The global society’s environmental issues today result from the reckless approach towards manufacturing and resource use that has been ongoing since the industrial revolution’s onset. Although the modern generation may not feel the consequences of these environmental crises, future generations will face problems that may threaten their existence and healthy living on this planet. Pollution affects people’s health, carbon emissions change the climate, and using nonrenewable energy sources will result in their termination. Despite the plethora of issues that the global society faces, there is no unified action against these problems that would make their resolution possible. This paper will address the question of resolving the environmental crises within the existing international society.
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Notably, the theories and practical application of green politics are a relatively new development in the international relations domain. At the current state, Paterson (2005) argues that the domain of green politics is currently in a marginal condition. This means that the environmental issues, despite them affecting the global community already and the growing number of problems they cause, are not a priority for the international community. Moreover, the theoretical works that would address this question are scarce as the problem has not gained the attention of scholars in recent years. Therefore, one can assume that within the existing institutions and international society, the environmental crisis is unsolvable unless more action is taken towards addressing it.
Some international organizations have recognized this problem and called for immediate action. In their statement for the United Nations, the President of the organization calls for action on the basis of the triple crisis that humanity faces: environmental pollution, climate change, and nature loss (“Environmental crisis,” 2021). These problems cause a crisis of human rights since they impair access to adequate food, water, housing, health, education, and development. Therefore, the UN warns that the lack of action from the international community will result in humanity facing not only environmental but also a humanitarian crisis.
One of the ways in which such an environmental crisis can be addressed is through the cooperation of the international community, achieved with the help of international organizations such as the UN. For example, currently, the UN has implemented its post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework (“Environmental crisis,” 2021). Although the primary concern of this international organization is ensuring that human rights are not infringed globally, the environmental crises are threatening basic rights such as access to food and water, which is why the UN is concerned with these issues.
Alternatively, countries can cooperate by signing agreements about the action plans they have towards addressing this crisis. The European Union has created the Climate Law that requires the participating states to achieve climate neutrality by 2050 (“Environmental crisis,” 2021). Specifically, the states have to implement policies that will allow them to reduce their emissions to the levels of the 1990s, or by 55%. This legislation means that all the EU member states will have to adjust their policies and implement regulations limiting the pollution levels. However, such intranational cooperation is possible within the EU because these states act as a uniform organization with a common government and goals. On a larger scale, it is difficult for nations to sign agreements relating to environmental issues and act in cooperation with one another.
Hence, the international society is already cooperating to achieve success in addressing the environmental problems and crises that humanity is facing. However, despite the efforts of the organizations such as the UN, the employees and individuals engaged in projects that attempt to address the environmental crisis often face resistance. For instance, according to the UN, “in many regions, environmental human rights defenders are threatened, harassed and even killed, often with complete impunity” (“Environmental crisis,” 2021, para. 16). This also suggests that the international society at its current state does not hold a uniform opinion regarding the importance of environmental issues and an immediate need to address them through coordinated actions.
Another barrier that threatens the ability of the international community to address the environmental crisis is the government’s reluctance to implement the laws and regulations targeting the environment. For example, the UN statement features the following: “through the 2030 Agenda, the Paris Agreement and other instruments, States have united behind a transformative vision for people-centered sustainable development, yet many have consistently failed to fund and implement it” (“Environmental crisis,” 2021, para. 22). This means that although countries have signed the Paris Agreement, they did not follow through with actions that would align with the statements in this agreement. Considering that there is little that the international community can do to address this reluctance, it appears that at the current state, the international community will have difficulty addressing the environmental crisis.
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Despite the fact that the international organizations and some developed states’ leaders voice their concerns and action plans, there is little that the international community can do to force nations to address the pollution, emissions, and climate change problems. For one, there is an option of implementing penalties and regulations against countries that fail to address these issues. However, the effectiveness of this step is limited by the level of involvement that the penalized nation has in international relations.
The second barrier is the focus on the economic relief and recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. This problem has arisen recently but affected all the states, and as the UN notes, the majority of funds and actions are currently targeting the economic relief of nations from the pandemic (“Environmental crisis,” 2021). Hence, the focus has shifted from addressing the environmental crisis, which is a serious but not immediate problem, towards ensuring that nations can recover economically and that their citizens are safe.
