What are low-income countries obligations in combating climate change? Photo: Khuroshvili Ilya, Flickr

The environment the victim in the battle between low and high income countries

Climate change is global in its nature, yet nations argue who ought to undertake the responsibility of solving the issue of global warming. International negotiations resulted in the Kyoto Protocol, which exempted low income countries from any bonds. Frank Baber, from the Raoul Wallenberg Institute, proposes a human rights approach in order to find a solution to global warming.

In a historical perspective, bearing the industrialization in mind, high-income countries in the West have extensively contributed to the increasing levels of carbon dioxide (CO₂) in the atmosphere. However, with present knowledge we can forecast dreadful consequences if low-income countries decide to walk down the same path. Yet we cannot deny low-income countries the right to socio-economic development. As low-income countries begin their quest for growth, their CO₂ emissions drastically increase. In international negotiations for environmental agreements, there are discussions concerning whether the amount of responsibility a country has to undertake should depend on their economic status. Low-income countries claim that they simply do not have the economic capacity to invest in the environmental issue, whereas high-income countries recognize that the global and complex nature of climate change requires that all nations are equally responsible for achieving a sustainable environment.

Existing Methods
Earlier methods for international negotiations aiming towards environmental agreements where perceiving low-income countries as a homogeneous group with similar characteristics. However just like high-income countries, every low-income country is unique with a variety of features. The same goes for development strategies. History reveals that there is no universal blueprint for sustained economic growth. The differences amongst low-income countries calls for various development models with sustainability as a distinct feature.

The Kyoto Protocol was adopted in 1997 as the first attempt by the United Nations to control anthropogenic CO emissions. The agreement fell short as a result of contrasting political interests demonstrated by a clear distinction between two recognized groups; low-income countries and high-income countries. The Kyoto Protocol revolved around high-income countries, who signed binding targets to decrease global CO emissions by 5.2 percent. The rest were defined as low-income countries, who were excluded from the agreement and not obliged to undertake any responsibility. Accordingly, high-income countries aim to reduce their CO emissions, while low-income countries continue to emit greenhouse gases. The failure of including the global nature of CO₂ emissions is a clear evidence of the political character in climate negotiations that neglects the role of the environment. The problem of political self-interests are still present in current climate negotiations such as the Paris Agreement, displays an urgent need for new methods to solve the issue of global warming.

Human rights approach
The conventional methods of solving environmental issues have proven to be ineffective. Countries fail to take responsibility for their CO emissions, because economic interests are prioritized over engagement in the environmental issue. However, there are innovative methods that have yet to be tried. Frank Baber, from the Raoul Wallenberg Institute, argued in an interview for a unique method of resolving environmental issues. An efficient method of safeguarding environmental rights is to primarily focus on basic human rights. One example is the right to clean water, which is a multidimensional right that can focus on meeting basic human needs as well as ensuring a sustainable use of resources. Environmental rights will thus be protected by ensuring human rights.

Frank Baber explains that environmental rights are abstract and complicated to grasp, whereas human rights are more concrete and much more relatable. CO emission can neither be seen, heard nor smelled. On the contrary, it is easy to put yourself in the shoes of someone who lacks access to clean water. Human rights provide a better starting point than abstract environmental rights. Moreover, the right to clean water is already enshrined in binding international agreements which may not be regulated in the strongest way possible, but they do exist and provide use with a clear starting-point. From a legal standpoint, human rights are an efficient way to ensure that environmental rights are protected and it is politically sensible for all counterparts.

Frank Baber further discussed the enforcement issues concerning environmental rights. Enforcement of environmental rights comes with great difficulties, especially regarding public international law, including issues concerning human rights. However, the difficulty can vary. The case of Ratko MladiÄ ‡ demonstrates the strength of enforcing human rights over environmental rights. MladiÄ ‡ was sentenced to life in prison for human rights violations. He also committed severe damage to the environment, which he was never charged of. Frank Baber argues that the human rights battle has more potential weapons than the environmental battle, consequently making this method the most efficient approach in the battle for a sustainable environment.

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