Opinions


The Utility of UN in Contemporary Global Politics

Posted: 5:55 pm, Saturday, 20 February 2021.

The existence of international organizations has molded the nature of global political landscape among its actors; involving state and non-state actors and their existence is “vital as they are often the vessel through which states interact and exert their interest with the international system”. The advent of international forums for multilateral dialogue was brought into existence with the formation of Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) in 1889 being a forerunner to the League of Nations post World War I and that later became United Nations after failure of the league (Crockatt 2012). On the significance of UN, Kofi Annan rightly stated; “More than ever before in human history, we share a common destiny. We can master it only if we face it together and that is why we have the United Nations.”

The functionality and effectiveness of the UN with regards to global issues it is faced with ever since its inception has been subject to various influences. The very structure of the UN and the place it gives to some of the worlds’ most powerful and influential countries has also been an aspect of contention which will be addressed in the subsequent sections of this paper. The United Nations through its specialized agencies addresses possible remedies for a wide array of problematic areas that impede progress and development throughout the globe over the years. For instance, ILO - International Labor Organization, FAO - Food and Agriculture Organization, UNESCO - United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization, UNDP - United Nations Development Program, UNICEF United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund, are a few of those whose relentless efforts have been recognized worldwide.

Threats to peace and security have become an overriding concern for all countries and international organizations. UN has been confronted with conflicts since the end of the Cold War such as the Gulf War and the post 9/11 war on terrorism. While the UN has organized peacekeeping missions, cease fires, human rights monitoring, aid and assistance to war torn areas and rehabilitation and reconciliation efforts to prevent future engagements. The question remains whether the efforts made by the organization have been truly effective in de-escalation of conflicts. For instance with regards to the Indo-Pak conflict on Kashmir UN uses its military observer group UNMOGIP, to monitor the two countries’ observance of ceasefire imposed but despite that border skirmishes and human rights violations in the Indian occupied Kashmir IOK are a frequent headline, portraying the UN to be playing a rather latent role. This is just one instance there are various other conflicts where role of UN has been dormant at best. It also brings into question that had the UN been truly effective other conflicts such as those in; Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan and Palestine could have been avoided or put a timely end to.

Some justify UN’s incapacity to deescalate with the lack of willingness of the countries involved in hostilities to put an end to it, but it can be argued that is the primary purpose of UN to bring unyielding actors to a prolific resolution hence it needs to play a greater more active role that needs to be multifaceted and all-encompassing to cater to the wide range of security concerns and conflicts it is faced to address. “On the issue of tackling terrorism it is important to highlight that words and declarations would never fully eradicate that scourge, instead there is a need for coordinated action under the umbrella of the Council with the activation of the so called sleeping structures of the United Nations” (United Nations Still Essential but Needs Reform to Be ‘Fit for Purpose’ in Coming Decades, Speakers Say as General Assembly Debate Continues 2015).

With the changing global financial conditions many low-income countries face a number of challenges as increasing number of their population live below the poverty line, and in such an atmosphere aid and assistance from international organizations such as the UN prove to be essential. Organizations such as FAO have been functioning in areas of the world that suffer from lack of basic resources including food and clean drinking water. While there is no guarantee such steps would entirely eradicate issues of malnutrition but it is a step in the right direction and UN’s role in this regard is worth applauding. Even in 21st century there are areas of the world that remain without the basic resources, and are drought prone or worn torn in such circumstances organizations such as FAO under the umbrella of the UN can work to provide assistance. Food security has become an equally important concern as state security in the contemporary age. A reinvigorated role of FAO under the UN is required to enact short- and medium-term policies to help achieve pro-poor and inclusive transformation. This is not possible by focusing on economic growth alone but requires tackling existing inequalities at all levels through multi sectorial policies that keep resolving these inequalities as the central focus (FAO 2019).

