Environmental Problems and Co-operative Initiatives in the Asia-Pacific Region (1997)

This document has been made available in electronic
Format by the International Co-operative Alliance (ICA)
Dec., 1997
(Source: Co-op Dialogue, Vol.7, No.3, Sept-Dec.1997,

Environmental Problems and Co-operative Initiatives in the
Asia-Pacific Region by Robby Tulus
(This was a presentation made by Robby Tulus at the International
Symposium on Co-operative Environmental Initiatives organized by
the Japanese Consumers Co-operative Union at the Waseda University,
Tokyo on October 25, 1997)

As co-operators around the world found themselves awed by the intensity
of environmental destruction in the 1980s, many member organizations
of ICA such as JCCU, SCC, CCA, initiated action programs to promote
awareness and concern for environmental deterioration. It offers a
substantial opportunity for fundamental national and regional
commitments to sustainable human and economic development. In 1972
the United Nations convened the Stockholm Conference on the Human
Environment which led to the formation of the United Nations
Environment Program. The 20th anniversary of this Conference was the
Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. Prior to the Summit, the UN
sponsored the World Commission on Environment and Development
(WCED) which produced its report "Our Common Future" in 1987.
Questions were raised about the costs of economic growth based on
the newly predominant  model of outward market-oriented economy,
especially the cost to natural resource and environmental systems that
are the basis of economic activity and human welfare. This emerging
opportunity coupled with pressing global environmental threats presents
a clear dilemma for the co-operative movement - which way will
co-operatives go to help preserve and protect the environment ? To this
end, ICA ROAP undertook a series of workshops and published a number
of publications, primary of which was a concise booklet entitled "A Place
to Live - Roles Co-operatives can play in protecting the environment",
published in the year 1990. It was not until 1995 when ICA's commitment
to sustainable development was spelled out in its new principle of
"Concern for Community".

As such, 1995 was of particular importance to co-operators around
the world as it saw the formulation and formal acceptance of the ICA
Statement on Co-operative Identity (ICIS), essentially a re-expression
of the definition, values and principles of co-operatives to better reflect
the changing socio-economic environment worldwide. 

There are basically three major changes in the 1995 version of the
Co-operative Principles compared to the 1966 document. Two new
principles have been added, and two previous principles have been
combined to one.

The first new principle is that of "Autonomy and Independence", giving
emphasis on the virtue that co-operatives must be controlled and directed
by their members. The second new principle, which I think is highly
relevant for this International Symposium, is that of "Concern for
Community". As locally-rooted, member-responsive organizations,
co-operatives establish a close link with their communities.

There is a strategic imperative for co-operatives to practice the principle
of "Concern for Community", because  sustainable development must first
meet the basic needs of the community  through which members could be
made to understand and accept consumption standards that are within the
bounds of ecological possibility. Sustainable development is best
understood as a process of change in which the use of resources, the
direction of investments, the orientation of technological development,
and institutional change, all enhance the potential to meet human needs
both today and tomorrow.

It would therefore be pertinent to state that this International Symposium
organized by JCCU demonstrates its commitment to take up this strategic
imperative in order to enhance the role played by co-operatives in the
economic, social, and cultural development of their communities. 

It is well known to most co-operators in this region that a number of
development initiatives taken by JCCU have brought about "new age"
co-operatives which are active in the field of community health, youth,
gender and environmental protection.  All of these development initiatives
of JCCU support the concept of sustainable development where essential
needs of (low income) communities are met, taking into consideration the
limitations imposed by technology and society on the ability of the
environment to meet those needs.

