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The Founex Conference - Avoiding mistakes

The report argued that all countries are affected by the global environmental problems. It also presented a series of issues and goals specifically applicable to developing countries.

  • Developing countries should avoid making the mistakes of industrialized countries.
  • Environmental problems in developing countries are essentially different, as they “reflect the poverty and very lack of development of their societies.”
  • Developing country problems can be solved by the development process, “but there is a need for widening of the development concept” in order to include “urgent social and human problems.”
  • Concern for the environment should be integrated into the development process, but this requires a broader definition of development goals than a mere increase in Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Limited resources in developing countries are an overriding constraint to achieving integration.
  • Tradeoffs among various goals are inevitable and are for each country to decide.
  • Increasing costs for environmental protection and awareness that the indivisibility of earth’s natural systems strengthens the vision of a human family should encourage aid increases, in general, as well as increased assistance in social sectors. Taken together, these issues clearly pointed to the potential self-interest for industrialized countries to assist developing countries. They represented an important new political understanding that had begun to surface in international discussion around this time.

The report further warned against arbitrary international guidelines and mentioned potential effects of the environmental issue on international economic relations. It advised that negative effects should be reduced and the potentially positive ones increased, warning that otherwise, confrontation between industrialized and developing countries would be inevitable. This was very much a trade-related concern due to the fact that GATT trade liberalization had often favoured industrialized countries. (74)

This groundbreaking report has been described as “one of the most authentic enunciations of the South’s collective interests on issues of environment and development.” (75) Its basic messages have been guiding the stance of the G77 ever since.

It was also a product of its time. It expressed optimism and faith in the dominant public sectors in developing countries and in the instruments of national planning.

In the big picture, the Founex Report’s integrative message offered a conceptual tool that was later used in the preparations for the Stockholm Conference to demonstrate that there was no inherent contradiction or conflict between environment and development.

It generally assumed there would be a greater preparedness by industrialized countries to increase their overall development assistance efforts. At the same time, as indicated above, it specifically stated that environment protection would entail increased costs, thus retaining the additionality concept from the preceding UNGA session. The participants did not support the idea of a special fund for this purpose, but stated that new funds for environmental protection measures should be “clearly earmarked” and “additional”. By continuing to refer to additionality, Founex, notwithstanding its decisive contribution to the Stockholm process, cemented the widely held view in both the North and the South that there was in fact a conflict between environment and development concerns.(76)


74 Selin and Linnér, p. 24.
75 Ibid., p. 24 quoting Adil Najam (204:231).
76 Jim MacNeill, note to author 2009-02-12.