With changing global trends concerns regarding environment and climate change have also been cornerstone of UN General Assembly discussions. Sustainable and Millennium development goals have been part of UN agenda to ensure benefits of development can meet the needs of present without compromising the ability of future generation to meet their needs. “UN Environment is committed to working with all concerned parties to support the achievement of the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals; promoting environmental sustainability is a crucial enabling factor in implementing the SDGs and ensuring the health of our planet it also builds countries’ capacities to track their progress toward the goals and aims to ensure that the environment is integrated into all aspects of sustainable development” (Why do the Sustainable Development Goals matter?).

Some skeptics have viewed the influence of UN as only beneficial to the interests of the superpowers which is not an entirely unsubstantiated concern as the five permanent Security Council members exert considerable degree of power in matters of global security. It is believed that “UNSC is an increasingly divided house; between the power of the majority and the power of the purse” (Confront the P5: why the UN Security Council must change 2015). The low income countries consider that they will not be able to voice their concerns on global forums because the superpowers always had and will get a final say on matters of global peace and security dynamics, even in the 21st century. For the UN to be truly successful in global governance there is a need to balance world powers, the influence of superpowers needs to be contained so ideas such as ‘might is right’ cannot prosper. In addition to that there is also a need to foster trust among the international actors, in democratic era like today negotiation is preferred over imposition. Although despite its shortcoming the UN has proven to be a vital institution and can prosper even more given that significant steps are undertaken in order to reinvigorate the organizations’ functionality and well equip it to confront the 21st century challenges.

References:
council, Elect the. "Confront the P5: why the UN Security Council must change." August 17, 2015. https://electthecouncil.org/confront-the-p5-why-the-un-security-council-must-change/.

Crockatt, Sophie. "The Role of International Organisations in World Politics." E-IR. February 7, 2012. https://www.e-ir.info/2012/02/07/the-role-of-international-organisations-in-world-politics/.

FAO, IFAD, UNICEF, WFP and WHO. "The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2019." FAO. 2019. http://www.fao.org/state-of-food-security-nutrition/en/.

Session, UNGA 17th. "United Nations Still Essential but Needs Reform to Be ‘Fit for Purpose’ in Coming Decades, Speakers Say as General Assembly Debate Continues." UN.org. September 29, 2015. https://www.un.org/press/en/2015/ga11694.doc.htm.

UNenvironment. "Why do the Sustainable Development Goals matter?" UN Environment.org. n.d. https://www.unenvironment.org/explore-topics/sustainable-development-goals/why-do-sustainable-development-goals-matter.

By Taimiya Khalid


Is it Justified to See Population as the Major Obstacle to Sustainable Development?

Posted: 10:38 pm, Monday, 12 October 2020.

According to Malthus (1798), “the power of population is so superior to the power of the Earth to produce subsistence for man, that premature death must in some shape or other visit the human race”. The Malthusian question has been used recently to stimulate arguments about the Earth’s carrying capacity. Malthusianism raises an issue of global importance and it is based on the relationship between population and environmental degradation. Consequently, there is an urgency to investigate whether or not population can be seen as the major obstacle to sustainable development. The fact that 3 of the 8 UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in 2015 were dealing with population emphasises the relevance of the Malthusian theory in international development. The Malthusian question is centred around the idea of scarcity, because land and resources on Earth are finite while the desire of human beings is infinite. The theory claims that the population reproduces geometrically and it is capable of doubling over 25 years (Malthus, 1798).

The Earth’s carrying capacity is a contested concept as its interpretations are linked to the difference in perspectives between the technological optimists and ecologists. Essentially, carrying capacity is “a complex normative concept influenced by ecological dynamics, human values and aims, institutional settings and management practices” (Seidl and Tisdell, 1998). Environmental degradation is based on negative impacts on the environment such as biodiversity losses, stratospheric ozone depletion and the significant increase in carbon-dioxide in the atmosphere. In a broader context humanity’s goal to preserve the environment by reducing environmental degradation as much as possible is connected to the concept of sustainability. According to the United Nations’ World Commission on Environment and the Economy, “sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (Rees, 2017).

