Environmental degradation is not uncommon. In fact, it is one of the most talked about topic in international conventions and forums. Apparently, the degradation of the environment is not only a local concern. Environmental problems such as climate change, deforestation, pollution and many others are perpetrated in a local and national level and yet it has global ramifications. However, despite the fact that there are international agencies that creates environmental policies, the effectiveness of these policies and regulations largely depend on the propensity of a particular nation to implement it. The nation’s territorial powers and sovereignty make it responsible primarily for everything that goes on within its borders and so addressing environmental issues is an inherent responsibility that a legitimate nation could not avoid. This paper would like to discuss the common and yet widespread environmental issues with global implications that every nation needs to address. This paper will also discuss the common initiatives and best practices that would guide nations in their role in addressing these global environmental concerns.
Prevalence of Environmental Issues among Nations
Poor environmental practices that cause environmental degradation can be seen in almost all countries around the globe and it is only logical to think that developed countries or countries with the most industries are also those who have the highest potential of harming the environment. In a study conducted by researchers, for instance, until the year 2000, the United States as well as the countries of the European Union were among the biggest contributors to environmental degradation (European Commission Joint Research Centre, 2014, p.10). However, the recent trends in globalization create a new paradigm shift in the global distribution of industries, which also impacts the capacity of other nations to cause environmental concerns. Businesses that engage in the manufacturing industry, for instance, transfer their facilities and factories to developing countries where labor is cheap and where there are weak environmental regulations (Koszewska, 2004, p. 228; Dean, Lovely, & Wang, 2009, p.1). And since these countries do not have an effective environmental protection program, the environmental issues compounds and gets even worse that when these industries were located in developed countries. As observed by scholars, this inclination among multinational companies to invest and set up their manufacturing hubs in developing countries also makes developing countries a pollution haven of the world (Dean, Lovely, & Wang, 2009, p.1). Indeed, developing countries have surpassed developed countries in terms polluting the environment. Recent studies, for instance, have shown that the biggest contributor to environmental problems in terms of air pollution and carbon dioxide emission are China and India; two of the largest developing countries in the world (European Commission Joint Research Centre, 2014, p.4).
One of the compeling reasons why investors and local entrepreneurs opt to create their manufacturing hubs in developing countries is profit. Aside from their enormous savings from labor cost, the poor environmental regulations of developing countries are, hypothetically, beneficial. As observed by scholars, “richer countries have higher environmental standards, which have induced innovation and production of environment-friendly technology” while poor countries, on the other hand, “use older, less “green” technologies and may import them as second-hand machinery” (Dean, Lovely, & Wang, 2009, p.11). Another hypothetical reason why developing countries have easily become a pollution haven is poverty. Since the population is exposed to low standards of living, their concern for the environment is most likely superseded by their economic interests such as the desire to acquire jobs. Another plausible explanation of the pollution haven phenomenon is the lack of knowledge about the effect of environmental degradation in a local and global scale. Most likely, the knowledge towards the environment among residents of poor countries are not as sophisticated as their counterparts in developed countries. Most of all, the underlying reason why environmental problems are rampant or are much worse in developing countries is the graft and corrupt practices of its law enforcers and government officials. As observed by scholars, “While corruption is not environmentally destructive in a general sense, poor governance results in bad policy formulation, management, and enforcement, and this can become apparent through problems with environmental sustainability”. Most developing countries, for instance, have comprehensive environmental laws and yet it is not fully implemented as those officials who are tasked to implement the law are often bribed or they also have a direct or indirect link to the industry in question.
Common Environmental Concerns that Needs to be Addressed in a National Level
The type of environmental problems may vary depending on the industry that a nation hosts. Also, the impact of environmental problems towards the environment would depend on the type of environmental disturbance or pollution. Environmental degradation may impact the environment in two possible ways; it can either cause an environmental disturbance such as climate change or global warming or it can cause health hazard not only to humans, but also to all living organisms. All these environmental problems, however, are perpetrated in a national level or is under national jurisdiction. Among the most common environmental woes that have global implications are:
Deforestation. Deforestation simply means the clearing of forested areas. Although there are also natural ways that cause deforestation such as in the case of forest fires, the major cause of deforestation is human related. Tropical countries are natural hosts for vast rainforests. In fact, the largest of these forests can be found in countries in Central Africa, South and Central America, Southeast Asia and even in Northern Australia. However, due to deforestation, these forested areas are rapidly shrinking. Man-induced deforestation is one of the most rampant environmental problems in tropical countries. The Amazon rainforest, the largest rainforest in the world, for instance, encompass many countries in Central America such as Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Venezuela and Peru. Brazil is particularly an environmental concern because of the prolific deforestation within the country’s jurisdiction. According to observers, at least a fifth of Brazil’s rainforest have been deforested in just a span of 40 years (Vital Forest Graphics, n.d., p.44). Deforested lands are then used for agricultural purposes. While deforestation may have its economic benefits, its long term impact is foreseen as quite devastating. According to scholars, a plethora of environmental problems would due to the unscrupulous cutting and burning of forested areas. One of the major impacts of deforestation is the loss of biodiversity. Rainforests are known as a habitat of many animals and plant species. In fact, according to researchers, tropical rainforests are home to more than half of the world’s plant and animal species. Deforestation is also attributed the spread of pathogenic organisms. According to scholars, the loss of biodiversity or the loss of natural predators as well as the environmental disturbance caused by deforestation may stimulate the emergence of pathogenic micro-organisms that can harm human beings (Matt, & Gebser, 2010). Rainforests also play a crucial role in the hydrologic cycle of the tropics and is a major source of fresh water. Forests produce large amounts of oxygen; a life-essential element. Forests also counter balance of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions by absorbing it through the process of photosynthesis.
