Natural burden

  • 14/04/2008

Climate exchange
Unfair share of cause and effect
Ecological damages are distributed more towards poor nations

Human activities are changing ecosystems across the globe. Though many of the changes are for food security and economic development, their ecological damages are immense

Six major ecological damages caused by human activities are: climate change, ozone depletion, agricultural intensification, deforestation, overfishing and mangrove conversion

The world is largely governed by equity concerns over global common resources and global trade. In this scenario, two disparate factors, population of nations and economic growth, drive the ecological damages. There is an uneven share of liability

When calculated on per capita basis, high-income nations are responsible for 5.7 times more greenhouse gas emissions than low-income nations. But poor nations bear the burden of climate change twice than they emit

When calculated on the basis of fossil fuel emissions, industrialized nations bear even a greater share of liability, since they use more ozone-depleting substances. Though the low- and middle-income groups emit only 1.6 and 28 per cent of chlorofluorocarbon emissions, they suffer up to 15 and 44 per cent, respectively, of the ensuing health hazards

  Human activities have contributed to six major classes of ecological damages  
  Climate change  Ozone depletion  
 Deforestation  Overfishing  
 Agricultural intensification  Mangrove conversion  
  The Industrialized world has imposed climate change on poor countries. Ecological damages caused by climate change in these countries is much more than their foreign debt  
In contrast, agricultural expansion and deforestation are largely driven by local needs. Hence, their impact is mostly (94-98 per cent) borne by the nations

When calculated on the basis of consumption pattern for fishery products, middle- and high-income nations consume about 85 per cent of products fished in their waters. They also fish in almost all high seas and capture 32 and 68 per cent of the catch. But low-income nations consume only 15 per cent of the products from their waters. In fact, several food-deficit countries like those in western Africa collect only modest access fees and allow distant fleets to land in their waters and capture significant catches

Another case of disconnect is between suppliers and consumers of shrimp, a main driver of mangrove destruction. Low- and middle-income nations are major exporters of these high-value fish products. Although the trade is voluntary, shrimp-exporting countries bear the environmental harm, because degradation of mangrove forest means coastal areas lose a key storm protection shield

Such ecological damages from disproportionate emissions or consumption patterns contribute to ecological debts between countries. The rich- and middle-income nations owe most of the ecological debt to poor countries, with impacts due to climate change and ozone-depletion accounting for 97 per cent of the debt. Poor countries bear most of the ecological harm to indirectly enable the living standards of wealthier nations

Source: Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences, February 5, 2008

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