Environmental Protection

There are several environmental problems and lack of environmental sustainability in human activities isn’t a new and shocking revelation. We all understand the need to protect our environment and the impact of environmental damage and its repercussions very well. We need to understand that human ignorance is not the problem; apathy is. Indifference is. The blame-game is.

Common but Differentiated Responsibility

One of the reasons why climate change negotiations between countries (the Copenhagen Summit) didn’t work for all parties, is because of the principle of common but differentiated responsibility.

To elucidate – while the responsibility to stop environmental damage is common to all nations in the world, it is also necessary that a greater burden be placed on the Annex-1 countries, i.e., the developed countries.

Developed nations have emitted  large amount of carbon dioxide in the last two centuries, as a result of industrialization, the price of which developing nations such as India are paying. Most of the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere today is there because of the industrial revolution that occurred in today’s developed countries. It is then fairly logical  that these developed nations be obligated to a greater reduction in their emissions than a country like India which needs to grow and needs its own revolution to pull its 400 million poor people out of their distress. The principle thus requires that developed countries take the lead in combating climate change, and provide financial and technical support to developing and underdeveloped countries to do the same.

Multiple-country negotiations like the one at Copenhagen failed because Annex-1 countries were not too happy with the principle of common but differentiated responsibility. They argued  terms of emissions, India and China emit more , so modification in the principle is necessary.

Are the Annex-1 countries, especially the US, correct in asking India, China, Brazil and other developing countries to be bound by the emissions that bind them?

It helps to remember that the per capita emission of carbon dioxide in the US is far, far greater than in India and China. We, as developing nations, only emit “survival emissions” whereas the developed nations emit “luxury emissions”. The per capita carbon emission of an Indian citizen is about 1 ton of carbon dioxide per year, as opposed to 23 in the US. As the UNFCCC itself puts it, “The largest share of historical and current global emissions of greenhouse gases has originated in developed countries,” and “per capita emissions in developing countries are still relatively low.”

Despite the lack of any legal binding regulation to cut emissions in India, India has voluntarily set objectives to reduce its carbon emissions. However, the fact remains, at the end of the day the world leaders are miserably failing to come to a consensus on combating climate change. It is the common people who have to take things into their own hands and take responsibility for the environmental damage they are causing.

It is easy to sit in the comfort of a house, watch a documentary on climate change, and complain aloud about how world leaders are blatantly failing to save the environment. But if one could go to Antarctica and see the ice glaciers melt before one’s eyes – watch a 50 foot tall glacier melt completely in a matter of days – then one realizes that global warming is very much real, and happening this very second. If one could go to a slum and watch poor children drink contaminated water, because that is all they can have in the present situation of water crisis, one would immediately start saving water. If I filled his glasses and water bottles with water from river Yamuna, and told him that was the only source of water available, maybe he would be more inclined to fix the leaky tap in his kitchen today.

Let’s face it – the environment will exist as long as the Earth exists. No amount of damage to it is going to cease its existence. It is only going to become unfit for comfortable human survival. “Save the planet” is an incorrect phrase because the planet doesn’t require saving. It is us, the people, who require to be saved. From ourselves.

Harshini Shankar

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