Heart-wrenching photographs of polar bears barely clinging on to a small remnant of ice to stay afloat, parched land highlighting the deleterious effect of desertification, and gaping holes in the Antarctic ozone layer have left the world astounded by the impact of their consumerism. The desire for infinite economic growth has irreversibly devastated the natural world, and efforts to rectify the situation have at best been weak and feeble. This could partly be because the question of who should be conserving the environment continues to go unanswered. Many assert that developed countries should assume a greater role in promoting environmental conservation because they have the financial means and technological expertise, and bear greater historical responsibility in causing this problem. However, relying solely on the efforts of developed nations may mean allowing developing nations and other important stakeholders to shirk responsibility even as they contribute to a multifaceted global issue. In light of the growing environmental consciousness across the world, it can be argued that concerted efforts by all the different stakeholders are necessary to mitigate this multidimensional issue that would affect all of us, and not just certain nations.
The prevalent view in our society is that developed countries are more well-equipped to protect our environment as they have achieved a certain level of wealth and prosperity and are in a better financial position to ensure the conservation of our environment. Their efforts in managing and mitigating the environmental crisis can be observed in a myriad of ways, from the building of eco-friendly buildings to the development of environmental technology. Developed countries have spearheaded projects utilizing low-carbon forms of energy for power generation. Canada leads the world in hydroelectric energy, which currently makes up 90% of its power supply. Countries with flourishing economies are also able to invest in the conceptualization and construction of eco-friendly buildings in an attempt to promote environmental sustainability. A successful execution of this idea can be seen in the United States. The Chicago City Hall Roof boasts a size of 20,000 square feet, featuring bottlebush grasses, wild rye and thousands of other plantings. It was created as a pilot program to reduce the building’s cooling and heating costs and serves as a model for other Chicago buildings and it has succeeded in both aims. The insulating layer of soil and plants cool the building in the summer and helps hold heat in the winter, reducing climate control costs by $6,000 a year. This idea has already taken root on more than 300 other Chicago rooftops. Nevertheless, it must be admitted that due to the geographical and special constraints, it is not feasible for all countries to actually build hydroelectric plants, making the solution exclusive to countries with adequate land capacity and funds, which is not sufficient enough to make a significant effect on the environment, reiterating the fact that we cannot depend entirely on developed countries to resolve the issue of environmental degradation.
Additionally, most of the businesses and transnational corporations are headquartered in developed countries and they are greatly responsible for environmental degradation. If these companies take ownership of their actions and do their part to mitigate the environmental impact of their operations, the effect would be greatly apparent. A company that has gained the support of many for its efforts to be ecologically conscious is the soft drink company, Coca-Cola. Coca-Cola has developed a relationship with Earthshore’s Founding Member Charity, World Wildlife Fund to help it address pressing water issues, including water conservation. As a result of this collaboration, WWF and Coca-Cola teams have been able to leave positive effects on nearby bodies of water and reduce the amount of water used in the beverage company’s processes. One project improved fishing practices to preserve a 1.7 million acre wetland in Vietnam while another increased water efficiently in the company’s Downey plant where 50% of the water used to be wasted. With the intervention of Coca-Cola, that number is down to 17%. With this, it is evident that some multinational corporations in developed countries can initiate campaigns and programmes to make the world a better, greener place. However, while it should be noted that profits and efforts to save the environment are not mutually exclusive, given the growing emphasis on corporate social responsibility, not all companies are genuinely committed to mitigating environmental degradation. Many corporations pay lip service to environmentalism, believing that it is simply another marketing strategy to appeal to environmentally conscious consumers. The term ‘greenwashing’ – a creative spin on the word ‘whitewashing’, was thus coined by the New York environmentalist Jay Westervelt. For instance, hotels worldwide place placards in each guestroom, ostensibly encouraging guests to reuse hotel towels and contribute to ‘saving the environment’. In reality however, these institutions make little to no effort to reduce their environmental impact. In fact, the actual objective of this ‘green campaign’ on the part of many hoteliers was in fact to reduce costs and increase profit. Over the years, environmental activists have labelled many businesses, including multinational oil corporations, such as Shell, BP, ExxonMobil, for their ‘green washing’ efforts. Clearly, unless corporations endeavour to assure greater responsibilities and play a more instrumental role in solving environmental challenges, the efforts of governments of developed countries will be insufficient.
