27 March 1987 - 29 March 1987

Economic Growth and the Environment: Conflict or Opportunity

Chair: Sir Arthur Norman KBE DFC

On the weekend 27-29 March the conference at Ditchley was on "Economic growth and the environment: conflict or opportunity?". The chair was taken by Sir Arthur Norman, Chairman of De La Rue and high office-holder, past and present, in the World Wildlife Fund, the Nature Conservancy Council, the International Institute for Environment and Development and the UK Centre for Economic and Environmental Development. Several of the British and American participants were leading members of these or similar bodies. There were participants from France, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Norway, Sweden, Finland and Pakistan. Two of these doubled as participants from the World Bank and OECD. The Member of the Commission of the European Communities responsible for environmental questions was present throughout (this is the European Year of the Environment), and a Deputy Secretary General from the Commonwealth Secretariat also attended.

Somewhat surprisingly, the tendency during the first two days of the conference was to argue that conflicts between economic development and the environment were not, or need not be, acute and that opportunities to reconcile them were in general being seized. Many of those present seemed to want to claim that progress was being achieved in their own particular fields and prudently refrained from making the discussion uncomfortable for others.

It was argued that development in the underdeveloped countries could be, and even was being, conducted in ways which helped environmental conservation, and vice-versa; that, with a few micro-economic adjustments here and there, the so-called post-industrial societies of the west were looking after their environments reasonably satisfactorily and that progress on environmental issues should be seen in the context of broad progress in health, education, housing, employment, etc.; and that international cooperation in environmental matters was being conducted well enough already, so that calls for a stronger institutional framework for international action or more money for environmental cooperation were unlikely to be, indeed did not need to be, heeded.

This complacent view did not survive the plenary discussions on the Sunday. A handful of environmentalists discovered that Ditchley can be enlivened by mild polemics. They even banded together to produce a dissident report; and they ensured that, in its final stages, the conference took account of the dangers which were now looming as the human race began to press up against the limits of the living space available to it. It could not be assumed that rapid scientific and technical advances would solve or circumvent the great problems of pollution arising in the seas and atmosphere, or the problems of resource depletion throughout the world, particularly the depletion of fuel reserves, forests, watersheds and wetlands. The advance of knowledge was achieving wonders, but it was nonsense to describe society as post-industrial; and population numbers could not increase without consuming increased resources, even if not always the same resources. The countries of the third world where population pressures were highest would not acquiesce indefinitely in dictation by the industrialised countries of the way in which resources should be used.

At the end, the sense of the conference seemed to be that it was high time to press for environmental conservation to be included in summit agendas. The United Nations Environmental Programme was a failure, but international action was very much needed and ways would have to be found to stimulate it. Pressure on governments was required in order to persuade them to take positive action to create an adequate international framework for action. And the main field for international action would have to be the third world where economic development and environmental protection could go hand in hand only if massive help continued to be given to the poor and crowded countries in the solution of their debt and other problems.

As regards the industrialised world, the consensus at the end of the conference seemed to be soberly positive. It was possible to achieve a great deal by ensuring through fiscal and other policies that exploiters of natural and environmental resources of all kinds paid the full costs, long-term as well as short-term, of depleting them; and comprehensive assessments of these costs were becoming more readily attainable as environmental concerns were moved further to the forefront of public attention. The setting and strict enforcement of standards by governments were now more widely expected and accepted. The international organisms of the developed world, more particularly the OECD and the European Community, were establishing policy norms which had a world-wide effect because of the economic weight of their membership. Progress, though slow, was being made in dealing with trans-boundary pollution; and consciousness of threats to the common heritage of mankind (sea, air, the climatic balance, etc.) was being raised to levels at which really effective international control action might become possible.

The Foundation will be holding a conference at the end of October on population growth and population shifts. This will give an opportunity to examine some of the same subject-matter from a different angle. The proliferation of the human race and its concentration in mega-cities creates pressures of man on man which are at least as serious as the pressures of mankind on the natural environment.

This Note reflects the Director’s personal impressions of the conference.  No participant is in any way committed to its content or expression.

Conference Chairman: Sir Arthur Norman KBE DFC
Chairman (Chief Executive 1972-77), The De La Rue Company pic; Vice-Chairman, Sun Life Assurance Society; Director, SKF (UK) Ltd; Treasurer and Chairman of the Executive Committee, International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED); Member, Nature Conservancy Council.


Mr Claude Gerryn

Environmental and Safety Liaison Manager, Ford of Europe Inc, Brussels; Chairman, Environment Committee, Business and Industry Advisory Committee to the OECD; Member, Environment Committee, International Chamber of Commerce.

