Putting a planet before politics

Global Environmental Politics
February 26, 1999

By looking at the policies pursued by a single southern nation with respect to three specific global environmental issues, Mukund Govind Rajan is able to demonstrate how complex internal and external politics of the environment translate into international policies.

India's is a significant presence in global environment matters. Its huge population (with stark regional and class disparities), its rapid industrialisation, its status as one of only 12 "megadiversity' nations in the world, its role since independence as a leading member of major southern organisations (for example the Non-Aligned Movement and G-77), its potential for being a role model when it comes to protecting and/or despoiling the environment, the critiques to conventional development paradigms that it has contributed (Chipko, Narmada Bachao) - these, among others, make India singularly fitted for a detailed study of the kind undertaken in Global Environmental Politics: India and the North-South Politics of Global Environmental Issues .

Rajan uses the framework of international relations analyses of interstate negotiations to study India's international environmental policies. Of particular interest is the second chapter, where he studies the processes behind and the traditions and values enshrined in India's foreign environment policy. He concludes that the Indian government has enjoyed a degree of autonomy in the policy-making process that few other democratic governments have.

"Other actors, including political parties, environmental groups, business interests, and the media, who might typically be expected to play an important role in the formation of a country's foreign environmental policy, have generally exercised very little influence,' writes Rajan. Mercifully, things seem to be changing now.

Rajan also shows how India's need "to be seen as a responsible and trustworthy member of the international community' and its desire to be accepted as a leader of the third world has led it to adopt positions that do not fit into the neo-realist model of international relations analyses.

In this model, states are seen as "unitary, rational actors in an anarchic international system' acting as "defensive positionalists' trying to maximise their power vis-a-vis other states. India's behaviour fits more readily into the neo-liberal model where non-structural considerations - for example, values, norms, traditions, interdependence, international institutions and groupings, and so on - "help moderate the international anarchy, thereby allowing states to pursue interests other than power maximisation'.

The detailed studies of India's foreign policies with respect to ozone depletion (chapters three, four), climate change (chapters five, six), and loss of biodiversity (chapters seven, eight) lead Rajan to the conclusion that the neo-realist model is inadequate since these global environmental issues had fundamental differences in policies adopted and net outcomes for the countries of the south in general and India in particular.

His statement that "despite the general sense of weakness of developing countries in relation to the North, there was sufficient identity of interests ... to sustain Southern solidarity through negotiations with the North' is heartening although he warns that it is still "unclear how developments in the future will effect the unity of the third world coalition'.

The environment is too important to be sacrificed at the altar of narrow national interests (not that nations have not tried!). North-South cooperation is something devoutly to be wished for if we hope to be able to continue as custodians of our fragile planet.

Like the best works in the fast expanding realm of environmental studies, Global Environmental Politics breaches several disciplinary boundaries and should appeal to those interested in post-colonial history, development studies or the social sciences in general, apart from its obvious constituency of environmentalists and international relations buffs.

Samantak Das is a lecturer, Visva Bharati University, India, formerly on the eastern region committee, World Wide Fund for Naure.

Global Environmental Politics: India and the North-South Politics of Global Environmental Issues

Author - Mukund Govind Rajan
ISBN - 0 19 564048 9
Publisher - Oxford University Press
Price - £22.50
Pages - 330

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