Air Pollution. Another common environmental problem is the increasing amount of air pollutants that countries around the world are producing. Huge amounts of carbon dioxide as well as other greenhouse gasses that have been emitted over the past several years have been observed to accumulate in the atmosphere and are believed to be the cause of drastic climatic changes and global warming. Researchers, for instance, found that the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has drastically changed over the past century. Accordingly, the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has more than doubled since the pre-industrial era (Socolow, & Pacala, 2006, p. 52). Furthermore, scientists believe that if the world’s rate of carbon emission is not curbed, it would eventually come to a level wherein drastic climate changes would be inevitable (Socolow, & Pacala, 2006, p. 52). Severe droughts as well as the increasing strength of typhoons and hurricanes have been attributed to climate change, which, according to scientists, is magnified by carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emission. Another potential impact of air pollution is the prevalence of lung cancer and other respiratory ailments. Although air pollution is manageable in most countries, there are countries wherein the quality of air has become a major health concern. China, for instance, is estimated to spend at least 6% to 9% of its GDP in hospitalization costs associated with its poor air quality (Matus, Nam, Selin, Lamsal, Reilly, & Paltsev, 2011, p.17)
Water Pollution. Water is one of the most abundant elements in the world. In fact, more than 70% of the earth’s surface is covered with water . Unfortunately, more than 90% of this surface water is found in seas and oceans, which could not be made readily available for human consumption while the remaining less than 10% needs to be tapped from rivers, lakes and even drilled underground . Many nations in the world today are in short supply of fresh and potable water. And despite the technological advancement in many areas, the extraction of water from the environment has not changed much. In fact, New York City, one of the most advanced cities in the world, still relies on a water supply that comes from watersheds and upriver reservoirs. Many nations in the world are in short supply of water as many do not have enough water resources. Despite the water shortages, human activities and the waste they create threatens to contaminate a nation’s limited supply of water up to the point wherein clean and potable water could not be obtained naturally from the environment. Consequently, it means that the nation will have to rely on water extraction and purification processes, which entails costs because of the enormous infrastructure and maintenance it needs in order to operate. Apparently, due to contamination of pollutants, a nation’s water is commoditized and its residents would have to bear the price.
Addressing Environmental Issues
A nation or state plays a primary role in addressing environmental issues within its borders. In order to safeguard its environment and consequently its constituents from the adverse effect of environmental problems, the state needs to be proactive in addressing environmental concerns. In order to effectively address environmental problems and challenges, a nation needs to:
Create and Implement Environmental Protection Laws. Environmental laws are not sufficient to deter individuals and organizations to observed sound environmental practices. Most importantly, a nation should devote itself in the strict implementation of its environmental policies. For policy making purposes, a nation may adopt the standard environmental protocols of legitimate international organizations such as the ISO, the UNEP, and many others.
Create Environmental Programs that could foster Environmental Awareness Among its Citizens. Environmental awareness must be a requisite among a nation’s citizenry. One way of ensuring that the people are made aware of the dangers of poor environmental practices is to include environmental education in the nation’s primary and secondary educational curriculum.
Alleviate Poverty through Social Welfare. A country’s way of living can directly impact its environmental practices. Most poor countries also have poor environmental practices primarily because its people are more concerned about alleviating their poor living conditions than protecting their environment. In many poor Asian nations, for instance, many people are burning forests in order to utilize them as farm lands (Suarez, & Sajise, 2010, p. 91). Providing these people with enough opportunities by giving them alternative livelihood is one way of protecting the environment from exploitation.
Eliminate Graft and Corrupt Practices. Studies have shown that there is a link between pollution and corrupt practices. Accordingly, corruption has a positive effect on pollution or it enhances pollution (Gupta, & Thube, n.d.). Apparently, corruption is attributed to the lax enforcement of environmental regulations and accountability.
All environmental issues emanate within the jurisdiction of the state or nation. For the same reason, if there is a body that is more accountable for environmental problems that have global ramifications, it is the state or the nation, itself. Poor environmental practices such as deforestation and pollution can create a plethora of environmental problems such as climate change, global warming and health issues. These are problems that directly concern the nation in its mandate to protect its people and it can do so by making its environment sustainable.
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