We Have Come A Long Way, But It’s A Long Journey Still

Man’s greed and his insatiable desire to fulfil his ever increasing wants have resulted in the exploitation of nature’s resources.

Nature faces the impact of man’s increasing dependence on technology and faster means of communication. The rays of the cell phones are causing hundreds of birds to die every day; they are even mortally harmful for humans. The amount of electronic waste generated has no ecologically safe means of disposal.

Overpopulation is leading to overexploitation of resources, growing disparities between haves and have-nots and lack of living space for several millions. This has several severe consequences on the environment. The subsequent need to provide people with basic food, clothing and shelter are at the cost of the natural habitats of flora and fauna, due to the limited availability of land. This neglect has endangered the survival of many species while some have even become extinct.

Man’s encroachment knows no bounds. The natural balance of many ecosystems such as forests, swamps, rivers, hills and deserts has been disturbed.

Then again, such problems may be restricted within the territorial boundaries of a nation and may be solved by collaborative efforts of a state and its people.

But there are so many other threats and issues that have cropped up in recent years that no individual state can tackle them on their own. They need the world’s attention: not just all states but also intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations and even trans-national corporations.

These are mainly the problems of global commons, over which no single state has jurisdiction. The commons are the high seas [oceans], the atmosphere, Antarctica and outer space. These need to be protected from the over-exploitative clutches of man and since these systems are illustrations of delicate balance in nature, these have to be kept in as pristine form as possible.

Already, there is a lot of the earth’s waste in outer space in the form of satellite wastes, and man has long invaded the oceans and several accidents in the seas have had disastrous consequences on aquatic life.

The depletion of and the hole in the ozone layer has long since been confirmed, but rectifications are far from over.

And the only land where humans haven’t settled yet is the land many nations are greedily eyeing shares of.

But really, it is only in Antarctica, the place without signs of human inhabitants that one can see the complex ecosystems functioning and the interdependence of biotic and abiotic elements of nature. It is also the place where one can see with the naked eye the impact of manmade changes to the climatic patterns of the world, and their direct impact on the delicate balance of nature.

Several treaties have been signed for the maintenance of these global commons these past few decades such as the 1959 Antarctic Treaty, the 1972 United Nations Conference On Human Environment in Stockholm and the consequent establishment of United Nations Environment Programme, the 1985 Vienna Convention For The Protection Of The Ozone Layer and the 1987 Montreal Protocol on the depletion of ozone layer. The establishment of an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 1988 reflected the seriousness of the problem that the body addressed.

The1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janerio, Brazil, lead to the publication of the Rio declaration and Agenda 21 which was a key point in the history of ecological conservation as it observed the participation and commitment of the maximum number of nations and non-state actors till that date. It also recognised the common but differentiated responsibilities of developed and developing nations regarding climate change.

Since the first world countries had already industrialised their economies and were thus responsible for majority of the emissions, it was primarily their responsibility to reduce emissions and ensure sustainable development for the third world nations.

Furthermore, there was the historic conference of the parties in Kyoto, Japan in 1997, where the Kyoto Protocol was signed.

This was a breakthrough in the global efforts on climate change as this summit not only brought to the attention of the world the impact of man on the ecology and the consequent changes in average global temperatures, but also brought environmental conservation on the focal point of national agendas and foreign policies.

This summit also bound the party states to reduce their carbon footprints to reduce “global warming”.

Nations could opt for carbon trading, i.e., trading carbon footprints with states not producing much carbon emissions in exchange for transfer of technology. They could also use clean development mechanism in their own countries and transfer methods for third-world states to have sustainable development. Another option was Joint Implementation through which countries could collaborate in their carbon emission reduction.

Although the Kyoto protocol expires in 2012, no subsequent arrangement has been agreed upon by all nations. The CoPs in Copenhagen, Cancun and Durban have failed to bring about a consensus amongst the world leaders regarding the responsibility and shares in the reduction of carbon emissions.

Like feuding brothers, states have been shirking off their responsibility and passing the blame onto other nations. USA is accusing that the fact that China and India, the two emerging powerful economies who are also the seat of the world’s largest population, despite having high emissions, are not binded to reduce them, is unfair.

On the other hand, China emits 14 percent of the global carbon di oxide emissions while India’s per capita emission is not even one percent. While USA accounts for the highest per capita emissions, in overall terms it is now superseded by China, which has the highest emissions currently.

Climate change demands urgent actions and nations cannot form policies or sign treaties concerning mainly humans; the whole ecological picture that often transcends boundaries needs to be taken into account.

Now that three major nations are evading the responsibility, the onus has fallen upon Russia and the European Union to reduce emissions, which cannot be done without having ambitious goals. UK has aimed to reduce its emissions to 50 percent of the 1990 levels by the year 2050. But, one needs to note that even if UK manages to achieve this astronomical goal, the emissions by USA and China are more than enough to counter the effects of these reductions.

Thus, balance is crucial to any plan of action regarding emissions.

Hopefully, the next leadership of USA that will assume office by the time the Doha CoP happens in November will take a more determined stance on the issue of emission reductions.

Otherwise, one need not predict what will happen; rather, natural disasters, earthquakes and tsunamis have become more familiar to the world today than we would like them to be.

Abhiruchi Chatterjee.

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