State Soveriegnty And Environmental Sustainability Essay Research

State Soveriegnty And Environmental Sustainability Essay, Research Paper

State Sovereignty vs. Environmental Sustainability

With humanities growing knowledge of skills and technology, we have been able to

manipulate nature to meet the growing needs of humans. By doing this humans have

fished, gathered species, hunted for food, fuel, and shelter. Humans have domesticated

plants and animals, cut forests, used anything from fire to technological advancements to

alter habitats, and have significantly changes chemical hydrological and geochemical

cycles. As a result humans do not reflect what life on earth is, but changes to landscape

and sea reflect human culture. As species die, humans lose their food, medicines and

industrial resources and products that supply today for tomorrow. For humans to think

that they can be the last species standing and still survive is being ignorant of the facts .

This problem is of global concern and must be resolved with the cooperation of states,

NGO?s and the scientific community. Counties must realize that their sovereignty comes

second to the sustainable survival of not only the human race, but all of earth?s

encompassing life.

In the early 1400?s, human population began to grow substantially. The increase

in population added stress to earth?s resources and ecosystem which consistently increased

as humans developed new technologies. This period of technological enlightenment began

in the mid to late 1700?s with the industrial revolution, which was also the time when

humans moved out of self sustained villages and farms into complex interdependent cities.

Intensive industrialism started with the invention of the steam engine and ignited a mass

consumption of earth?s resources with developed countries consuming a majority of

resources and developing countries trying to catch up to the first world?s technological

ability and economic strength.

As third world countries try to compete with their flourishing neighbors, earth?s

natural resources have been stressed to an unsustainable level which poses two main

problems. Humans moving from rural to urban areas of the country allow people to use

resources that wouldn?t have been available if local sustainable lifestyles had been

maintained. And second, as the human population drastically increases, resources needed

per capita increases, consequentially adding stress on the environment. 1 As need for

resources increased, so did technologies in transportation, which allowed for extensive

logging in tropical rainforest. The degradation of such habitats continues to result in the

loss of an enormous amount of species. Scarcity of natural resources has posed a large

problem not only on the earth, but has created conflict among countries. Disagreements

according to the specific details of environmental problems and how to solve them have

created problems in international relations.

The intractable difference between all countries who express concern is their

sovereignty. ?The dominant tradition within International Relations is state-centric,

centered around concepts of state sovereignty and the beliefs that states are the primary

actors in international affairs and that international affairs and international politics are

largely driven by states pressing their interest.?2 Environmental problems usually affect

more than one state and pose limitations on a states sovereignty. Let us take the example

of biodiversity. In 1992, nations gathered in Rio De Janeiro for the Earth Summit.

Several nations brought their environmental concerns including biological diversity to the

table , and over one hundred government representatives signed the Convention on

Biological Diversity.

Countries who sign an international convention may have full intentions of

carring out the purposed plan of action but once that moment of compliance comes, it

tends to be more difficult to comply than expected. Economic or technological

disadvantages may limit a countries capacity to comply with original goals set by the

treaty. Even if states sign the treaty it may take longer to implement due to

disagreements between differences in specific details. In the case of the Convention on

Biodiversity, there was a major split between the North and the South. The two issues

that divided the North and South were plant genetic diversity and intellectual property


The southern hemisphere provides a plethoric variety in genes among wild plant

species in comparison to the North. The second factor splitting the two hemispheres was

intellectual property rights which are legal ownership of inventions made by a state.

Basically the developing countries wanted to protect their rights and demanded money for

the exchange of genetic resources. States like Mexico, Brazil, and Indonesia thought that

the resources are property of the state in which they are discovered. The North (United

States, Canada, France, West Germany, Japan, and United Kingdom) would not agree to

these terms and argued that they be allowed to extract the resources from these countries.

They claimed that these resources are ?common to man?. They then stated that there

would be no reimbursement to the state that made the discoveries because of intellectual

property rights.3 Clearly the arguments that these countries pose are centered around

economics but looking deeper, having a collected governing body decide what is best for

your country to do about the problem might threaten a state?s sovereignty.

The regime that signed the treaty at the Convention for Biodiversity is unique

because it is one of the few treaties that allows the implementation of the guidelines to be

put in the hands of national governments, rather than an international governing body.

This is unique because there is an assumption of trust among the states that they will all

assume full responsibility. Resting the responsibility on the shoulders of an individual

government may not threaten a countries sovereignty but it does allow countries who sign

the treaty to come short on some goals due to economic reasons, or just slack off.

To make international environmental problems even more complicated, we must

realize that states are not the only actors in environmental politics. Non-governmental

organizations, or NGO?s play a large role in negotiations. Global environmental issues

involve connections between local, national, and international processes. Many times a

non-governmental organization like World Wildlife Foundation works with a government

in local areas trying to manage the problem. The World Wildlife Fund concentrates most

of its energy internationally. NGO?s help put political pressure on governments and bring

problems to the publics eye, lobbying for drastic change, and gaining public support.

These organizations typically play an important role, which causes them to cut

across international and domestic borders. This causes a problem when another country

doesn?t want the NGO in its country. An NGO must be invited into a country before it

can help analyze or solve the problem. This makes the relationship between international

organizations, commercial institutions, states and non state actors a very complex one

especially when it comes to the implementation of international programs for

sustainability, environmental protection and safety.

A possible solution might be that of global governance. This would involve

restructuring at a global level. A global environmental legislative body with the power to

impose regulations on nation states, and sanctions if the state didn?t comply with

recommended course of action by the governing body. Cooperation must increase, and

must entail not only studies of the science behind an environmental problem but also

economic and social impacts of the resolution. 4 Environmental disasters or problems do

not have borders and do not recognize them, so an environmental problem is usually the

problem of a few surrounding states, or could end up to be. Sovereignty is a big issue, but

with cooperation, a state?s sovereignty would not be threatened.

For a state to call its self a sovereign one, there must not be an actor above the

state that can force it to act in specific ways. In a anarchic system, a sovereign state

co-exists with other sovereign states. States that compete for security, markets, and

influential power in the international system. 5 Sovereignty protects these characteristics

of a country. When there needs to be an international governing body, then these

characteristics of the state might be threatened, and the state might be hesitant to allow

such actors to be involved. Since the 1960?s and 70?s a large number of regimes,

institutions, agreements and policies for the governance of environmental politics have

been formed through the cooperation of hundreds of governments and international non

governmental organizations. The challenge for these regimes and non governmental

organizations is to promote the growth of sustainable living, preserving biological diversity

equally in plants and animals, repairing existing damage to the climate, and preventing

further damage in the future.


Baylis J. Smith S. The Globalization of World Politics. An Introduction to International

Relations. Oxford University Press. 1999 p 115

Mackenzie F. Our Changing Planet. An Introduction to Earth System Science and

Global Environmental Change. Prentice Hall Inc. NJ. 1995,1998. pp 419-438


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