Historically, co-operatives have fulfilled the socio-economic needs of
communities, and have enjoyed success in many countries. Co-operatives
are formed mostly by  lower-middle income families in the community,
to  promote their well-being and eventually to become self-reliant. By
their very presence, co-operatives become a countervailing force to
mitigate the negative effects arising from growth strategies which often
neglect environmental accountability. A measurement of success among
community-initiated co-operatives is generally attributed to the fact that
these co-operatives are capable in serving members' needs through the
provision of services such as credit, production, marketing, processing,
farm supply, and savings mobilization. While in the past these services
were provided in a prompt and efficient manner, nowadays serving
members' needs for the sake of efficiency alone is certainly not enough.
Co-operatives must also take into cognizance the negative effects arising
from production and consumer services on the environment.

It is therefore  most opportune that  JCCU has taken this exemplary step
once again to organize this international symposium, which in my mind
will definitely  create a renewed co-operative agenda for change -
regionally as well globally. All too often co-operatives indulge in
economic undertakings and inadvertently lose sight of the fact that
sustainable development cannot be reached without  taking environmental
concerns, and programs of social advancement, into consideration. In less
than two decades ago governments in both industrialized as well as
developing countries set (top-down) policies which focus solely on
economic development at the expense of the environment. The situation
has changed considerably during this past decade - especially after the
1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro - as governments and multilateral
agencies have begun to transform policies and patterns of activity by
taking environmental concerns into consideration, as well as gradually
focusing more on causes rather than on the harmful effects of
environmental neglect.

Likewise, there has been increased awareness and understanding within
the co-operative sector worldwide to shape their policies so as to pursue
a more integrated action-oriented programs based on both environmental
and economic considerations. Admittedly, Japan, Europe, and North
America have led the pack.

Nonetheless, co-operatives in many countries in the Asia Pacific region
have increasingly taken environmental issues, alongside gender concerns,
into serious consideration too.

To cite a few examples, bold initiatives taken by agricultural co-operatives
such as IFFCO in India and NACF in Korea reflect positively their
genuine concern for the environment. The credit union sector in some
Asian countries has already adopted ethical loan policies which purposes
are geared towards  environmental protection and preservation.

The momentum is right  for us co-operators to bring co-operatives into
centre-stage when speaking about environmental issues in this region.
Because it is only pertinent that natural resource and environment
management cannot be imposed by external forces but must be left to
the local communities by emphasizing  the delegation of decision making
and consensus building approaches to community development. 

Environmental issues are multidimensional in nature, and the multi
sectoral approach can effectively achieve a balance between resource
use and economic growth so as to minimize their adverse effects on the
environment. The fact of the matter is that governments can no longer deal
with environmental issues themselves , nor can it be left to scientists and
academics alone to solve this crucial issue. Both governments and
scientists must be backed by popular participation  at the grassroots in
their efforts to promote public understanding and awareness of the

Governments require proper institutional frameworks that involve
communities in the resolution of environmental problems. It is in this
context that co-operatives can play a crucial role in raising membership
awareness programs, with the support of expert groups who are more
capable in sharing their technical and scientific know-how.

While economic growth in Asia and the Pacific has been spectacular1,
such promising scenario does not hold for the environment in the region.
The current production mechanism, industrialization for economic growth,
may entail a further depletion of natural resources and raise the fear of
worsening the environment. There is also a continuing exhaustion of
resources arising from population growth and the intensification of
agricultural practices, urbanization, the prevalence of poverty, and an
increase in consumption levels in some sectors of society. Rapid depletion
of natural resources, and concomitant fallout seen in increasing air and
water pollution, urban congestion, solid wastes, and global warming, raise
the urgent need for promotion of sustainable development in the region.

With the advent of the Third Session of the treaty's Conference of the
(COP-3) in Kyoto in December 1997, the renewed initiative taken by
JCCU is a very timely one as it happens just after the Seventh Asia-Pacific
Seminar on climate change at Fujiyoshida, Japan, in early July 1997. The
outcome of the Fujiyoshida Conference, and JCCU's International
Symposium, could provide the needed impetus for the COP-3 in Kyoto in
December of this year.

Global Warming
It so happened that while preparing this paper on Global Warming, a
disaster occurred in North Sumatra, Indonesia, where 234 people were
killed during a plane crash as it approached  the smog-shrouded airport.
The smog is blamed on forest and ground-clearance fires in Kalimantan,
the Indonesian part of Borneo island, and in Sumatra.