Theories of Environmental Awareness
In relation to the theory of environmental crisis from the viewpoint of international relations, Paterson (2005) discusses the distinction between the Green Theory and environmentalism. The latter relates to the idea that the existing political structures within the international relations environment are the cause of the environmental issues, and therefore, the resolution lies in the efforts towards changing these structures. On the other hand, environmentalists are not against the existing political structures and institutions and aim to make changes by leveraging and using the existing systems. Paterson (2005) compares the position of environmentalists to that of liberal institutionalists. Hence, the theoretical assumption of the environmentalists, if summarized, can be described as using the existing state systems to respond to the environmental crisis, which also implies that these state systems have the power and capability of addressing these problems. Therefore, there are two distinct theories relating to the environmental crisis and international relations, which are the environmentalist and Green Theory.
In contrast to environmentalists, the Green Theory supporters suggest changing the state systems and their cooperative efforts as the only valid way of addressing the global crisis. Paterson (2005) argues that the position of the Greens requires a massive change in the way the global political institutions operate. One of the central bases for the Green Theory is the “ecocentrism – the rejection of an anthropocentric worldview which places moral value only on humans in favor of one which places independent value also on ecosystems and all living beings” (Paterson, 2005, p. 237). Another basic principle that Greens support is that the environmental crisis the global society faces today is the result of the economic activity that has been ongoing for the last two centuries. Hence, the greens place the value of the environment and the planet above that of the human beings who reside on Earth and require the global community to change the approaches to living and economic activity in order to stop and reverse the environmental harm that has been caused already. Evidently, the approach to resolving the environmental crises that the greens offer is radical because it rejects the moral values of humans and places the value of ecosystems above it, which is why this theory may be difficult to adopt on a large scale.
The Green Theory is a rather radical approach to resolving the environmental issues of the planet. Dyer (2018, para. 10) describes the Green Theory as an approach that captures the value of nature itself and not the value of the humanity within nature and “what is to be valued, by whom and how to get it.” The way that the Green Theorists suggest addressing the environmental issues is by limiting the consumption of the people, which evidently limits the freedom of people. In this way, the issue of the tragedy of the commons is addressed because people can only consume as much as they need and not as much as they want. However, such a strict limitation is arguably impossible to implement considering the existing political and social climate.
Even if the ideas of the Greens could be implemented, there is an issue of how to impose restrictions on consumption over the nations. Dyer (2018) also addresses an important question of the boundaries that environmental issues have in the context of global politics. For example, political issues are resolved through a clear set of regulations and agreements that exist between nations, and each recognizes the boundaries of another. Environmental problems, however, have no boundaries, and human activity in one state has an effect on the life and future of the people residing in another. In this sense, the existing political structures of international cooperation between nations, in line with the Green Theory’s postulates, are incapable of addressing the environmental crisis.
Considering the insufficiency of the existing structures that govern cooperation between nations, one should examine how the Green Theory offers to address the environmental crises and what changes to the international cooperation should be made. For example, Dyer (2018) argues that Green Theorists suggest that because ecological issues have no boundaries, their resolution lies above the current international political structures and within the viewpoint of the global community as whole making decisions to address these issues.
The Green Theory aligns with several other approaches to viewing environmental issues and resolutions for them. According to Dyer (2018), the Green Theory is a part of the critical theory in the sense that it examines the relationships between people and their interactions as a community. Additionally, this theory can be viewed as ecocentric because its focus is on ecology. However, ecocentrism does not fully deny human needs and requirements, and instead, this thorough approach is focused on the wider implications, such as the human lives in the broader context of the environment and ecological systems.
Linklater et al. (2005) also reflect on the ideas of ecocentrism and the ideas of rejecting the anthropocentric values, which view human needs as the central tenants for international politics. However, interestingly, the ecocentric perspective implies the need to regard human needs as there are no criteria that would allow making a distinction between humans and other elements of the ecosystems. On the other hand, since under ecocentrism, all elements of nature are equal, and one cannot dominate over the other, the human’s needs that are satisfied through the excessive consumption of the planet’s resources causes issues that have to be addressed to protect the rights of the other inhabitants of this ecosystem and the nature itself.
The issue of green politics has been a topic of ongoing debate between scholars and politicians since the 1960s. According to Dyer (2018, para. 15), the green political parties and theories emerged between the 1960s and 1980s when the global community has recognized the “tragedy of the commons,” which is an assumption that the pursuit of self-interest will result in the depletion of clean water, fish, and land. The UN was the first international organization to publicly speak on this problem, which prompted the development of the environmentalist and Green Theories and gave a platform for the development of the green parties. As a result of the theoretical and practical developments of this era, the leaders of the international organizations have come to the conclusion that human actions cause not only the depletion of the resources and the threat to the environment but also result in the mounting number of security issues. Despite the fact that the environmental crisis has been recognized as a threat to human existence since the 1960s, the government of states and international organizations have not created an effective strategy for addressing these concerns so far.