Critically discussing the general relationships between population and its effects on the environment is a top priority when analysing how sustainable development is impacted. Moreover, there are contrasting views elaborated in academic papers on this topic that lead to the creation of a debate between ecologists and cornucopians. As a matter of fact, population and development affect one another: the size and growth of the population directly impact development, while the quality of healthcare directly affects fertility. When making reference to the Earth’s carrying capacity and Malthus’ theory, ecologists still consider the carrying capacity to be a vital concern because the rise of the population and economic growth are directly proportional. As a consequence, there is a depletion of natural capital, an increase in pollution and a steady decline in biodiversity (Rees, 2017). Therefore, the magnitude of environmental degradation increases. Inevitably, these trends undermine global life support as the population on Earth already exceeds global carrying capacity, evidence being based on detailed analysis of global trends, physical laws and complex systems models (Rees, 2017).
On the contrary, cornucopians, who are seen as technological optimists, consider technology to have the solution for any globally relevant issue, including population growth. For instance, Lawrence Summers (1991), a Chief Economist, stated that there are no limits to the Earth carrying capacity and no risk of apocalypse due to global warming, while concluding that essentially there should be no limits on growth. In this context, the contrasting interests, views and perspectives of ecologists and cornucopians, lead to the existence of different interpretations of the Earth’s carrying capacity and on how the environment should be preserved.

However, there is a possibility that the needs of future generations will be sacrificed because of  the direct relationship between population growth and environmental degradation. More specific, there is a growing tension between moderate to conservative demographic projections that are based on the fact that the world population size will reach 9 billion or more by mid to late 21st century and the idea that Earth’s long term sustainable carrying capacity may not be in fact much greater than 2-3 million (Smail, 2002). Additionally, the idea of scarcity needs to be taken into account: there should be finite limits to global human numbers, as there are finite resources. Furthermore, a variety of systematic problems that already negatively impact human beings such as pollution and irretrievable loss of biodiversity are caused by population growth (Smail, 2002). According to several scientists: “the era of inexpensive energy, adequate food supplies, easily extractable raw materials, plentiful fresh water readily accessible ‘open space’ is coming close” (Smail, 2002). Consequently, the stabilisation of the population and the commitment to achieve sustainable development will be inevitable, particularly when in economic analysis the Earth’s finite resources  and limitations will be considered.

In a broader perspective, the debate on population growth is based on the Malthusian perspective and the Boserupian one, which refers to a cornucopian approach, highlighting how technology and technological advances are the solution to any environmental changes. In history there was a gradual shift from the Malthusian regime to a Boserupian one (Kristinsson and Júlíusson, 2016). Most important, the effect of the environment on the population is seen as being balanced because of the ability that human beings have to adapt to these changes. Hence, the concept of hyper-adaptability refers to humans being able to adapt to their own growing population through their cultural evolution by actively managing the environment for food production and shifting down the food chain (Kristinsson and Júlíusson, 2016). For this reason, population growth is not considered to be an obstacle by cornucopians (Kristinsson and Júlíusson, 2016). This argument focuses on the population playing an active role, in contrast to Malthusian demographics, where population is a passive element, as it is heavily influenced by the environment and technological advances (Kristinsson and Júlíusson, 2016). In addition, the Boserupian approach is centred around the idea that industrial modernisation can lead to less starvation, as large complex societies have more culture, and therefore can adapt easier to population growth. In other words, “reliance on culture has allowed us to react differently to population pressure than other species” and therefore population growth can contribute to sustainable development as long as human beings take advantage of hyper-adaptability and make changes in their lifestyles to benefit the environment (Kristinsson and Júlíusson, 2016).

Nevertheless, there are environmental changes that are extreme and call attention to the fact that  there are limits in the way in which human beings can adapt. The negative impacts of population increase on the environment are therefore based on stratospheric ozone depletion, atmospheric carbon-dioxide increasing buy 30% in the industrial era, the mean global temperatures reaching high records, more frequent and violent extreme weather events and more than a half of planet’s accessible fresh water already being used by people (Rees, 2017). These examples are just a few negative effects of population growth on our planet and are a clear proof of a positive relationship between population growth and environmental degradation. Furthermore, as there is population pressure on natural renewable resources, there are higher chances that societies will be more prone to civil war (Urdal, 2005). UNEP defines sustainable development as “improving the quality of human life while living within the carrying capacity of supporting ecosystems” (Rees, 2017). Consequently, population growth can be seen as a major obstacle to sustainable development, considering how environmental scarcity can lead to armed conflicts (Urdal, 2005).

