Our role is to provide solutions to governments

Posted on 14 February 2014    
portrait photo of Janos Pasztor, Director of Policy and Science at WWF International
Janos Pasztor, Director of Policy and Science at WWF International
© WWF/Konstantin Ivanov
Janos Pasztor is Director of Policy and Science at WWF International. He earned his MS and BS degrees at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). He has worked for various United Nations as well as non-governmental organizations on issues of energy, environment and climate change for some 35 years. Before joining WWF, he was the Executive Secretary of the Secretary-General’s High-level panel on Global Sustainability and directed the UN Secretary-General’s Climate Change Support Team. He attends the global WWF forest specialists meeting in Bulgaria this week.

In the current times of economic crisis is there a shift away from sustainability and climate change issues?

- The traditional kind of environmental protection that we have often been doing is simply extra cost to society. And depending on political or economic context we are willing to pay this extra cost or not. We are seeing in many places when the economic situation is difficult, what gets cut first is the environmental protection, the education, the social services.

Sustainability is not equal to environmental protection. It is not silo thinking. Rather, the opposite: a combined system where you try to look at environmental, economic and social issues together. What you want is maximum benefit overall – so that you have jobs, economic growth, while producing ideally zero or minimal environmental impact. If you look at it as a package, sometimes it’s a lot easier to find solutions than if you look at them individually.

I give you an example. If you just say, let us all use solar power. Now, solar power has reduced its cost but it’s still more expensive than cheap dirty coal. The government could say: “It’s too expensive, I don’t want to use it”. But if you can demonstrate that by solar power you can create local employment, then it becomes a different picture. This is what’s important for the sustainable development framework overall. You don’t look at just one specific item, but you look at it in totality.

Some governments in Central and Eastern Europe say that they’d prefer to work for the economic development of their country and think about nature later. What are your thoughts?

- If you simply focus on one element of that sustainable development framework, then maybe you can become rich quickly but maybe the cost for it in the medium and longer term will be such that you won’t be that much richer. If you cut out a valuable forest today, then tomorrow you will not be able to make use of that forest that has a value in terms of providing clean water. Water doesn’t come from a tap as our South-African colleagues have said. It comes from healthy ecosystems including forests. And if you don’t have clean water, you’ll have a water purification plant down the road.

In the short term it is possible to focus just on the economic growth and you’ll become richer, but it’s like putting your face in the sand and not realizing that you create a bit of richness but immediately after that you create problems down the road. There has to be a balance between creating wealth today, and maintaining healthy ecosystems to support people in the future.

This is our role - to demonstrate to the governments in this region that we don’t just come here to oppose things. Our role is to provide solutions to them – how we can do it better, how we can still do economic activity that will create jobs, while at the same time protecting the environment. And it’s hard work, there are no easy solutions.

A lot of jobs are being lost from the European region to faraway places. Now, is there some way we can connect with those countries and see how we can work better to make sure that either we don’t lose the jobs or at least if the jobs go, they really create wealth in those countries? Because very often this is what happens – there are jobs, but they are very poorly paid and have poor social controls. You’ve seen the textile factory in Bangladesh. Maybe as a network we can work with each other and try to make things better overall.

In the end of the day - and this is a very important part of the sustainable development approach - yes, there are some easy answers and some “win-win” solutions, but most of the time it’s all about trade-offs. It’s about difficult decisions, but we have to find solutions so that the trade-offs are easiest and produce the maximum social and economic benefit with a minimum of negative impact on the environmental, economic and social effects. That’s a challenge.

WWF is a science-based organization. From a scientific point of view why is it worth protecting nature in Central and Eastern Europe?

- We have to be careful - when we think of science we don’t just think of natural, physical sciences. We have to be evidence-based looking at physical, economic and social sciences as well. So it’s the totality of that picture that we need to look at. Now when you look at the scientific basis, there is a tremendous amount of nature, variety of biodiversity and ecosystems in the Danube basin and the Carpathians, there is a lot in terms of wolves and bears.

There is a lot to protect, there is no questions about that. The problem is, as always, that there are some people who want to protect and others who want to make use for some economic activity. That’s the real challenge.
portrait photo of Janos Pasztor, Director of Policy and Science at WWF International
Janos Pasztor, Director of Policy and Science at WWF International
© WWF/Konstantin Ivanov Enlarge

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