Updated: Jun 15
Is environmental justice really just?
In 2017, the USA recorded 16.16 metric tons of CO2 emissions per capita. In 2017, Bangladesh recorded 0.50 tons of CO2 emissions per capita. As of 2017, the US was responsible for 25.29% of the world’s cumulative CO2 emissions, whereas Bangladesh was responsible for 0.08%. In that same year, the US withdrew from the Paris Climate Agreement, while estimates suggest that eight million Bangladeshis were severely affected by climate change-induced flooding in 2017 alone.
What is Environmental Justice?
Environmental Justice is mainly defined by the principle that “all people and communities are entitled to equal protection of environmental and public health laws and regulations.” However, in practice, communities that are at a disadvantage in dealing with climate change are also at a disproportionately higher risk of exposure to environmental hazards and climate-related disasters.
On a global scale, environmental justice is applied to developing nations facing more of the brunt of climate change than industrialized countries. Within countries, environmental justice also deals with the disproportionate effects minorities and vulnerable communities face; such as women or tribals in India.
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The Disparity Between Nations
It is widely accepted that historically, it is the developed countries that are responsible for the majority of the climate problems we battle today. Studies show that developed countries currently contribute about 80% to global temperature rise, upper ocean warming and sea ice reduction. Not only do industrialized countries export their waste to developing nations, but throughout the 20th century, developed economies have effectively exported their CO2 emissions through their imports of manufactured products from developing countries. In addition to this, countries like the USA consume more resources than the rest of the world put together, and China, for example, emits about a third of all the human-made sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and particulates that pollute the air around the world.
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In comparison to this, while ‘developing’ countries generate less waste and contribute the least to climate change, their citizens are also directly harmed by policies put in place by developed countries. The global south is inundated with such examples, from fast fashion industries destroying ecosystems to farmers being forced to exploit their land to keep up with the north’s consumer demands.
In fact, studies have shown that middle-class residents in the least developed countries are ten times more likely to be affected by climate disasters than those in wealthy countries. Besides the obvious effects on the environment, developing countries also experience a loss of resources and biodiversity, food and water shortage, floods and droughts, and horrible health risks due to the climate crisis disproportionately affecting them. In Asia and Africa, when developing countries are exposed to climate vulnerability, lives, livelihoods, and ecosystems are threatened beyond reparation. 2 out of 3 million deaths due to air pollution occur solely in Southeast Asia and Western Pacific areas.
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In contrast to this, developed countries have been able to minimize the adverse effects of climate change with advanced technology and wealth. One report states that it will take more than 100 years for the world’s poorest countries to reach the current adaptive capacity of higher-income countries. Despite all this, developing countries and their cities generally have lower emissions than those in developed nations.
The highest rates of energy consumption are found in developed countries which is the major cause of global greenhouse gases, but this increased abundance of energy feeds a cycle of increased development. In the current situation, the impacts of the Covid-19 Pandemic have been exacerbating poverty and unemployment in developing nations. As a result, developing countries in their quest for economic development are forced to put economic growth and industrialization at the forefront before considering environmental issues.
Back in 1992, the UN formalised the principle of Common But Differentiated Responsibilities (CBDR). The declaration stated that “In view of the different contributions to global environmental degradation, States have common but differentiated responsibilities. The developed countries acknowledge their responsibility that they bear in the international pursuit of sustainable development in view of the pressures that their societies place on the global environment and of technologies and financial resources they command.”
Thus, CBDR recognises that a higher level of contribution is required by developed countries towards undoing environmental degradation. It demonstrates that since developed nations have been able to develop themselves for an exceptionally long time without being restricted by environmental rules, they should now take a greater share of responsibility as compared to developing nations.
As demonstrated by the example of Bangladesh, the disproportionate effects of climate change threaten a huge percentage of Earth’s population. Since developing countries have been robbed of the wealth and resources they would need to effectively combat these unfair repercussions, it is now more imperative than ever that wealthy, industrialized nations step up and play their part in protecting our Earth.
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