Mr Hartley Booth

Special Adviser, Prime Minister’s Policy Unit, 10 Downing Street.
Mr Sydney Chapman, MP
(Conservative), Chipping Barnet; Member, House of Commons Select Committee on Environment; Chartered Architect and Chartered Town and Country Planner; freelance writer; Chairman, Parliamentary Consultants Group, British Consultants Bureau; Member, House of Commons Services Committee.
Dr Peter Chester, Director
Technology Planning and Research Division, Central Electricity Research Laboratories, Central Electricity Generating Board (CEGB)
Mr David Cope
Director, the UK Centre for Economic and Environmental Development (CEED)
Sir Peter Harrop KCB
Chairman, UK Co-ordinating Committee, European Year of the Environment
Mr Peter Heron
Head of Group Environmental Services, British Petroleum Company pic.
Mr John Maddox
Writer and broadcaster; Member of the Programmes Committee of the Ditchley Foundation.
Mr Graham Mason
Director, Company and Environmental Affairs, Confederation of British Industry (CBI).
Dr John A McGinnety
Director, Policy, Planning and External Affairs, Natural Environment Research Council.
The Hon Jonathon Porritt
Director, Friends of The Earth
Mr John M Raisman CBE
Director, Vickers pic, Glaxo Holdings pic, Lloyds Bank pic; Government Director, British Telecom; Chairman, CBI Europe Committee; Member, Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution; Council Member, UK Centre for Economic and Environmental Development (CEED).
Mr Mark Schreiber
Member, Editorial Staff, The Economist, Lobby Correspondent; Member, Countryside Commission, Development Commission.
Mrs Anne Simor
Director UK, The America-European Community Association, London.
Sir Crispin Tickell KCVO
Permanent Secretary, Overseas Development Administration, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO); Ambassador and Permanent Representative-designate to the United Nations
Mr Brian W Walker
President, International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED);
Mr P F Weatherilt
Chief Environmental Planning Officer, British Gas pic.
Mr Max Wilkinson
Resources Editor, Financial Times

Sir Peter Marshall KCMG

Commonwealth Deputy Secretary-General (Economics)

Mr Anthony Brenton

Deputy Head of Cabinet of Commissioner Clinton Davis, Commission of the European Communities, Brussels.
Mr Stanley Clinton Davis
Member, Commission of the European Communities, Brussels, with special responsibility for Environment, Consumer Protection, Nuclear Safety, Forests and Transport; Member, Executive Committee, Labour Finance and Industry Group.

Dr Klaus A Sahlgren

Retired as Under-Secretary General, and Executive Secretary, Economic Commission for Europe (ECE), United Nations (UN) (1983-86)

Monsieur Thierry Chambolle

Directeur de la Prévention des Pollutions, Ministère de I’Environnement.
Mme Isabelle de Tavernost
Bureau de M Thierry Chambolle, Ministère de I’Environnement.

Dr Rainer Klemmt-Nissen

Head of Legal and Planning Section, Environmental Authority, Hamburg.

Dr Pieter Winsemius

Director, McKinsey & Company (Management Consultants)

Mr Erik Lykke

Director, Environment Directorate, OECD, Paris.

Mr Karl Erik Norrman

Deputy Assistant Under Secretary, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Stockholm

Mr A James Barnes

Deputy Administrator, US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
Mr Christopher J Daggett
Regional Administrator, Region II, US Environmental Protection Agency, New York.
Mr James R Ellis
Senior Partner, Preston, Thorgrimson, Ellis & Holman (Attorneys), Seattle; Deputy Prosecuting Attorney, King County
Mr Frederic D Krupp
Executive Director, Environmental Defense Fund, New York; General Counsel, Board of Directors, Connecticut Fund for the Environment, New Haven; Member, Board of Directors, League of Conservation Voters, Washington, DC.
Mr Fred O Pinkham
President, Population Crisis Committee, Washington, DC; Consultant to Department of Health, Education and Welfare, Agency for International Development (AID), and corporations, foundations and associations
Mr Martin J Rosen
President, Trust for Public Land, San Francisco, California.
Professor Walter Rostow
Rex G Baker Jr Professor of Political Economy, University of Texas, Austin
Dr H A Schneiderman
Senior Vice President for Research and Development, Monsanto Company, St Louis, Missouri
Dr Toufiq A Siddiqi
Special Assistant to President, East-West Center, Honolulu, Hawaii
Dr Ellen K Silbergeld, Chief Toxics Scientist, Environmental Defense Fund, Washington, DC; Member, Scientific Advisory Board, EPA

The Hon Russell E Train
Chairman of the Board, World Wildlife Fund, Washington, DC; Senior Associate, Conservation Foundation; Co-Chairman, Year 2000 Committee; Director, Resources for the Future, Alliance To Save Energy, American Conservation Association.

Mr S Shahid Husain

Vice President, Operations Policy, World Bank, Washington, DC.