De Lange Conference III


De Lange - Woodlands Conference
March 3 - 5, 1997
Rice University, Houston, Texas

A Conference Jointly Sponsored by:
Energy and Environmental Systems Institute (EESI) at Rice University and the Center for Global Studies at Houston Advanced Research Center (HARC)

In partnership with:
National Academy of Sciences (NAS) and the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy at Rice University

The Energy and Environmental Systems Institute (EESI) at Rice University and the Center for Global Studies at Houston Advanced Research Center (HARC) are co-sponsors of the upcoming De Lange ¨ Woodlands Conference on March 3-5, 1997. The De Lange ¨ Woodlands Conference is the synthesis of a merger between the De Lange Conference held biannually at Rice University and the Woodlands Conference held annually in The Woodlands. The merger of the two conferences resulted from a shared interest by EESI and HARC in the proposed theme of Sustainable Development: Managing the Transition. A number of the faculty and researchers at Rice University are actively involved in research on sustainable development and the Two Lagunas Region (a geographical area along the Texas-Mexico Border associated with the Laguna Madre North and South). HARC researchers are actively engaged in the Global Commons Project, a project of the National Academy of Sciences, which explores sustainability concepts. The two sponsoring organizations, through their collaborative effort, bring together a rich set of concepts and action strategies on sustainable development and offer a world class program on sustainable development throughout the planned De Lange - Woodlands Conference.

For a decade, sustainable development has been discussed as a new paradigm for development. The De Lange ¨ Woodlands Conference will focus on taking stock of what has been learned and will define where the United States and the international community are located on the road to sustainable development. In addition, the conference will explore the cutting edge elements of sustainable development and the types of changes that sustainable development portends for all sectors: the academic/scientific community, the private sector -businesses and Non Governmental Organizations (NGOs) - and policy-makers. It is the goal of the De Lange ¨ Woodlands Conference to not only present these ideas with the most interesting and provocative speakers that can be identified, but also to offer demonstration of sustainable development projects and actions that produce understandable productive dialogue and recommendations for action. It is anticipated that the conference will result in a number of publications characterizing the transition between past practices and sustainable actions, recommendations for the role of the private sector in fostering sustainable development, and recommendations for further research and project activities.

General Conference Format and Audience

The De Lange Conference will be presented over a period of three days. Over 400 people from the academic/scientific, private sector (business and NGOs) and policy-making communities are expected to attend. The three day conference will be devoted to the presentation of six plenary sessions, including:

  1. Sustainable Development: Defining our 21st Century Challenges
  2. Achieving Ethical and Equitable Leadership
  3. Scientific Issues and Uncertainty in Decision-Making
  4. Market Tools: Trade, Pricing and Signals
  5. Stakeholders, Empowerment and Dispute Resolution
  6. Charting the Roadmap: Institutions, Leadership and Policies.

What is Sustainable Development?

Sustainable development will be one of the most important topics for the 21st century. The term sustainable development refers to development that can meet the needs of present generations without foreclosing the options of future generations to meet their needs. It is an attractive concept because it combines economic development and environmental protection into a single concept that is appealing to a wide range of interests. Sustainable development is a LARGE term - it covers many disciplines and is both philosophically-based and pragmatic. If implemented, the concept could alter fundamental underpinnings of the relationship between humans and the natural environmental system as well as relationships among nations, corporations and stakeholders.

The concept of sustainable development arises out of both the innovation and failures of the initial attempts of various nations and the global community to address environmental issues and economic development. In 1982, the World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED) was formed to study the global situation with regard to development and the environment and to prepare a report in honor of the founding of the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP). The WCED was chaired by Gro Harlem Brundtland, the premier of Norway, and issued its report, "Our Common Future" in 1987. This report noted the various problems of the 1980s, including Chernobyl, Bhopal, the drought in the Sahel, the international trade in hazardous waste, global warming and the stratospheric depletion of ozone, to mention some. The "Brundtland Report" recommended that a new approach called "sustainable development" be adopted as a global consensus on environment and development.

As a result of this document's publication, global interest in sustainable development accelerated substantially. During the next five years, the global political will to adopt the concept of sustainable development was being mustered. This effort culminated with the adoption of sustainable development as the global concept of development and environmental protection by the signing of the Rio Principles at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio de Janeiro in June, 1992. The signing of these development principles signaled the end of the first stage of sustainable development - the era during which the political will to adopt the concept was cultivated and realized.

The global community is now in the second phase of the evolution of the concept of sustainable development. There is great interest in, and controversy about, this term that has been politically adopted by virtually every nation in the world. However, there does not seem to be a real consensus as to the meaning of sustainable development although many of those familiar with the concept of sustainable development would agree that the concept is comprised of certain elements. Further, there would be general agreement that if the potential of these elements is realized, there is little doubt that significant changes will occur in the relationship between humans and natural system as well as among themselves.

