Environmental Degradation

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UNITED NATIONS RESEARCH INSTITUTE FOR SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT

Environmental Degradation and Social Integration

UNRISD Briefing Paper No. 3 World Summit For Social Development November 1994

The United Nations Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD) is an autonomous agency engaging in multi-disciplinary research on the social dimensions of contemporary problems affecting development. Its work is guided by the conviction that, for effective development policies to be formulated, an understanding of the social and political context is crucial. The Institute attempts to provide governments, development agencies, grassroots organizations and scholars with a better understanding of how development policies and processes of economic, social and environmental change affect different social groups. Working through an extensive network of national research centres, UNRISD aims to promote original research and strengthen research capacity in developing countries. A list of the Institute’s free and priced publications can be obtained by contacting the Reference Centre, United Nations Research Institute for Social Development, Palais des Nations,1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland; Tel (41 22) 917 3020; Fax (41 22) 917 0650; Telex 41.29.62 UNO CH; e-mail: info@unrisd.org; World Wide Web Site: http://www.unrisd.org

Copyright (c) United Nations Research Institute for Social Development. Short extracts from this publication may be reproduced unaltered without authorization on condition that the source is indicated. For rights of reproduction or translation, contact UNRISD. The designations employed in UNRISD publications, which are in conformity with United Nations practice, and the presentation of material therein do not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever on the part of UNRISD concerning the legal status of any country, territory, city or area of its authorities, or concerning the delimitation of its frontiers or boundaries. The responsibility for opinions expressed in signed articles, studies and other contributions rests solely with their authors, and publication does not constitute an endorsement by UNRISD of the opinions expressed in them.

Acknowledgements
This Briefing Paper was prepared by Jessica Vivian. Solon Barraclough, Krishna Ghimire and Peter Utting provided substantive comments on earlier versions. UNRISD work for the Social Summit is being carried out with the support and co-operation of the United Nations Development Programme.

Summary
Human societies everywhere are closely linked to their natural surroundings. This paper examines the interrelationships between social integration and the environment: the impact that different patterns of social relations have on the state of the environment, and the influence of the environment—and especially environmental degradation—on social structures and institutions. Based largely on recent UNRISD research, the paper focuses primarily on rural areas in developing countries. Patterns of social integration influence natural resource utilization, and thus affect the condition of the physical environment, in a number of ways. The dynamics involved range from micro-level phenomena that collectively have a large impact on environmental conditions, to changing national and international social and economic structures. Social changes affecting the performance of local level resource management systems include population growth, the spread of national and international markets, and changes in land tenure systems, particularly those that result in land concentration. These factors have undermined traditional mechanisms discouraging overexploitation of natural resources. In addition, inequitable social structures, including unequal control over resources on the basis of class or gender, have been implicated in environmental deterioration. Environmental decline also impacts upon social structures. Social groups are affected differently: some may benefit from...
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