Public and Social and Environmental Safeguards Are Critical to Sustainable Development

As a member of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), I am very interested in learning about emerging issues in the field of social and environmental safeguards. This is because we have observed that development activities should be a long-term commitment towards sustainable development, and that this commitment must include a precautionary approach towards developing nations, which requires a proactive response to the situation that is unfolding in developing countries.


The situation in a particular nation is complex, to say the least.


Often referred to as the Second Great Depression, this was not caused by an outside factor such as war or natural disaster, but rather a combination of social, economic and environmental factors that led to the industrialization of many nations. Today, several third world nations have emerged as major exporters of energy, minerals and agricultural products.


Of these nations, several are major contributors to global emissions, and are major beneficiaries of cheap fossil fuels that allow them to import manufactured goods, even as they export cash. For example, South Africa, Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Bangladesh, and Zimbabwe are all among the major importers of energy, commodities and manufactured goods.


If it were not for the easy availability of mineral fuel supplies in Third World nations, the cost of living and maintaining standards of living would be considerably higher. In fact, energy prices in many Third World nations are now lower than in other industrialized nations. Since so many nations rely on mineral and energy resources to sell their manufactured goods, a high percentage of their profits go towards funding corruption and government cronyism.


Therefore, it is important to keep track of how social and environmental safeguards are applied in this context, and to ensure that these contributions to development are properly prioritized. There is a lot of controversy about the benefits of the Extractives Industry Remedies (EIR) programs. These types of companies benefit from enhanced access to markets, political support and subsidies, a larger share of the total value chain of production, and the benefits derived from foreign direct investment to online board meetings.


Unfortunately, EIRs are not held accountable for providing the necessary safeguards.

This means that the social and environmental safeguards are being taken advantage of and ignored. 


Small-scale producers in most Third World nations also find that their profits from extractive activities are greater than the price of their raw materials. Even though the dollar value of income from this activity is limited, the income from the long-term effects on populations is substantial, and that creates a growing social and environmental risk for these governments.


There are many opportunities for governments to work together and implement effective policies, but they are often stymied by the entrenched interests that hold sway over much of the international development cooperation. This is unfortunate, because these groups profit from their attempts to block development initiatives.


Extractives industries tend to find ways to take advantage of the governments of less developed nations. They do this by co-opting their leaders, hiding behind trade unions, and by supporting a “greenwashing” campaign.


Their public relations tactics are designed to portray themselves as socially responsible, environmentally conscious and producing for the needs of the local community. In reality, they use deceptive marketing and messaging, deceitful contracts and shady business practices to attract investors while obscuring their environmental and social impacts.


The best way to safeguard social and environmental safeguards is to focus on the sources of pollution and take action. Investing in natural resources from rural communities to corporate enterprises is the best way to protect the environment and promote sustainable development.