Conference Topics

1. Sustainable Development: Defining our 21st Century Challenges
This presentation is a key to the entire conference because it is important to attempt to place sustainable development in the context of economic theory. The World Bank has been a leader in sustainable development thinking and may have the greatest stake of any institution in the concept. This presentation is challenged by a view that sees sustainable development as a new economic theory - a new way of addressing resource allocation and consumption in a "full world" rather than an empty world. Herman Daly is the most provocative and outspoken of a group of economists and ecologists that see sustainable development as representing a different set of economic principles and assumptions than any prior economic theory. Perhaps no session is more dependent upon the right mix of speakers than is this opening session on the economic foundation of sustainable development.

2. Achieving Ethical and Equitable Leadership
The second session is devoted to the many ethical issues that are associated with sustainable development. The incorporation of environmental protection into economic development thinking raises ethical and philosophical issues about humans and their relationship to nature. The incorporation of future generations into the realm of interests that are to be protected also raises ethical and philosophical issues. Many parts of the religious community have adopted the concept of sustainable development, most notably mainstream Protestant denominations such as Episcopalians, Presbyterians and Methodists, to name three. The Reverend Carla Berkedal for Earth Ministry in Seattle is a good speaker on this topic.

Certain members of the business community are setting forth new ethical standards with leadership being provided by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development. Ethics and engineering are being combined in the work of the World Engineering Partnership for Sustainable Development which discusses the incorporation of the ethical concerns for the natural environment as an integral part of 21st Century project design. Reverence for life and living things may be within the ethical construct of sustainable development, raising some interesting issues. Native Americans have always believed in the integration of ethical concepts of living with nature into their daily lives. Developing countries have different views of the ethical set than do the consuming countries. The possibilities here are exciting, relevant and new. This is one major topic of sustainable development that has not been widely developed in conferences and brings an interesting set of issues to the front.

3. Scientific Issues and Uncertainty in Decision-Making

Carrying capacity is an ecological concept that refers to the ability of a natural system to "carry" a certain "load" of consumers and producers. During the 1970s, carrying capacity began to be examined from the perspective of the Earth's ability to absorb human impacts and recover. Unfortunately, there are limits to our ability to understand ecosystem carrying capacity and uncertainty will often exist with regard to the consequences of our actions. A key element of sustainable development is to integrate carrying capacity concepts into economic thinking. However, because we do not have the knowledge to determine the carrying capacity of all systems, we must learn to make decisions in light of scientific uncertainty.

The discussion of carrying capacity, scientific uncertainty and decision-making is critical to a true understanding of the potential and the limits of sustainable development. The presenters here offer either (1) examples on the use of carrying capacity analysis and how it works or (2) discuss the proper integration of scientific uncertainty into decision-making processes.

4. Market Tools: Trade, Pricing and Signals
There are many who believe that sustainable development represents a fine-tuning of capitalist economic theory. The use of market tools is one of the most robust areas of discussion regarding sustainable development with its emphasis upon trade, pricing and signals. It also represents a theme central to the Global Commons project. Capitalist theory utilizes the market and prices to mediate transactions. If the price is not right, then the market will not correctly mediate the transaction. Historically, the market has not reflected certain costs such as pollution in the price, which is a well-discussed problem called externalities. However, the types of problems implicit in sustainable development will demand that the market consider issues such as resource depletion and need as well as more traditional externalities.

This issue becomes even more significant with the passage of the Uruguay Round of GATT (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade). For this reason, the session on market tools concentrates on trade, pricing and signals to explore the latest thinking on the role of the market system and the concepts to fine-tune this system to make it better reflect the issues of importance in sustainable development. In this regard, the issue of "signals" or information associated with the price may be extremely important.

5. Stakeholders, Empowerment and Dispute Resolution
One of the aspects of sustainable development that is truly unique is the importance that is placed upon all of the stakeholders participating in the decision-making process, particularly where conflict may exist over various alternatives. Again drawing upon the philosophical base of cooperation rather than domination, sustainable development emphasizes dispute resolution processes and full participation. Example after example exists over the successful resolution of resource allocation conflict by equal negotiation with all stakeholders rather than by winner-take-all domination tactics. In the process, various entities become empowered by sustainable development. This session emphasizes the practical and philosophical basis for stakeholder empowerment and the use of dispute resolution concepts in sustainable development models.

6. Charting the Roadmap: Institutions, Leadership and Policies

This is a topic that examines the subtleties of sustainable development. There is a set of philosophical/ethical concepts that underlie the concept of sustainable development and these philosophical and ethical underpinnings suggest that leadership and management may be quite different in a global community which emphasizes sustainable development. The World War II era (nee Medieval) view of leadership is hierarchical and dominating. It is doubtful that this is the model for leadership and management that will emerge in the 21st Century. In this session, the concept of leadership will be explored in the context of sustainable development and of the trends that have emerged in the late 20th century.

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