While it has been established that governments and companies headquartered in developed countries have a major role to play in environmental conservation, the efforts by other stakeholders in developing countries should not be ignored. Developing countries have a part to play in protecting the environment as they are currently industrializing and are the main contributors to pollution and environmental degradation in today’s world. That said, there have been instances where several developing nations have taken the initiative to mitigate environmental degradation via a myriad of ways. These include political involvement, policymaking, and conducting campaigns to raise public awareness, as well as ecotourism. Morocco, a developing country in North Africa, has demonstrated the political will to mitigate climate change by committing to ambitious targets, like having 42% of installed electricity production capacity come from renewable energy sources by 2020, and 52% by 2030. It has demonstrated that it is on track to meet its 2020 target and is poised to meet its 2030 target. As a result, it has been accorded the ‘1.5 Degrees Celsius Paris Agreement-compatible’ rating by Climate Action Tracker, an independent scientific analysis produced by three climate organisations tracking climate change since 2009. There are also times when governments and organisations attempt to balance economic growth with environmental protection in the form of ecotourism. A country that is currently reaping the benefits of this form of sustainable development would be Belize, a country in Central America. In addition to the 36% of land mass that is protected in Belize, 13% of its water, including vast portions of the world’s second largest coral reef system, are protected as well. Efforts in the public sector also supplement the existing community-based projects that aid in boosting sustainable tourism in Belize. Within the Belize Barrier Reef, for example, the gorgeous atoll of Glover’s Reef has been maintained as a ‘no-lake’ marine reserve, a sanctuary where fishing is prohibited. In a place threatened by illegal fishing and overfishing, this unique stretch of reef helps promote natural biodiversity. This therefore highlights that developing countries can still ensure economic growth without sacrificing the environment. Environmental damage can be mitigated with sufficient political will and public awareness, coupled with companies that are willing to play a part in environmental conservation and hence the efforts made by developing countries should be valued and taken into account when considering the stakeholders.
We have seen the various stakeholders act separately to conserve the environment. However, the ideal approach in tackling ecological damage should be through international collaboration, especially between governments from various countries, irrespective of developmental status. As their citizens become increasingly vocal about environmental problems, governments have to improvise, adapt and overcome existing and up and coming challenges. It is heartening to note that there have been increased international collaboration, as evidenced by the proliferation of political platforms and solutions such as the climate conferences, environmental summits, declarations and protocols. These have been established to facilitate discussions to deliberate and harness long-term objectives and to implement effective programmes to protect the environment. While many are sceptical of these meetings as many climate conferences like the Copenhagen Climate Conference and the Cancun Climate Conference have ended on a sour note, recently, the different countries have decided to put aside their differences and attempt to take ownership and responsibility of their actions, with the developed countries understanding the needs of developing countries and helping them. This harmonious collaboration was well-demonstrated during the ‘COP21’ – United Nations Climate Change Conference held in Paris in 2015, when delegates from 196 countries agreed to the Paris Agreement. The agreement, which is the world’s first comprehensive agreement on climate change, was introduced with the objective of keeping the global average temperature increase to below 2 degree Celsius above pre-industrial levels, by reducing global carbon dioxide emissions by 20%, increasing the market share of renewable energy sources to 20%, and increasing energy efficiency by 20%. It was especially significant that the US publicly recognized its role in creating the problem of environmental devastation and finally embraced its responsibility to settle it by pledging to cut emissions by 26% to 28% by 2025. China also followed suit by instilling a target of 20% non-fossil fuels in its overall energy composition by 2030, with additional targets to reduce carbon and energy intensity. Moreover, the Paris Climate Accord is a comprehensive international agreement where under the deal, countries must publish greenhouse gas reduction targets and revise them every 5 years. This agreement ultimately aims to attain a carbon-neutral world before 2100. This therefore reiterates the motion that international collaborations are also considered to be vital in mitigating the pernicious effects of climate change and environmental exploitation, in addition to the efforts made by developed countries.
In summary, while it must be conceded that developed countries have a greater expertise to handle environmental concerns, their efforts alone will definitely fall short in the long run as it must be understood that all of us live in an interconnected world where the flap of a butterfly’s wings can engender a storm halfway around the world. Therefore, everyone has a part to play in preventing further environmental degradation from developing countries on a macro-level, to individuals and small NGOs, on a micro-scale, and their responsibilities and actions should not be simply dismissed as inconsequential and insignificant. Therefore, the claim that the fate of the environment lies entirely in the hands of the developed countries is too narrow.