Resolving the Environmental Crisis
Although there are theories that outline the potential resolutions to the global environmental issues, their practical application has not led to an adequate resolution yet. According to Dryer (2018, para. 50), “the obvious practical challenges of environmental change have not yet transformed IR theory – or even practice very much.” Traditionally, when new issues arise, they lead to the development of theories targeting their resolution and therefore lead to the practical application of the potential resolvents. However, with the environmental issues in the context of international relations, such resolution has not been found yet, and both the theory and practice are not developing rapidly enough to address the pressing concerns. This lack of progress suggests that the Green Theorists’ ideas about changing the nature of political structures and community-level political decision-making are the only valid approach to finding resolutions that would help overcome the environmental issues.
If the reliance on the existing theories has not resulted in the resolution of the environmental issues, one can examine other interdisciplinary fields that may have applicable theories and solutions. For example, ecology is concerned with the perseverance of nature (Dyer, 2018). The current political system is concerned with satisfying the immediate needs of humans, while the long-term perspective is omitted. In this sense, the application of the ecology principles can help address the concerns about the environment because this field incorporates the satisfaction of needs with practices that do not harm the environment.
Ecology, in general, is the study of how living organisms interact with their environment (“Global political ecology,” no date). Hence, the application of the ecology principles can help address the immediate environmental issues and problems by using the principles of the ecology theory to address the interactions of humans with their environment. Green Political Ecology (GPE) is a field that interconnects the environmental sciences, economics, and political studies in order to recognize and address the existing environmental problems in the world and field adequate resolutions for them (“Global political ecology,” no date). Still, GPE is a developing field of studies that has not gained enough attention from scholars and practitioners and lacks a strong theoretical basis to be applied in the context of international relations. Hence, although there are theories and potential resolutions from the other fields, none of the resolutions can adequately address the issue of the environmental crisis on a global scale because these theories do not offer an applicable framework for the cooperation between different nations.
The current postulates of the Green Theory require a full-scale change to the way the existing political systems operate and to the way that the nations interact with one another. Linkanter et al. (2005) discuss Green’s approach to rejecting the state systems as the central method for achieving success in preserving nature and preventing the environmental crisis. The way of achieving this, from the viewpoint of the greens, is by decentralizing the political systems. The viability of such an approach, considering global political relations, is arguably not possible.
Raising awareness among the general population about the ecological issues and the importance of cooperation between nations to address them can be crucial for finding the resolution to this international relations issue (Dunne et al., no date). According to Bretherton (no date, para. 20), biorealism is an “aim to develop a strong ecological consciousness and identification based upon a specific sense of place – of belonging to and forming part of the local ecosystems associated with a bioregion.” This approach is, unlike that of the greens, targets social change and prompts the society to make the changes, which should affect political thought.
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In summary, this paper addresses the issue of the environmental crisis from the viewpoint of international relations. Arguably, the current international cooperation trends make it impossible to address this problem. Some efforts have been made by international organizations such as the UN to draw attention to the potential humanitarian crisis that will become a severe issue in the following years if the problems of pollution, resource use, and climate change remain unaddressed. The states of the EU have signed legislation requiring the members to reduce the pollution rates to the levels of the 1990s. However, these are instances of cooperation that do not have a substantial global impact as they affect only some countries. The main theories that guide the practice of environmental politics are the Green Theory, which rejects the existing state systems, and environmentalism, which focuses on leveraging the existing political structures to address the crisis. The underlying concepts of the Green Theory require a change to the way that the states operate and interact, including the decentralization and an ecocentric focus as opposed to anthropocentrism. Due to this lack of attention to the satisfaction of the human needs, which is achieved through resource use, the existing ideas of the Green Theory can not be integrated into international relations.
Bretherton, C. (no date) Ecocentric identity and transformatory politics. Web.
Dyer, H. (2018) Introducing Green Theory in international relations. Web.
Dunne, K. et al. (no date) Chapter 14: revision guide. Web.
Environmental crisis: High Commissioner calls for leadership by Human Rights Council member states (2021). Web.
Global political economy (no date) Web.
Linklater, A. et al. (2005) Theories of international relations. New York: Palgrave.
Paterson, M. (2005) ‘Green politics’, in Linklater, A. et al. (eds) Theories of international relations. New York: Palgrave, pp. 235-254.