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The debate on whether the environment or the economy is more important has been going on for decades. Whereas there are critics that argue that the economy is more important for the advancement of humanity than the environment, there are those that argue the exact opposite. The ideation and introduction of sustainable development goals (SDGs) brought together the economy and the environment. Environmental policy BHS0012: Sustainable development and renewable energy (2019) reports that the SDGs were meant to lower the pressure brought on by the debate. However, little efforts have been made as critics still cannot agree on which of the two elements is more important. Taking a stand, I can state that the environment is much more important than the economy. There are two main things that make this statement valid. One is the fact that a majority of the resources that are required to build the economy are retrieved from the environment. Secondly, the stability and reliability of the environment enhance the productivity of the economy.
This essay explores and discusses the tension between the economy and the environment as related to International Environmental Agreements. These agreements are legally binding or non-binding treaties that attempt to realise an environment-related goal (Environmental agreements). International Environmental Agreements that are legally binding are passed as laws, thus, also have accompanying punishments for non-compliance. The essay will focus on the Paris Agreement under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change to discuss the stated tension. The agreement deals with greenhouse emissions and how they affect the environment. It is crucial to note that the use of greenhouse was identified as an economically viable approach to food production (Flannery, 2015). Greenhouses offer a longer growing season as they are a controlled environment. Towards this end, they also ensure food security. However, they are also one of the biggest contributors to the destruction of the ozone layer. The essay proposes that the use of International Environmental Agreements such as the Paris Agreement provide ample guidance on how the economy and the environment should be balanced for the benefit of both elements.
Critical Review of Literature/Topic
Kalmykova, Sadagopan and Rosado (2018) argue that the Paris Agreement supports the implementation of a circular economy. Hahnel (2017) goes further to explain that a circular economy allows for the reuse of raw materials unlike the linear one, which makes, uses and disposes of. It is important to mention that there are three types of economies. The second type of economy is the re-use economy. The main difference between the re-use and the circular economy is the fact that the circular economy produces, disposes and re-uses less frequently than the re-use economy. Despite the arguments that the re-use economy is better than the linear one, it still has its disadvantages (Environmental policy BHS0012: From a linear to a circular economy, 2019).
One can argue that there are five things one needs to consider when moving from a linear to a circular economy (Environmental policy BHS0012: From a linear to a circular economy, 2019). The first is the ‘spaceman’ ideology. This concept relies on the effectiveness of an economy based on its ability to reproduce raw materials. The concept underpins the value of the Paris Agreement. An economy that can reproduce its own raw materials without necessarily wasting other resources is ideal. An example can be given to explain this concept further. The oil industry is currently suffering due to reduced natural oil reserves. Over the decades, the economy has been consuming oil products without any plans of replenishing the product. One can argue that since oil is naturally occurring it cannot be reproduced. However, it should have been prudent to find alternatives and recycle products to ensure better management of the resource (Flannery, 2015). The lack of proper planning has led to the rush of investing in alternatives now that the resource is depleting. This has been costly and has affected the economy negatively as it has made both oil and its alternatives costly to purchase.
The second concept is the limit to the growth thesis (Environmental policy BHS0012: From a linear to a circular economy, 2019). This ideology gives a computer simulation comparing the economic and population growth to the availability of resources. Environmental policy BHS0012: From a linear to a circular economy (2019) reveals that if the current states of all the stated elements persist, then the world will record an ‘overshoot and collapse’ economy. Indeed, there are critics who have argued that the only way to stop this is through the proper implementation of the International Environmental Agreements such as the Paris Agreement. In turn, the world will record a stabilised economy. One of the key things to consider in this regard is the minimal use of available resources.
