International Environmental Problems
The modern society is characterized by an unprecedented level of development. The technologies and social progress have made human life incomparably better than the life of people at any other epoch before. However, nowadays it is getting to be obvious that the mankind has a high price to pay for this progress which threatens to the future existence of humans as well as the life at large on the Earth. In fact, this is natural environment that humans probably unconsciously sacrifice for the sake of the progress. Nonetheless, nowadays, people grow more and more conscious of the importance of the problem of environmental protection as environmental problems have become really international.
Unquestionably, environmental problems cannot be located in a definite region or state but they inevitably affect the entire world and, thus, need united efforts of all nations throughout the world to get these problems solved. The necessity of the solution of environmental problems is nowadays practically unarguable and world political and economic leaders as well as numerous public and international organizations underline that it is necessary to work out effective tools to solve environmental problems, or at least, minimize their negative effects. Paradoxically, despite the recognition of the threat to the future of the world and mankind on the international level, the international environmental problems still remained unresolved or the efforts to solve them are insufficient. Consequently, it is possible to presuppose that there are serious obstacles in the way of solving the existing international environmental problem, which need to be researched in order to eliminate them.
Major international environmental problems
Before discussing the main obstacles that slow down the solution of international environmental problems, it is necessary to briefly dwell upon the major problems and find out its basic causes in order to better understand what the obstacles actually are. First of all, it should be said that nowadays the world community face a serious problem of exhaustion of natural resources that leads to numerous environmental problems which are international by nature as they affect the entire world. Among the most serious problems the mankind faces today may be named deforestation, acid precipitation and air pollution, rapid population growth, desertification, global warming, depletion of atmospheric ozone, ocean pollution, food production and equitable distribution (Durant et al 2004). It is necessary to underline that all these problems are closely interlinked and are interdependent. For instance, the growth of population leads to the higher need in food production that results in the enlargement of agricultural lands, the latter may gradually lead to desertification and deforestation of lands. Or else, the acid precipitation and air pollution, along with ocean pollution and depletion of atmospheric ozone lead to the global climate change resulting in the global warming.
Unquestionably, the major cause of environmental problems is human activity and, what is more, the most harmful is the growing economic activity of people which lead to larger exploitation of natural resources, industrialization of practically all regions and, consequently, to the growing pollution of the environment. In this respect, it should be mentioned that economic progress is traditionally associated with the industrialization, even though the leading countries are entering the post-industrial stage of the development, it does not necessarily mean that the level of pollution in these countries is getting lower (for instance, the share of the US is considered to be one of the largest in the world environment pollution), while developing countries still have to undergo the stage of industrialization to approach the developed countries in the standards and quality of life. In such a situation, environment becomes a ‘hostage’ of economic progress.
The rapidly deteriorating environmental situation poses new challenges that need to be solved and, thus, the world community has to unite its efforts in order to solve these problems. Naturally, the international community attempts to make certain efforts to solve the existing environmental problems. In this respect, it is worthy of mention 1972 Stockholm’s Conference, June 1992 Rio Conference on Environment, 2002 Johannesburg’s Conference on the Environment, which targeted at the development of the effective strategy of solving international environmental problems but, nonetheless, the effectiveness of these international efforts remains extremely low.
The main obstacles in the way of solving international environmental problems
Naturally, in such a situation it is necessary to find out the basic causes of the low effectiveness of international problems in solving international environmental problems. Obviously, it cannot be just the lack of political will or desire to minimize the negative impact of humans on environment and solve environmental problems. In fact, the major obstacles in the way of solving international environmental problems are more profound and quite objective.
First of all, it should be said that one of the main obstacles is the existing model of implementation of international environmental treaties. In fact, nowadays, each state has its own environmental policy and its own vision of the solution of environmental problems. Moreover, it is practically impossible to force a state to sign an international environmental treaty without its will to do it. As a result, international environmental treaties are signed only by those states that agree to comply with them, while others can simply ignore them.
Naturally, such a situation cannot contribute to the effective solution of international environmental problems since a single state or a group of state cannot solve the problems which are really global since it is impossible to decrease air pollution, for instance, when some states keep increase it. The same may be said about practically any global problem. In this respect, it is worthy of mention that the US, for instance, being one of the largest states that causes a serious harm to the environment, still refuses from Kyoto Protocol which is supported by European countries and Japan and it targets at the prevention of negative consequences of industrial pollution of the environment (Durant et al 2004). Obviously, the solution of international environmental problems should be based on the acceptance of important decisions concerning environmental protection by all states without exception, including the most developed and powerful ones.
Another serious obstacle in the way of solving international environmental problems is closely related to the previous one and, to a significant extent, defines it. To put it more precisely, regardless numerous conferences, researches, declarations and agreements, there are still no international police force to enforce such agreements and, as such, compliance to provisions and obligations of international environmental agreements depends on the good face of the states. Moreover, there are no punishments or rewards to check compliance. Practically, it means that all the treaties signed by states are formal and are not obligatory. Naturally, such an attitude to environmental problems cannot lead to their effective solution. It is obvious that any decision needs to be accepted by all responsible parties in order to be implemented effectively. This is why, in the current situation, the existing treaties and agreements simply turn to be totally useless as long as there is no effective tools and mechanisms that could change the attitude of states to their own responsibilities defined by international environmental agreements.
In actuality, practically all those treaties and agreements, even being signed by many states, rather resemble declarations than real efforts of states to solve the existing environmental problems. Beyond doubts, international treaties and agreements are the basis of the general struggle with the existing environmental problems but, at the same time, it is necessary to construct an effective system of the practical implementation of these treaties and agreements. In such a way, it will be possible to create mechanisms which regulate the responsibility of each state that signs an international environmental treaty or agreement and develop an effective system of control over the fulfillment of the treaties and agreements.