Even so, when looking at the perspective of the cornucopians in this debate, there is an increase in the standards of living of the population. This is due to the rapid expansion of the economies which is exceeding the growth of the population (The Economist, 2008). As a result, the demographic transformation of the economy will spur economic development, bringing greater prosperity (The Economist, 2008). Furthermore, in connection to the hyper-adaptability of humans, economies can adapt as well. As an example, if oil wells were to run dry, other energy sources could be exploited (The Economist, 2008). In this context, the greenhouse gas emissions can also be reduced significantly by imposing a carbon tax, or even switching to a low-carbon economy. To sum up, according to conucopians, population and the economy can adapt protecting the environment and therefore population can contribute to sustainable development.

Conclusively, this is an ongoing debate highly relevant nowadays because it is based on the way we live and the choices that we make. I believe that the infinite needs of the human beings put pressure on the environment unrestrictedly and even if technological innovation is taken into account, the needs of future generations will be sacrificed if sustainable development is not prioritised. That is due to the immense losses in biodiversity which can’t be rectified. There are significant efforts done in preserving the environment, however, they are not sufficient. Population growth remains the main obstacle in achieving sustainable development around the world.

References:
Ejolt.org. 1991. Lawrence Summers’ Principle. [online] Available at: <http://www.ejolt.org/2013/02/lawrence-summers’-principle/>
Malthus, Thomas Robert., and Edward Anthony. Wrigley. An Essay on the Principle of Population: the First Edition (1798) with Introduction and Bibliography. Pickering, 1986.
Rees, W. (2017).Carrying Capacity and Sustainability: Waking Malthus’ Ghost. Encyclopedia of Life Support Systems. [online] Available at: https://www.eolss.net/sample-chapters/C13/E1-45-04-11.pdf [Accessed 22 Dec. 2017].
Seidl, I. and Tisdell, C. (1998). Carrying capacity reconsidered. Brisbane: Univ. of Queensland, Dep. of Economics.
Smail, J.K. 2002, "Confronting a Surfeit of People: Reducing Global Human Numbers to Sustainable Levels An Essay on Population Two Centuries after Malthus", Environment, Development and Sustainability, vol. 4, no. 1, pp. 21.
The Economist. (2008). Malthus, the false prophet. [online] Available at: http://www.economist.com/node/11374623 [Accessed 1 Jan. 2018].
Urdal, H. (2005). People vs. Malthus: Population Pressure, Environmental Degradation, and Armed Conflict Revisited. Journal of Peace Research, 42(4), pp.417-434.

By Diana Maria Crivtonencu


Green Infrastructure and Sustainable Development

In the world of today, where innovations and development have become a common gesture, on the other hand it has also induced many social, environmental and subsistence challenges to the living communities. Prehistorically, when human habitation was limited and confined, the different elements designated in maintaining the livability of this planet were functioning in their optimum status. But as curiosity and process of discovery accelerated, it also enhanced the demand to add the term “Sustainability” in mandatory terms. In the previous century, the urbanized areas of the world, also known as cities, captured 14% from the total world’s area. However in this century, the human population accelerated greatly from 10 to 20 million and is still exponentially increasing in short time intervals (Boone et.al, 2013). It is said that by 2050, this world would have 70% areas as cities (Fontana, Sattler, Bontadina & Moretti, 2011).

