Technology as a Lever
Local, regional, and global environmental degradation—such as loss of biodiversity, greenhouse gas emissions, worldwide deforestation, depletion of stratospheric ozone, urban air pollution, acid rain, pollution of freshwater and the oceans, contamination of arable land and loss of topsoil and shortages of water, food, materials, and fuels in many parts of the world—are of growing international concern. While there are great uncertainties about the causes and effects of global environmental changes, the consequences of these changes for national economies, human health, and quality of life could be severe.
The Council believes that the development and use of technologies that do not harm the environment is critical to maintaining and improving quality of life. The Council also recognizes that the wise use of technology is a necessary but not sufficient prerequisite for sustainable development. We are convinced, however, that socially compatible and environmentally sound economic development is possible only by charting a course that makes full use of environmentally advantageous technologies. By this, we mean technologies that utilize resources as efficiently as possible and minimize environmental harm while increasing industrial productivity and improving quality of life.
Historically, new technologies have evolved in response to population and economic pressures and demands for increased safety, better health, more nutritious food, economic welfare, security, and a sound environment. Technological advances have made possible new sources of energy, new materials, improved health care, increased industrial productivity and food supplies, global communications, and
remediation of environmental damage. These achievements, in turn, have helped rural areas, cities, and nations around the world to improve their standards of living and support growing populations.
Many aspects of economic development and environmental protection would not be possible without technology. Water-resources management, sanitation, transportation, energy production and use, manufacturing, communication, agriculture and aquaculture, education, and health care all have a significant technological basis. Similarly, the means to manage population growth have been made possible by pharmaceutical technologies—drugs and medical devices that have helped reduce birth rates in many parts of the world.
One important aspect of global technological advance is the transfer of technology from developed to developing nations. Power generation is a good example. Plants already technically established and economical in the industrialized world offer potential for increasing energy efficiency in the emerging, densely populated areas of Asia, Africa, and the Americas. While the technology clearly exists, investment incentives are called for if these capital intensive processes are to replace less efficient ones in the developing world as well as in the developed world.
To harness technologies for environmentally sustainable development, effective national and multilateral economic policies and management strategies that have sustainability as their primary objective are needed. In every region, the most important first step is to build indigenous technological capacity, which
includes trained experts who can understand and take advantage of existing technological knowledge.
While governments play a critical part in the attainment of sustainable development, the extensive capabilities of the private sector—particularly in relation to technology development and technology transfer—also have a key role. For example, industry is designing and producing products that consume less energy and make systematic use and re-use of materials to contain them within the economic system. Industry is also developing technologies to restore, protect, and manage natural ecosystems. To encourage the participation of the private sector, markets need to be open and intellectual property must be protected.