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
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
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