“The ‘environment’ is where we live; and development is what we all do in attempting to improve our lot within that abode. The two are inseparable.” – Our Common Future
The environment provides essential material assets and an economic base for human pursuit. Almost half the jobs worldwide depend on fisheries, forests or agriculture. The non-sustainable use of natural resources, including land, water, forests and fisheries, can threaten individual as well as local livelihood along with national and international economies. Natural resources are the basis of subsistence in many poor communities. In fact, natural capital accounts for 26 per cent of the wealth of low-income countries. It is unequivocally accepted that environment plays a crucial role in maintaining and improving the health of people and ecosystems: from the well-managed soils and nutrients that underpin food production to the critical role of biodiversity in protecting human health against the spread of infectious diseases. Positive enforcements such as clean air in cities can go a long way in preventing illness and premature deaths of millions of people, saving society trillions of dollars. Despite the above stated facts, the environmental degradation has been rampant, undermining the social good it involves.
Today, we hear news replete with stories of environmental degradation across the globe, be it rising air pollution levels in Beijing or New Delhi, the sorry state of the Ganges and loss of critical biodiversity in the hotspots. Today, our environment is plagued with numerous problems, which has in a way outpaced the measures to control it. The emerging environmental issues of dead zones in coastal waters, resulting from excess nitrogen seeping into the water, presence of plastic debris in the mid ocean or the polar regions, chemicals entering our food system should definitely be an eye opener.
FENGHUA, CHINA—Jiajia Jhang, an employee of Fenghua Plastic Works Ltd., a plastics factory that manufactures lightweight household items for Western markets, expressed his disbelief over the “sheer amount of [crap] the world will buy.” “Often, when we’re assigned a new order for, say, ‘salad shooters,’ I will say to myself, ‘There’s no way that anyone will ever buy these,’” Jhang said during his lunch break in an open-air courtyard. “One month later, we will receive an order for the same product, but three times the quantity. How can anyone have a need for such useless [crap]?”
The above excerpt has been taken from Pulitzer prize winner, Thomas L. Friedman’s famous book ‘Hot, Flat and Crowded’. The instance clearly depicts where the world is headed, best represented by principle of consumerism.
Surely, the result is environmental degradation including increased air and water pollution, and problems of waste disposal. However, restricting development is not a solution; rather, it is important to ensure that it proceeds in the right direction causing minimal impacts on the environment. Although there have been several international treaties on how to safeguard the environment like the Convention on Long-range Trans-boundary Air Pollution 1979, Convention on biological diversity Rio 1992, Kyoto Protocol1997, Cartagena Convention on biosafey2000 etc. Also, the inclusion of environmental sustainability in the Millennium Development Goal 7, is critical to the attainment of the other MDG goals. However, all of these treaties and the measures decided upon fail to include the mechanism which accounts for the social cost incurred from the eco-system.
Moreover there has been a current trend of businesses that have adopted green technologies or people looking for simple ways to save the earth and do their bit for the planet. While small steps need to be taken, these actions are not enough. The false sense of ease combined with the inclination towards such movement may create a mirage where people are led to believe that the ecological crisis has already been addressed. Instead, the world needs a massive and coordinated effort as environmental change is global, unprecedented, and (tersely because of the complexity of the system like the trans-boundary nature of the GHG emissions) unpredictable. These changes will only increase, rather than decrease.
All of these impending risks compel us to include the Natural Resource Accounting for the goods and services produced. The externalities and the social cost arising from using the eco-system for our own good, makes the polluters accountable and should be held responsible to pay principle with transaction cost so that an efficiency can be arrived at while managing the natural resources.
Apart from the command and control mechanism, some incentivisation should be offered to the polluters for the social good they want to do. The science and policy too should work together for this overarching cause which would result in multiple benefits, slowing down the melting of polar ice and significantly improving human health.
By – Niraj Chourasia