The third idea is industrial ecology. To fully understand this concept, one should also understand the impact of industries on the environment. Indeed, whereas the industrial revolution pushed the world into a different era, it has negatively affected the environment (Environmental principles). This has, in turn, made the economy unstable as resources have diminished due to the uncontrolled and unmonitored use of resources. Supporters of industrial ecology argue that synergy can be created between the industrial and biological ecosystems and this would ideally also enhance the economy as there would be replenished raw materials. However, it is critical to mention that such synergy is only possible if the biological ecosystems are appreciated. This would mean that economists will have to monitor and control the use of resources using a biological lens as opposed to an industrial one.
The cradle to cradle concept is the fourth element of consideration. This ideology suggests the adoption of a closed system of resources. Environmental policy BHS0012: From a linear to a circular economy (2019) proposes that the concept encourages the development of products based on nature’s processes. The idea was proposed in opposition to the cradle to the grave concept that the economy is currently using. The latter ensures that a product is developed with a shelf life. Thus, all the raw materials that were used in developing the product ‘die’ after a given period. One of the pointers in the Paris Agreement is the sustainability principle (Environmental policy BHS0012: From a linear to a circular economy, 2019). This principle encourages the adoption of policies and strategies that will ensure limitless resources. Indeed, whereas the tension between environmentalists and economists has been presented as impossible to solve, such principles create harmony by ensuring that both parties are appreciated. In the cradle to cradle concept, economists and industrialists still get to develop and advance the economy while preserving and protecting the environment at the same time.
The fifth element of discussion is eco-efficiency versus eco-effectiveness. Eco-efficiency is defined as a process of waste minimisation while eco-effectiveness is a process of transformation of raw materials and products to create a sustainable relationship with different viable ecosystems. The debate mentioned touches on the three aims of the Paris Agreement. The first aim is to ensure that the global temperature stays below 2°C (Environmental policy BHS0012: Sustainable development and renewable energy, 2019). Secondly, the agreement also aims to ensure the ability to adapt to the impacts of climate change so far and to ensure climate resilience (Environmental policy BHS0012: Economy versus environment, 2019) Lastly, the agreement seeks to make finance flows consistent (Environmental policy BHS0012: From a linear to a circular economy, 2019). Looking at all these, one can argue that the Paris Agreement supports eco-effectiveness as opposed to eco-efficiency. This is due to the fact that eco-effectiveness allows materials to maintain their status as resources (Environmental policy BHS0012: From a linear to a circular economy, 2019).
Indeed, the literature shows that there have been several efforts made to ensure a balance between the environment and the economy. For instance, initially, there were environmental policies used to ensure that industrialists adhere to environmental guidelines. Polluter pay was one of the most debated environmental policies (Environmental policy BHS0012 tutorial). Keohane and Olmstead (2016) suggest that the policy was meant to punish and deter industrialists from polluting the environment. However, this was misinterpreted and companies started to pay in order to pollute the environment in one way or the other. The introduction of the International Environmental Agreements changed these as they benefit both the industrialists and the environmentalists. It is important to note that the agreements also support the development and further advancement of the economy, unlike the previous policies that did not consider the importance of growth in the economy. The next section of the paper will present reasons as to why the International Environmental Agreements should be used to successful calm the tensions between the economy and the environment.
Critical Analysis and Discussion
One can argue that the tension between the economy and the environment is brought on mainly by the fact that supporters of each want their sides to win. However, after careful analysis and research, one can argue that the only way to relieve this tension is through the implementation of a strategy that ensures that both parties win. The creation of a synergy between the two is very important in order to ensure the advancement of both. Indeed, the economy cannot survive without the environment. This is due to the fact that the economy relies on raw materials that are retrieved from a healthy and sustainable environment. On the same note, the environment relies on the economy due to the growing nature of the population. Without a sustainable economy, it is possible for mankind to crouch into forests in order to sustain their livelihoods. As mentioned earlier, strategies that support both the development of the economy and the sustainability of the environment can be successfully used to relieve the tension between the two parties.