The concept of Green Infrastructure (GI) arose as a part of recognition of mass movement and concentration of human population and their impactful activities upon urbanized and non-urbanized regions of the world. Basically in common terms it means to increase ecological areas to combat hazards and risks associated with environmental issues (Ranjha, 2016). It is spatial designing and establishment of such structures which associates all environmental features in an area. This may include, open spaces, landscapes, green spaces, greenbelts, conservation corridors, Eco-belts in urban areas, whereas wetlands, waterways, wildlife habitats, woodlands and forests as natural areas. (Lovell & Taylor, 2013). The main reason for introduction of GI is to provide an effective solution and mitigation measure to areas which are on hot list of environmental damages without causing economic or any social loss (Naumann et.al, 2011). For planners and policy makers, GI has become a significant conception in promotion of sustainable land usage, whereas the principle of multifunctionality is one of its vital notions (Kettunen et.al, 2014). Implementation of GI not only helps in management of environmental contaminations from non-point sources, but it also helps in controlling alterations in rainfall discharges which result due to increase in anthropogenic activities (Newell et.al, 2013).

Due to varying trends of climate upon the world and diminution in natural resistance, cities have become more resilient in not only contending short-term issues, like droughts and floods, but also chronic issues in long run such as global warming, intrusive species climate change etc.(Williamson, 2003). At the end of the previous century, different organizations conducted summits and conferences on international forums in order to formulate policies and framework for developmental project keeping the conservation of environment in mind (Declaration, 1992). As a result of Rio declaration in 1992, leaders from 150 nations of the world attended the Millennium summit to agree on a Millennium declaration. Extracted from this declaration, Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were set up to be met within 15 years. These goals were primarily established to tackle against social and global issues like environmental degradation, poverty, diseases, hunger, illiteracy, and discriminations against woman (Assembly, 2001). Reaching the post of 2015, United Nations referred to the nations of the world to evaluate the accomplishments of MDGs. Realizing the need to work continually till eradication, the leaders from the world assembled again on 25th September 2015 to take on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (Lee, 2016).

The 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) serves the purpose of realizing the needs of human rights along with the rights of the environment around the world. Out of these goals, one is designated to promote sustainable structures of urbanized communities, which is required to enhance quality of life on land for every living being. The context of GI support the growth of urban systems based on the principles drawn out from the goals (Norton, 2014): 1) preferment of enduring health for the area, 2) formation of optimistic communities that are not only ecological today, but also in future, 3) contemplation of sustainability at every phase to not compromise prospects of up-coming generations, 4) agility of strategies to accelerate in reaching the set goals (Diaz et.al, 2016).

Pakistan is known as one of the developing countries of the world, which is present at a very strategic geographical location, much beneficial economically but prone to many environmental hazards due to lack of planning and consideration to the environmental issues. Due to many disastrous episodes, policy makers of the country have now moved on with the mission of accomplishment of sustainable approach in various sectors. The country aims to shape its development with “Green Growth”. This terminology is defined as replacement of devastating economic policies with green strategies to induce sustainability in developmental patterns of the country (Manzoor & Ramay, 2013). To achieve an ecological sustained development, the country is of the strategy to support their systems with green technology to provide economic and social benefits without compromising the environmental quality. This strategy will pursue the objective of maximizing the Gross Domestic Product without provoking or causing any environmental affliction (Manzoor, Change & Samad, 2011).

The United Nations Economic Social Commission for Asia and Pacific (UNESCAP) has projected green growth into five approaches as: integration of green tax and rectification of budget upon green measures, economy-efficiency indicators, green businesses and green markets, sustainable productions and consumption and most importantly establishment of green infrastructures as a vital step towards sustainable green growth and development. Narrated below are some of the functions and benefits of GI that exists in different forms and can prove to be helpful in promoting sustainability in this country (Demiroglu, Yucekaya, Coban & Gokce, 2014):

Establishment of natural drainages: this allows the city to survive without the risk of flood and provide an aquatic ecosystem to permit safe interaction of human with other living species.
Green courses for wildlife and people: it encourages sustainable roaming and exercises and reduce the risks of habitat fragmentation. This helps in conservation of biodiversity in the area.
Improvement of air and water quality, regional climate and noise control: by enhancing the area’s GI, environmental hazards are moderated swiftly without causing it to spread over large area. This restores ecological quality and health and promote well-being of the residents of that area.  
Fortification and enrichment of Landscapes: conservation and sustenance of region’s landscape provides attraction sites for tourists which provide better opportunities to local businesses and reduces unemployment.
Preservation of local heritage: due to unplanned urbanization, many historical/cultural heritage sites are badly impacted and are facing eradication. Proliferation in GI helps in preservation of identity and distinctiveness of the region’s culture and history which are the main tourist attractions.

