices for providing sustainable access to safe drinking water in rural villages. They explore how power generation from coal plants is affecting the health of India’s citizens, and whether eco-certification actually provides measurable environmental benefits. They shed light on how a massive reorganization of China’s forest sector is playing out. These issues reflect RFF’s deep commitment to the global aspect of our mission. At RFF, we have always looked beyond national borders—the problems we confront tend to not recognize those boundaries.

I thank RFF Senior Fellow Allen Blackman for serving as the guest editor of this special issue. Allen not only coordinates RFF’s participation in the EfD initiative but he also is a research fellow at the EfD Center for Central America. He is one of the many experts at RFF focused on how climate, electricity, energy, water, and development policies are crafted and implemented in other parts of the world, from Europe to Africa and from China to Latin America.

This issue coincides with the Rio+20 meeting in Brazil, where the relationship between economic growth, natural resources, and environmental quality will take center stage. The global challenges have, if anything, become more daunting in the 20 years since the first conference.  Meeting them will require concerted action, but action must be supported by rigorous analysis and clear understanding. Sixty years after its inception, providing those ingredients remains RFF’s vital contribution.