• Nick Nesbitt

The Polluter Doesn't Pay

When considering evolution, most think of Charles Darwin and the ability of living things to adapt in physical ways that allow for their continued existence and flourishment. However, one might overlook the notion that, for humans, evolution occurs across all aspects of our existence, including our governance systems. We adapt our governance systems in respect to past failure, to meet new needs and address new problems, and to pre-emptively plan for our future. Furthermore, our governance systems have undergone considerable evolution, especially concerning the pursuit of addressing mounting concerns about the environment through global climate change policy.

In 1988, increasing concern about build-up of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases (GhG) in the atmosphere and the effect of such for causing climate change, led scientists, environmental activists and politicians to gather in Toronto for the ‘World Conference on the Changing Atmosphere’. At the conference it was agreed that global greenhouse gas emissions should be cut 20% by 2005 (1). However, instead of emissions in 2005 being lower than they were in 1988, they were 34% higher (2). By 2017, emissions were 22% higher still (3). Hence, while the agreements reached in Toronto set the stage for climate change policy to be revisited for continued evolution by global actors at Rio in 1992, Kyoto in 1997, and Paris in 2016 for example, something within the policy has hindered its evolutionary path and derailed global climate change policy from the goal of securing our own existence and flourishment.

Contained within the most important global climate change policies are several important and ground-breaking elements, yet of all the policy tools developed within, the “Polluter Pays Principle” (PPP) is one that endures and continues to evolve alongside global climate change policy. In effect, the PPP sees parties divided into two groups (developed and developing), thereby allowing different action to be required by the parties, based on their grouping (4). While the PPP is right in saying developed countries have played a greater role in deteriorating our climate, it has also fixed a division between developed and developing countries, splitting the effort to confront the problem at hand: our changing climate. By not providing any sort of obligation for developing countries in the process, international controversy has risen surrounding the emissions of countries classified as developing, specifically China. Since 1992, China’s emissions have more than tripled from 2.7 billion tonnes to 9.6 billion tonnes (5). Before the Kyoto Protocol was even ten years old, China was a bigger emitter of GhG than the United States (6).

The PPP has caused more disagreement than actual action to confront climate change. In the same way the beaks of Darwin’s Galápagos finches evolved from being for cracking large nuts to allowing for a range of new eating habits, the PPP needs to evolve in a way that would make it a more effective tool for cracking the climate change issue. As a country in the developed group, Canada is in a unique position. We have resisted much global climate change policy and have even withdrawn from the Kyoto Protocol. While this could be seen very negatively (and in many regards the reasons for our reluctance to participate as an effective actor in the fight against climate change is negative) it does put us in a spot where we could develop foreign policy that could be transformational. We could take into account shortfalls of global climate change policy, like the PPP, and evolve them to be less divisive and more inclusive. Canada prides itself on being a cultural mosaic that thrives as a result of our ability to be a cohesive unit that confronts societal problems as one. Let’s take this opportunity to help join the international community to confront climate change as one!

[1] Usher P. World Conference on the Changing Atmosphere: Implications for Global Security. Environment: Science and Policy for Sustainable Development. 1989. 31(1), p. 26


[2] Boden T.A., Marland G., and Andres R.J. Global, Regional, and National Fossil-Fuel CO2 Emissions. Carbon Dioxide Information Laboratory [Internet]. 2017 [cited 2020 June 5]. Available from: https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/global-greenhouse-gas-emissions-data

[3] Boden T.A., Marland G., and Andres R.J. Global, Regional, and National Fossil-Fuel CO2 Emissions. Carbon Dioxide Information Laboratory [Internet]. 2017 [cited 2020 June 5]. Available from: https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/global-greenhouse-gas-emissions-data


[4] Caney S. Cosmopolitan Justice, Responsibility, and Climate Change. Cambridge University Press. p. 753

[5] Ritchie H. and Roser M. CO2 and Greenhouse Gas Emissions. Our World in Data [Internet]. May 2017 [cited 2020 Jun 5]. Available from: https://ourworldindata.org/co2-and-other-greenhouse-gas-emissions#annual-co2-emissions

[6] Ritchie H. and Roser M. CO2 and Greenhouse Gas Emissions. Our World in Data [Internet]. May 2017 [cited 2020 Jun 5]. Available from:https://ourworldindata.org/co2-and-other-greenhouse-gas-emissions#annual-co2-emissions

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Shake Up The Establishment is a Canadian youth-led registered not-for-profit organization that focuses on promoting climate justice, through awareness campaigns and scientifically informed educational resource creation, in a non-partisan manner. We collaborate directly with groups and communities working to address injustices, alongside our ongoing work towards environment and climate literacy, and most importantly, political action.

 

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