The fire rage in much of Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei, Singapore, and parts
of southern Philippines and southern Thailand. It was alleged that many of
the fires have been deliberately lit by forest companies and plantation
owners wanting to clear land cheaply.

This ecological and human disaster is a clear example of corporations and
land owners wanting to reap as much profit as they can in a short period of
time at the expense of the environment. The smoke haze has contributed
to global warming as ocean temperature near the fires have increased

Experts believe that if global warming continues at the current rate, most
of the land in the Indonesian archipelago will be submerged. Coastal areas
are very sensitive to climate change and will cause sea levels to rise. As a
consequence, Indonesia will suffer more than any other country in the
world because most of the Indonesian territory is surrounded by sea,
making coastlines in  Indonesia the longest  in the world.

According to the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate
Change (IPCC), anthropogenic (human induced) greenhouse gas
emissions are significantly altering the earth's climate. By the year 2100,
average global temperatures are projected to rise by 2.0 - 2.5 degrees
Celcius. This projected rise in temperature represents a five-fold faster rate
of warming than that observed in the past century.

"Climate change" refers to any change in climate over time whether due
to natural variability or as a result of human activity. Climate change
historically has occurred as a result of natural forces, but is now occurring
in part because of human activities. Human activities over the past 200
years, particularly fossil fuel combustion, have been resulting in
significant anthropogenic greenhouse gasses, primarily carbon dioxide.
Emissions of these anthropogenic greenhouse gasses have already altered
he chemical composition of the atmosphere. This is creating an "enhanced
greenhouse effect", akin to an atmospheric blanket trapping gasses
beneath it. 

"Global Warming" refers to a long-term rise in the average temperature of
the Earth. Observations show that the global average surface temperature
has increased by about  01 degree Fahrenheit over the past century.
Analyses indicate that this is an unusually large, rapid, and prolonged
warming trend, and suggest that the warming is largely due to human

Sensitizing co-operative members on the impact of climate change and
global warming is not an easy task. First of all, climate has no market. We
must therefore infer a value on climate by showing what impact global
warming has on people, and then ask how much they are willing to "pay"
to avoid certain negative impact of climatic change both at present as well
as in the future. 

Another way of inferring value is to make the connection of global
warming and human health. Malaria and dengue fever serve as a prime
example of climatic sensitive diseases. The geographic range of malaria
is generally limited to the tropics and sub-tropics because the Plasmodium
parasite requires an average temperature above 16 degrees Celcius to
develop. However, malaria has been observed in non endemic high
elevations in Africa during unseasonably warm conditions. Climate-
related increases in sea surface temperature can lead to a higher incidence
of water-borne cholera and shellfish poisoning2. 

Human migration  and damage to health infrastructures from the projected
increase in climate variability and severity of storms could threaten human
shelters and public health infrastructures and indirectly contribute to
disease transmission. Human susceptibility to disease might be further
compounded by malnutrition due to climate impacts on agriculture3.

It is therefore critical to recognize that climatic effects have a great impact
on human health. Since most co-operative members in rural areas are
farmers, it is also important to initiate a campaign on reducing greenhouse

Global warming could have serious consequences for agricultural
production. Some effects may be beneficial but many would be adverse.
Climatic changes not only affect the quality of agricultural production,
but it may result in having farmers plant their crops in other locations
depending on the changing climate conditions.  Studies in Vietnam, for
instance, reveals the gloomy fact that the northern region of this country,
especially the Red River Delta, is the most sensitive to present-day climate

Rainfall fluctuations are strongest in this area and drought and flooding
frequently limit crop yields. The vulnerability of southern regions of
Vietnam is likely to rise as global warming develops. Where climate used
to be stable, and impacts on agriculture less frequent, climate change is
now occurring at a higher rate. The increased incidence of drought in
south Vietnam as rising temperatures increases evaporation water loss
would be a major impact on global warming.

