Globalization and the Environment
Globalization and the Environment

These questions have arisen mainly as a result of increased economic integration, but globalization has also meant an important conceptual change in the way we think about the environment. Many of us now see environmental problems as being of international concern, not just national interest—such as protection of the oceans and the atmosphere from pollution. The environment is now considered the “common heritage of mankind,” and environmental problems are increasingly the subject of international efforts because of their cross-border effects and the impossibility that just one or a few nations can solve these problems on their own (Baslar, 2011).

A legion of public international and private non-governmental organizations therefore seek solutions for environmental issues, such as the United Nations Environmental Program, Greenpeace, and the Worldwatch Institute. A multitude of treaties have been concluded to harmonize governmental policy on environmental protection. Some environmentalists have even proposed the creation of a “world environmental organization” to coordinate international environmental policies.

There is a growing body of literature from environmentalists and NGOs about the importance of such global environmental governance (Esty, 2001). A 2007 proposal by former French president Jacques Chirac for the creation of such a body within the UN garnered the support of over forty other countries. A dialogue about such an establishment has also reached the top levels of the WTO where it has been suggested numerous times by directors and is debated in annual public forums and conferences. The UN environment body has not been created mainly because of the unwillingness of the United States and China. In January 2012, France again called for the creation of a World Environment Organization to prevent resource conflicts and the growing threat of global climate change, however this was again rejected in the Rio+20 conference. The conference did, however, result in stronger
proposals for strengthening the current United Nations Environmental Programme (Johnson, 2012).

Others have questioned the need for rigorous environmental protection, however, on scientific,economic, and sovereignty grounds. Critics of environmental protection argue that alleged dangers, such as global warming, have been exaggerated and the economic harm from regulation of natural resources has been minimized, in pursuit of a radical, anti-capitalist agenda. They argue that too much regulation is both unnecessary and ultimately harmful because it keeps people poor by preventing the competitive use of their resources (Murray, 2006).

In contrast, advocates of environmental protection say that unregulated economic activity has led to environmental destruction and must be slowed, and they say that their critics are uniformed and pursuing their own agenda of unfettered capitalist expansion (Malakoff, 2007).

Environmental protection can entail a drag on economic growth in the short-term. Industries that have to adjust to environmental regulations face disruption and higher costs, harming their competitive position. The question is what to make of this. Some argue that it may be worth slower economic growth in order to protect the environment. Others say that the free market and technological advances are the best tools to solve environmental problems and lift people out of poverty, rather than greater regulation.

The link between the environment and economic development may be more complex than that, however. In fact, in many ways, protecting the environment and promoting economic growth are complementary goals. Poverty in developing countries is a leading cause of environmental degradation. For instance, “slash-and-burn” land-clearing by subsistence farmers has been a major cause of depletion of the Amazon rainforest (Butler, 2012). Boosting economic growth may then be an effective tool to promote protection of the environment. This is the idea behind the sustainable development movement, which seeks to advance economic opportunities for poorer nations in environmentally friendly ways.

Source: The Guardian News

According to the National Institute for Space Research, deforestation in the Amazon rainforest has fallen to its lowest levels in 24 years, which coincides with pledges by Brazil to reduce deforestation by 80 percent by 2020. Further, better enforcement of environmental laws and surveillance technology has caused the drop in deforestation (Associated Press, 2012). Despite this drop, deforestation remains an issue in other parts of the world where laws are not enforced or monitored.

This Issue in Depth examines the critical environmental challenges facing the earth within this framework that environmental problems are now recognized as global issues requiring solutions coordinated among many nations. However, disagreements about how to proceed, particularly over the trade-off between environmental protection and economic development, have hampered these efforts.

First, we will look at some specific disputes involving the environment and free trade as a means to illustrate the difficulty of balancing these concerns and to see how the international trading system has approached the problem. Second, we will examine environmental problems in the larger context of international politics and discuss multilateral efforts to solve environmental problems. In conclusion, we will look at the idea of sustainable development to see if it can produce the balance between economic growth and environmental health that its supporters hope to achieve.


Next: Are International Trade and Protection of the Environmental Enemies?