Awareness Only Can Contribute to Solve Environmental Degradationby Opinion Express June 29, 2018 0 comments
The problem of environmental degradation can be resolved only with the awareness among the people. Spreading the economic values and assembling the youth are the only solutions.
The re-election of Recep Tayyip Erdogan has led analysts and scholars to comment on an intensified move that this development represents towards a worldwide transition from democracy to autocracy. On Sunday with an unprecedented 87 per cent turnout, voters have given “their autocratic President another unprecedented mandate…”, according to an article by David A Andelman, published and disseminated by CNN. The article concludes that vastly large stretches of the world are more concerned about the basics of food, housing and personal safety. With these overwhelming priorities, democracy seems to take a backseat as people express their choice solely in favour of seeking and securing the necessities that will help them survive today.
The current move towards the imposition of tariffs on imported goods initiated by US President Donald Trump is clearly creating the conditions for a complete reversal of open trade and globalisation achieved over many years of sustained efforts. While this could have a negative effect on the global economy, there is another aspect of serving populist objectives and national economic interests alone which could have serious implications for all life on this planet.
The US decision for withdrawing from the Paris Agreement on climate change is, of course, an explicit move towards reversing an Agreement reached by the previous President of the US, but more than that it is a retreat from the responsibility for global action by a nation which is historically responsible for the largest share of cumulative emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG).
Human-induced climate change is the result of the large concentration of GHGs resulting from their emissions in the past from burning of fossil fuels and deforestation. Climate change, therefore, and other threats to all life on this planet have come into existence because policies adopted by nation states have put their own narrow economic interests before the need to protect the global commons. It is another matter that destruction of the global commons will impose a cost on one and all from which even those nations which have achieved economic gains on the back of neglecting their environmental responsibilities will not be able to escape.
In January 2013, a group of UN agencies brought out a think piece entitled “Global governance and governance of the global commons in the global partnership for development beyond 2015”. This document was an effort to provide a basis for initiating an informed dialogue on a subject which was important to address as the world came to the end of the period for reaching the Millennium Development Goals.
The then Secretary General of the UN, Ban Ki-moon, rightly focused on the global challenges facing human society and all living species in coming up with a process and an intellectual foundation that resulted in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This report stated, “Deepening economic globalisation, and increasing migration, trade and capital flows, and climate change and increased activities in the global commons — those resource domains that do not fall within the jurisdiction of any one particular country, and to which all nations have access — make individual States more susceptible to policies adopted by others.”
As an example, it can be stated that while the hurricane season of 2017 devastated large parts of the Caribbean and North American regions last year, the worst sufferer has been the island of Puerto Rico which has still not recovered from the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria. The lack of infrastructure and means in the poorest regions of the world make them particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and damaging the global commons.
The UN System Task Team referred to above articulated the need for a stronger UN system and a more effective governance arrangement to deal with the protection of the global commons. It mentioned that environmental sustainability, the third dimension of sustainable development, is undoubtedly characterised by a weak global environmental governance regime that is very fragmented. The move to a protectionist stance and steps towards authoritarianism in evidence today clearly imply a retreat from collective responsibilities towards protecting the global commons.
Among today’s world leaders with unusual power the one who stands out with his conviction in favour of protecting the global commons is President Xi Jinping of China. Under Xi’s leadership protection of the environment has not only been given high priority for solution of local environmental problems but the country has shown strong resolve in tackling climate change at the global level. In fact, the Paris Agreement was facilitated to a large extent by the joint efforts of President Obama of the US, who, in his second term became pro-active on climate change issues and President Xi of China.
By definition, global commons represent those parts of the planet that fall outside national jurisdictions and to which all nations have access, such that the benefits from such access accrues to all. International law identifies four global commons, namely the High Seas, the Atmosphere, the Antarctica and the Outer Space. Human activities are threatening these at an alarming level, resulting from increase in activities such as fisheries, bioprospecting, navigation, aviation and scientific research.
More recently, the increase in the use of plastics has been found to create unprecedented dangers to marine life and marine ecosystems even at locations remote from human habitation. Dramatic projections show that by the middle of this century, the volume of plastic under the ocean would exceed the quantity of fish.
In realisation of the threat that the ocean is facing from this form of pollution, we find a new resolve in some countries to cut down significantly on the single use of plastics. The European Union (EU), in particular, has taken the lead in coordinated measures towards reduction of single use plastic consumption.
Countries which have implemented policies of an exemplary nature, including some countries on the European continent, particularly in the Nordic region, have been able to do so as a result of a high-level of awareness on the scientific facts related to degradation of the global commons, the resulting cost and severe impacts that every society would have to bear and the co-benefits of actions to deal with the problem.
The answer lies in widespread awareness of the problem, the growing ease and economic merits inherent in feasible solutions and thus mobilising the youth of the world, in particular, to take action. It is after all their future which is at stake. Authoritarian leaders in the countries where they are elected will not be able to ignore the will of the people, if this involves the security of their children for which youth must demand policies to minimise damage to the global commons.
(The writer is former chairman, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2002-15)
Writer: R K Pachauri
Courtesy: The Pioneer