Beyond Rio: The Environmental Crisis and Sustainable Livelihoods in the Third World

By Lansky, Mark | International Labour Review, January 1, 1995 | Go to article overview

Beyond Rio: The Environmental Crisis and Sustainable Livelihoods in the Third World


Lansky, Mark, International Labour Review


Ahmed, Iftikhar; Doeleman, Jacobus A. (eds.).

Beyond Rio: The environmental crisis and sustainable livelihoods in the Third World. Basingstoke, Macmillan, 1995. xix + 390 pp.

ISBN 0-333-63176-5.

This volume, published in The Macmillan Series of ILO Studies, was completed within the framework of the ILO research programme on environment and employment as an ILO contribution to the implementation of Agenda d 21, adopted by the 1992 UNCED Rio Earth Summit. In addition to Iftikhar Ahmed's introduction and analytical conclusion, it comprises 10 chapters contributed by economists and a social anthropologist from prominent universities and research institutes in Australia, Bangladesh, India, Israel, the United Kingdom, the United States and Zambia.

The book is divided into three main parts, respectively devoted to conceptual approaches, empirical studies and policy synthesis. Part I (Chapters 2 and 3) provides the analytical and policy framework for the empirical studies. It begins by examining the relationship between environment and development. This is done by statistically verifying the existence and measuring the strength of an inverted U-shape relationship (environmental Kuznets curve) between the rate of environmental degradation and the level of economic development. As economic development accelerates from subsistence activity to more intensive agriculture and resource extraction and the take-off of industrialization, the rates of resource depletion begin to exceed those of resource regeneration, and waste generation increases in quantity and toxicity. At higher levels of development, however, "structural change towards information-intensive industries and services, coupled with increased environmental awareness, the enforcement of environmental regulations, better technology and higher environmental expenditures, result in a levelling-off and gradual decline of environmental degradation."

Presented as the "core" of the book, Chapter 3 provides the hypotheses and theoretical framework for evaluating sustainable livelihood. In particular, it dispels some of the ambiguities surrounding the operational significance of this concept by setting out the criteria and conditions that need to be fulfilled in relation to the concepts of sustainable livelihood and environmentally sound technologies. An earlier version of this remarkable contribution by Charles Perrings was published in the International Labour Review in 1994 (Vol. 133, No.3, pp. 305-326).

Since the question of sustainable livelihoods basically relates to the survival of the rural poor, the bulk of the empirical studies in Part II deal with issues of natural resource management. Focusing on the agricultural sector of Third World countries, the opening chapter offers an in-depth survey of the use and effectiveness of various policy options for sustainable development. This is followed by a regional overview of sub-Saharan Africa, which examines the contribution of incentive structures to the overuse of natural resources and challenges "the view that the poor are exclusively responsible for following a suicidal path by rapidly descending a 'downward spiral' of poverty and environmental degradation.

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