The range of crops than can be grown may be reduced. Pest outbreaks may
become more frequent as temperature and humidity increases in the winter
months. And taking future trends into consideration, the Mekong Delta
and the coastal areas in the north of the central region are considered to be
the most vulnerable to the changes expected to occur as a result of global

The Co-operative Response
Many lessons can be learned from the impact of global warming.
Co-operative leaders must be made aware that a holistic approach to
development must be adopted. Co-operatives must begin to understand
that preventive, not just reactive, approaches must be undertaken. 

Reacting to the rise of globalization by making co-operatives more
efficient and effective is a good, but not necessarily the best, move. 
There always exist an inherent conflict between the path of economic
development and the need for environmental protection based on the
principles of sustainability.  Co-operatives must evolve a mechanism to 
integrate environmental concerns into their economic growth policies,
so much so that the integration will change inherent conflicts into

With reference to principle No. 17 of the Rio Declaration, environmental
impact assessment (EIA) needs to be built into the project cycle when
co-operatives undertake their planning exercise. It must also be coupled
with Environmental Risk assessment to abate unnecessary risks as a result
of co-operative activities which take place within natural ecosystems.

A. Environmental Impact Assessment
Impact Assessment is an examination, analysis and assessment of planned
activities with a view to ensuring environmentally sound and sustainable
development. Effective economic evaluation of the environmental impacts
of projects requires substantial information on the environment. It is
strongly recommended that co-operatives take EIA into their project
development cycle if they aim at reaching sustainability. 

Although many policies have been biased in favour of promoting
economic growth and competitive strength, it must be recognized that
EIA could instill a long term view towards sustainability without
jeopardizing economic growth. 

In doing so, EIA methodology should be developed  to give appropriate
monetary values to changes in physical impact resulting from global
warming and other environmental concerns. China, India, Indonesia,
Malaysia, Pakistan, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, and Thailand have
established legal provisions for government agencies to require EIA
approval of specific types of projects.

The EIA procedure used at present is more or less standardized and
consists of the basic steps of screening, initial environmental examination,
scoping, impact statement preparation, review and final decision,
monitoring and auditing. Many countries review projects on the basis of
their potential environmental impact, employing formalized outlines,
questionnaires, checklists, and matrices for screening, initial
environmental examination and scoping.6

Co-operatives have the advantage of being closely link to their members,
and hence to their communities. Education and training must therefore
address environmental issues, in the same way they address gender and
development, so that membership needs are not compromised but enlarged
into a long term goal of sustainability. In other words, EAI combines the
co-operative principles of "concern for community" with "member
economic participation".

B.   Environmental Risk Assessment
There is a widely accepted view on the need for risk assessment as a
useful method for integrating environmental concerns into projects.
Project decisions are increasingly required to ensure that social costs,
risks, and benefits are based on sound valuation of environment impacts
employing reliable data and empirical evidence.

Risk assessment and full economic evaluation of environmental impacts
provide a more complete picture of the true worth of a project by (a)
eliminating investment bias towards projects that promote the overuse of
natural resources; (b)demonstrating key fundamentals for the formulation
of environmental policies; (c) allowing comparisons of different projects
competing for scarce resources. Co-operatives must be at the forefront of
implementing environmental risk assessment  because it augurs well with
the co-operative value of self-responsibility, ensuring that services to
members must be safe and sound. 

Unlike risk assessment needed for mega projects undertaken by the World
Bank or Asian Development Bank, co-operatives can give
complimentarity by way of sharing their powerful "software" instrument
as they deal directly with members and can educate members to avoid
future risks to the environment. This can be done by assessing
co-operative policies and practices to ensure that the economic
undertakings of the co-operative will not be separated from environmental
issues. Based on the value of equity and equality, co-operatives must also
assess physical impacts on people by giving preferential options for the
poor in an effort to improve their well-being. Poverty is both a cause and
effect of global environmental problems. Bringing the poor to a level of
understanding where they will no longer be subjected to destruction of
natural resources is considered a good risk abatement strategy. 

