Why are global environmental policies needed?
Our world is facing multiple environmental crises, especially from different types of pollution. Pollution from one country can affect a neighbouring country, or even have a global impact. For example, untreated industrial waste discharged into rivers causes pollution at its source but can also affect people who live downstream of the discharge point. In large river systems this can create problems if the river crosses a border with another country and carries the pollution with it (Figure 14.1).
Air pollution from factories, vehicles and wood fires contributes to localised health problems in towns and cities but is also moved around by wind and air currents. These emissions may also contribute to global-level climate change (Salih, 2001; UN-Habitat, 2014). Exporting polluting materials such as hazardous waste from one country to another also raises a concern. There are other ecological crises, such as extinction of animals and plants from the Earth because of destruction of habitats and hunting. Humans’ inability to respond to these various crises leads to a need for global policies to strengthen weak institutions and improve governance.
If you could view the Earth from space (Figure 14.2) you would see that we are all living on one planet and share one global environment. There is a great threat to our survival if humankind continues to damage the environment and if countries do not act together. We have shared responsibilities in caring for current and future generations.
If you had your own business, say a factory producing textiles, and you wanted to operate according to the principles of sustainable development, what would you need to take into account?
In Study Session 3 you learned that sustainable development involves ‘meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’. So, you would need to think about how your business would affect current and future generations. You would need to take into account the three pillars of sustainability – economy, environment and society. For economy you would need to consider both efficient and effective use of resources. For environment you should aim to use best practices that minimise the environmental impacts of your business. For society you would need to act responsibly and consider livelihoods, human health and well-being, equity, rights and quality of life, not just for current workers and their communities but for the future.
Protecting and managing our global shared resources requires institutions that support collective action (Ostrom, 1990). Such institutions include internationally agreed rules, laws and policies, as well as organisations. International agreements that become policies allow countries to work together in trade and investment and in addressing global concerns such as air pollution, water pollution, managing hazardous wastes, and climate change. All these issues are transboundary in nature, which means that the potential impacts from these events and developments cross national boundaries and affect more than one country.