In fact, control is probably the key issue since nowadays there are practically no legal mechanisms which could force a state to fulfill its obligations in accordance with international environmental treaties. Obviously, the modern world lacks international institutions that could really focus on the development of effective ways of solving environmental problems and, moreover, control each state in order to realize the programs targeting at the solution of environmental problems on the international level.
However, there is even a more serious obstacle in the way of solving international environmental problems. This is the enormous gap that exists between countries in the modern world. In this respect, it should be said that the leaders of rich and poor countries have different perspectives not only on environmental problems but also on their causes and ways of solving. Practically, it means that often poor countries underline that their ‘contribution’ in the pollution of the environment is incomparably lower than that of developed countries. As a result, they view developed countries as the main source of the environmental pollution and many of the existing international environmental problems.
Furthermore, the level of economic development of poor and rich countries is absolutely different that also influences the perspective they view environmental problems. In fact, poor countries are often unable to cope not only with international environmental problems but even with the environmental problems on the local level basically because of the lack of financial resources, technologies and professionals. On the other hand, rich countries, being able to improve dramatically the situation within their own territory are not always willing to help poorer states to overcome existing environmental problems even though it is clear that these problems affect the entire world directly or not.
No wonder that poor and rich countries also argues about the possible ways of solving international environmental problems. For instance, at the Rio Conference of 1992, poor developing countries emphasized development and global equity concerns while the rich industrialized countries emphasized issues related to international governance of environment (Smith 2004). Naturally, the difference in the position of poor and rich countries can be logically explained. Obviously, developing countries, being economically poor, realize that they have a bunch of socio-economic problems which, at the present moment, are much more significant and important than environmental ones. Consequently, they would rather focus on the solution of socio-economic problems than on environmental ones. Moreover, even if they are willing to solve environmental problems, they, as it has been just mentioned above, do not have either financial or technological resources to solve them. As a result, they naturally appeal to the international community, notably to rich countries, hoping from international support in their efforts of solving environmental problems in terms of international treaties, for instance.
On the other hand, rich countries, having sufficient financial, technological and professional human resources, are more concerned about the effective use of these resources. Unquestionably, they can fully control the use of funds they spend on the solution of international environmental problems on their own territory in terms of some international programs. Obviously, they can help either financially or technologically poor countries, but this is where the major problems begin. In fact, often it is quite difficult to trace the way the financial help, for instance, was used by the government of a developing country, or any organization in this country. Anyway, there is the risk that financial or even technological help would be misused or simply stolen out. At the same time, environmental protection is really expansive and needs a lot of funds. In fact, the more developed the country is the more expansive is the environmental protection. In this respect, it is possible again to refer to the refusal of the US to sign the Kyoto Protocol because it is obvious that the fulfillment of its norms will lead to enormous financial losses of American company as well as federal budget (Smith 2004). As a result, developed countries are more concerned on the effective governance of the fulfillment of existing international treaties, agreements, and programs since it is mainly developed countries that pay for the environmental protection worldwide.
National interests outweighing international environmental issues
In fact, there are a variety of obstacles that interfere in the process of solving international environmental problems but the roots of many of these obstacles may be found in the national interests of states which define their policy both domestic and foreign, including environment-related issues. On analyzing the obstacles in the way of solving international environmental issues, it is getting to be obvious that they always take a back seat to national interests. In actuality, the policy of any state is defined by its national interests that are always of the primary importance to any state. This is why taking part in any international programs, conferences and signing international treaties or agreements the decisions made by countries are always governed by the main condition whether the decision the state takes correspond to its national interests or not.
In this respect, it is possible to estimate that nowadays national interests remain prior to international problems. Actually, this a historical trend that apparently needs to be overcome for it makes the international efforts in the way of solving international environmental problems absolutely ineffective. In fact, the problem is that political leaders cannot overcome their probably innate fear to lose the political, economic or military struggle on the international arena and, in such a situation, the level of development of a country is of little importance. As the solution of international environmental problems implies the participation of the entire world community this means that it will also need reciprocal efforts from the part of all countries.
However, it is impossible to solve the existing international environmental problems without economic and political losses that mean a serious threat to national interests. As it has been already said, the prevention of environmental pollution is expansive. Moreover, the modern economy of all countries of the world is historically oriented on the exploitation of natural resources and, consequently, it cannot be immediately redirected on the environmentally friendly technologies. Such a shift would be strategically important but, at the same time, it would immediately affect national interests of states. For instance, the decrease of oil and natural gas consumption would lead to a substantial shift in industrial structure in economies of many countries since it will be necessary to find new sources of energy that means additional researches, development of new technologies and their implementation, and all this need will need additional funding. Moreover, it would probably make new products more expansive and, thus, less competitive and again this is a direct threat to national interests.
Thus, taking into account all above mentioned, it is possible to conclude that nowadays environmental problems are extremely serious and, what is more, not a single country is able to solve environmental problems alone without support and participation of other countries. Moreover, the only possibly way of solving environmental problems is the close international cooperation which should not be declarative but really effective and practically applicable. This means that important decision and programs developed and accepted on the international level should be practically implemented under the meticulous control of the world community, i.e. under the control of international organizations that could have authority to punish or reward countries for their environmental policy. However, this is rather an ideal view on the solution of international environmental problems that nowadays face numerous obstacles many of which result from the protection of national interests of each state regardless the interests of the entire world.
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