Environmental risk assessment has been practiced by the Asian
Development Bank for notable projects such as the power plant in
Pagbilao, Philippines, the forestry project in Yunan Province, China,
and the Indonesian mangrove project sites.

While environmental issues will become increasingly politicized due to
public awareness and major lobbies by advocacy groups, co-operatives
can undertake more pragmatic approaches to these issues.

JCCU has, in no uncertain terms, recognized the power of the consumer
and has promoted "green consumerism" to provide environmentally
friendly products to their members. This track record must be proactively
exposed to other co-operative partners in the south to assure the
marketplace that  products will not involve practices that will harm
the environment. 

The growing recognition of environmental interdependencies must also
percolate to co-operative organizations in this region so that experiences
gained by advanced co-operatives such as in Japan, Korea, and India, can
be learned by other co-operative partners in developing countries for
institutional strengthening and regional/ international coordination and
co-operation. JCCU can take the lead to organize seminars on
Environmental Impact Assessment and Environmental Risk Assessment so that
co-operative projects in this region will be carefully analyzed to
meet acceptable standards.  Compliance monitoring can be introduced
to enhance environmental quality and reduce harmful practices.

Global warming is a very crucial issue because unless we curb greenhouse
gas emissions the rate of warming will only accelerate. We must also be
realistic that reduction of greenhouse gas emission to halt global warming
will take a long time to achieve.  The crucial consideration is for
co-operatives to be given the means of adapting to the changing
environment. Mechanisms to do so can take different forms : introduction
of new technology, changes in policy and practice, institutional reform,
new cropping patterns, etc. 

It would be interesting to see the results of the First Asia Pacific
Conference on Transportation and the Environment in May 1998 at the
National University of Singapore when they review the outcome of the
COP-3 and work out possible mechanism for operationalizing the regional
network for climate change.

Needless to say, this first and crucial step taken by JCCU to conduct this
International Symposium is but a beginning to renew the commitment of
co-operators to do more to protect our environment. Of importance is also
the fact that this Symposium  is also organized right after the Youth
Conference, and it is the young who have the greatest stake in the decision
to be made when we enter the new millennium. It is the young who will
ultimately translate the concept of sustainable development into new
norms of behaviour to assure a healthier and better life for all in the next

This historic milestone initiated by JCCU deserves special recognition as
it will advance the cause of integrated co-operative development that will
benefit millions of co-operative members in this region and beyond,
particularly the next generation.

Along with other government and non-governmental institutions we must
build the network to make development sustainable - to ensure that "it
meets the need of the present without compromising the ability of future
generations to meet their own needs".

1. The World Bank foresees a 7.2. per cent annual increase in economic
	growth in the region for the period of 1996 - 2005 which will exceed 
	8 per cent annual growth rate of G7 countries. Quoted from
	"Emerging global trends and the Asia Pacific region", in Economic
	and Social Survey of Asia and the Pacific 1997.

2. 	Patz, Jonathan A., Department of  Occupational & Environmental
	Medicine, John Hopkins School of Public Health. 

3.	Ditto.

4.	The greenhouse effect - resulting  from emissions of some
	greenhouse gases as a result of human activities over the past 200
	years. These anthropogenic greenhouse gases include carbon dioxide,
	methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), and ozone depleting substances
	and their replacements.
	They are generated by a variety of human activities, including fossil
	fuel combustion, waste disposal in landfills, use of refrigeration,
	agricultural and industrial practices, and deforestation.

5. 	Based on material provided by Dr. Nguyen Huu Ninh, Director,
	Center for Environmental Research Education and development.

6. Asit Biswas and S.B.C. Agarwal, Environmental Impact Assessment
	For Developing Countries (Oxford, U.K., Butterworth-Heinemann, 	1992)