The Paris Agreement has been described as a viable strategy for ending the debate. This agreement also ensures accountability by prompting the most industrious nations to finance the actions proposed. For instance, China has been numerously accused of having the highest contribution to climate change (Lin, 2018). This is due to the advanced industrial sector of the country (Blau, 2017). Additionally, the country is among the most populated in the world. A country like Malawi, on the other hand, has a few industries, thus, has contributed little to climate change. The agreement proposes that it would be unfair for a country like Malawi to finance the creation of a conducive ecosystem for both environment and economy when it has not largely contributed to climate change. Thus, countries that have more industries, therefore, pollute more, are tasked with sourcing for funds to ensure the agreement is implemented. The economic aspect of the agreement allows for the said countries to source the needed funds as well.
It is equally relevant to mention that the agreement allows for adoptions as is deemed fit. The efforts that are currently being made should be measured to determine their effectiveness. This, in turn, allows for the adoption of other alternatives in the event that some things are not working. The implementation of the agreement has also been devolved to the country level (Klein, 2014). The countries that have agreed to it are given time to implement it accordingly based on their carbon dioxide emission and the economy. Third world countries have been keen on implementation as their economies are growing at a faster rate than the developed world. Thus, third world countries will benefit more from the full implementation of the agreement as their growing economies will adapt from the start.
The argument of resources and their availability also makes the Paris Agreement that more important. Economists agree that some of the world’s natural resources that are used as raw materials in many products are depleting at an alarming rate. There have been instances where alternatives have worked seamlessly. For instance, solar power has been used as a way of lowering the consumption of oil as a power product. On the same note, electric cars have been encouraged to lower the number of cars using petrol and diesel and contributing to air pollution. The Agreement provides guidance on how best to culminate the said efforts to make an impact.
An example can be given to explain this further. Trees are one of the most misused resources in the world. Not only have trees been cut down to create space for the growing human population but they are used to make products such as books and other stationeries and even furniture. In a linear economy, industries continue to cut down trees in order to get the end products humans need. In a re-use economy, the products are recycled to make more products until a point they cannot be recycled anymore. However, in a circular economy, one that is supported by the Paris Agreement, industries that use trees plant more trees than they bring down to ensure they have a surplus amount of raw material while still protecting the environment. The same trees are important for the biological ecosystem and the reduction of carbon monoxide. The last example, the circular economy, benefits everyone. It is also more sustainable.
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Despite the many advantages that can be given of the Paris Agreement, there has been some valid criticism of the implementation of the same. Raworth (2017) explains that the agreement is only good on paper, but it is very ineffective in real life. One of the reasons that have been given in regard to its ineffectiveness is political goodwill. As mentioned earlier, the implementation of the agreement has been devolved to the country level (Blau, 2017). This means that each country is tasked to ensure they adhere to the agreement. However, since there are no binding enforcement mechanisms, some countries are yet to even begin implementation. Towards this end, therefore, the agreement has not only become ineffective but also irrelevant. The lack of a binding enforcement mechanism is also a disadvantage and has been used by critics to highlight the irrelevance of it.
In conclusion, the Paris Agreement, and other similar International Environmental Agreements, can be used to lower the tensions between the environment and economy. The Paris Agreement provides guidelines on how the environment and the economy can be merged to benefit both entities. In the past, scholars and critics have argued that one entity is more important than the other (Bentz, 2016). It is this kind of thinking that enhanced the stated pressures and tensions. However, recent studies have shown that both entities cannot survive without the other. For instance, the economy relies heavily on a healthy environment for raw materials. On the same note, the economy is equally important for the advancement of mankind.
A circular approach is desired as it brings together the economy and the environment. In the circular approach, the economy encourages the making of products that enhance the sustainability of their own raw materials. This means that even though the economy will use the same raw materials it is currently using, it will also ensure the production of those raw materials. In turn, there will never be a depletion of the same. It is prudent to point out that the re-use economy encourages the recycling of products. Whereas it is better than the linear economy, it still has its disadvantages. There are several critics that have pointed out the ineffectiveness of the Paris Agreement. Political goodwill and the lack of a binding enforcing mechanism have greatly attributed to the failure of countries to implement the agreement.
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