Pakistan is an important part of the world and for its citizen it is their only home. As perceived by annual environmental events such as heat wave, floods, water scarcity, droughts, invasive species and diseases, climate change etc. it has become very crucial for this country to adapt and implement sustainable measures on emergency basis to save and replenish resources and the environment for a better tomorrow for our future generations.

References:
Assembly, U. G. (2001). Report of the Secretary General: Road Map Towards the Implementation of the United Nations Millennium Declaration. A/56/326, 6 September 2001, New York: United Nations General Assembly.
Boone, C. G., Redman, C. L., Blanco, H., Haase, D., Koch, J., Lwasa, S., ... & Yokohari, M. (2013). Group 4: Reconceptualizing urban land use. Rethinking Urban Land Use in a Global Era; Seto, KC, Reenberg, A., Eds.
Declaration, R. (1992). Rio declaration on environment and development.
Demiroglu, D., Yucekaya, M., Coban, A., & Gokce, D. (2014). Investigation of Green Infrastructure for Sustainable Cities: the Kilis Case. Journal of Environmental Protection and Ecology, 15(3), 1199-1207.
Diaz-Sarachaga, J. M., Jato-Espino, D., Alsulami, B., & Castro-Fresno, D. (2016). Evaluation of existing sustainable infrastructure rating systems for their application in developing countries. Ecological indicators, 71, 491-502.
Fontana, S., Sattler, T., Bontadina, F., & Moretti, M. (2011). How to manage the urban green to improve bird diversity and community structure. Landscape and Urban Planning, 101(3), 278-285.
Kettunen, M., Apostolopoulou, E., Bormpoudakis, D., Cent, J., Letourneau, A., Koivulehto, M., ... & Borgström, S. (2014). EU green infrastructure: opportunities and the need for addressing scales. Scaling in ecology and biodiversity conservation. Advanced Books. Pensoft, Sofia, Bulgaria. http://dx. doi. org/10.3897/ab. e1169.
Lee, B. X., Kjaerulf, F., Turner, S., Cohen, L., Donnelly, P. D., Muggah, R., ... & Waller, I. (2016). Transforming our world: implementing the 2030 agenda through sustainable development goal indicators. Journal of public health policy, 37(1), 13-31.
Lovell, S. T., & Taylor, J. R. (2013). Supplying urban ecosystem services through multifunctional green infrastructure in the United States. Landscape ecology, 28(8), 1447-1463.
Manzoor, R., & Ramay, S. A. (2013). Green Growth and Technological Innovation: A case for South Asian countries. Sustainable Development Policy Institute.
Manzoor, R., Change, C., & Samad, G. (2011). Green Growth: An Environmental Technology Approach. The Pakistan Development Review, 50(4), 471-490.
Naumann, S., Davis, M., Kaphengst, T., Pieterse, M., & Rayment, M. (2011). Design, implementation and cost elements of Green Infrastructure projects. Final report, European Commission, Brussels, 138.
Newell, J. P., Seymour, M., Yee, T., Renteria, J., Longcore, T., Wolch, J. R., & Shishkovsky, A. (2013). Green Alley Programs: Planning for a sustainable urban infrastructure?. Cities, 31, 144-155.
Norton, M. R. Urban Development and Sustainable Infrastructure. ASCE Los Angeles Section. 2014.
Ranjha, S. (2016). Green infrastructure: planning for sustainable and resilient urban environment. Brief for GSDR. DLGS-IOERTU Dresden, Germany https://sustainabledevelopment. un. org/content/documents/95599_Ranjha_Green% 20infrastructure_planning% 20for% 20sustainable% 20and% 20resilient, 20.
Williamson, K. S. (2003). Growing with green infrastructure. Doylestown: Heritage Conservancy.

By Falak Naeem

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