Environmental v Economic Sustainability
1) What is an environmental impact assessment?
“An Environmental Impact Assessment” is an assessment of the possible positive or negative impact that a proposed project may have on the environment. It incorporates environmental, social and economic aspects.
2) What is the future of sustainability?
The future of sustainability relates to re-thinking environment and development in the 21st century. IUCN convened a meeting at the end of January 2006 to consider the progress towards global sustainability. The Brundtland Report defined sustainable as ‘development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’. Sustainable development is typically supported by three pillars, economic growth, environmental protection and social progress.
Although the issue of sustainability has been recognised explicitly since the 1970s, some developing countries have begun to achieve sustained economic growth and industrialisation on the standard ‘fossil fuel and automobile based consumer economy’, first the ‘Asian Tigers’, then China and India. China and India offers a unique opportunity to assess its limitations. China’s success, for example, is bringing massive increases in consumption (grain, meat, steel oil, timber). China’s revolutionary economic growth demonstrates the flaws with the conventional growth model. It shows the need for systemic change in the way development is understood and brought about globally: in the west as much as elsewhere. The earth is at a tipping point: business as usual is no longer an option. The present global dilemma offers huge risks, but also outstanding opportunities. The need to create a ‘sustainable post fossil-fuel society and economy’ has never been more widely recognised. Climate change has immediate implications for other phenomena such as sea level and extreme events. The occurrence of disasters in 2005 and 2006 (numerous hurricanes and tropical storms, earthquakes, flooding, famine) is major examples. The coastal location of the world’s largest cities exposes huge numbers of people to potential future risk and is therefore a prime aim of sustainability in the 21st century. Furthermore, we are unsure of the unforeseen social, environmental, economic or health consequences of new technology and there is a pressing need to reinstate biodiversity and ecosystems that we have removed.
3) a) What is the Environmental Sustainability Index?
The Environmental Sustainability Index (ESI) was a composite index published from 1999 to 2005 that tracked 21 elements of environmental sustainability covering natural resource endowments (Funds or property donated to an institution, individual, or group as a source of income), past and present pollution levels, environmental management efforts, contributions to protection of the global commons (any of the earth’s ubiquitous and unowned natural resources, such as the oceans, the atmosphere, and space), and a society’s capacity to improve its environmental performance over time. It was superseded by the Environmental Performance Index in 2006. The Environmental Performance Index (EPI) is a method of quantifying and numerically benchmarking the environmental performance of a country’s policies.
The world average of the ESI is 49.9, and Finland has the highest score with 75.1, while the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea has the lowest with 11.7. The five highest ranking countries are Finland, Norway, Uruguay, Sweden, and Iceland, while the five lowest countries are the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Iraq, Taiwan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.
b) What factors contribute to differences in the Environmental Sustainability Index?
The ESI is a composite profile of national environmental stewardship based on a compilation of 21 indicators for 146 countries. ESI represents an equally weighted average of the 21 indicator scores. Among the 21 indicators, some are pollution measures for air and water quality, and others are more fundamental measures of environmental sustainability such as biodiversity and reducing ecosystem stresses. Each indicator builds on between 2 and 12 data sets. For example, Air Quality is a composite indicator that includes variables tracking the concentration of nitrogen oxides, sulphur dioxide and particulates in urban areas, and indoor air pollution from solid fuel use.
Examples of factors include:
- Food security
- Water stress
- Water quality
- Infectious diseases
- Respiratory illness
- New diseases
c) Comment on the link between environmental sustainability and GDP
The relationship between economic growth and the environment is controversial. Traditionally, countries have developed at the expense of the environment. However, since the early 1990s it has been noted that there could be a positive relationship between economic growth and the environment. This relationship is noted in the Environmental Kuznets Curve. As a country develops it reaches a turning point where for GDP per capita to increase, the environment has to improve. This case could possibly be so because with the increased wealth and hence development society has also reached a point of environmental awareness, whilst RICs often exploit their natural resources to compete amongst developing foreign markets. Furthermore, when compared to the development model, industry becomes more efficient and less polluting. For example, between 1970 and 2006, the United States’ inflation-adjusted GDP grew by 195%, the number of cars and trucks in the country more than doubled, and the total number of miles driven increased by 178%. However, during that same time period regulatory changes meant that annual emissions of carbon monoxide fell from 197 million tons to 89 million, nitrogen oxides emissions fell from 27 million tons to 19 million, sulphur dioxide emissions fell from 31 million tons to 15 million, particulate emissions fell by 80%, and lead emissions fell by more than 98%. Deforestation appears to follow a Kuznets curve. Among countries with a per capita GDP of at least $4,600, net deforestation has ceased to exist. The air in London, Tokyo and New York was far more polluted in the 1960s than it is today.
4) Choose two contrasting countries (e.g. a MEDC and a LEDC) and compare their ESI’S. What factors will have contributed to the differences?
For the year 2005, Finland, an MEDC, attained the highest ESI score at 75.1, Haiti however, an LEDC, attained the sixth worst at 34.8. They have a difference of 40.3 ESI points, which is in fact greater than Haiti’s overall score. There is some fundamental “noise” associated with ESI rankings as of the judgement and compilation of the 21 individual indicators. However, due to the sizeable difference in ESI, I can say with near certain confidence that Finland is vastly outperforming Haiti. The picture may be different however if I were to compare Finland with Norway at 73.4, where the outperformance is greatly uncertain.
In 1925, Haiti was lush, with 60% of its original forest covering the lands and mountainous regions. Since then, the population has cut down an estimated 98% of its original forest cover for use as fuel for cookstoves, and in the process has destroyed fertile farmland soils, contributing to desertification. Finland on the other hand is very stringent with its forestry protection, especially under EU legislation; whereas Haiti has no such governing pressures. Forest covers 86% of the country’s area and it is the largest forested area in Europe. Other factors are similarly polarised, Finland has reduced pollution and improved its environmental quality through pioneering approaches like green taxes. Haiti however, as an undeveloped country has not reached the turning point on the Kuznets curve, if we are to apply it. Furthermore, a lot of MEDC pollution ends up in Haiti, for instance, there is a significant issue with plastic pollution, contributing to the anthropogenic degradation of land which is used as an indicator of ESI. But yet on the other hand, Haiti is so poor that the prevalence of vehicles is so low that it “is simply too poor to have air pollution.”
Water strain is also one of the indicators taken in to account for the ESI ranking. As a developed wealthy nation, Finland would be able to bring in its water if it didn’t have its temperate climate and 55,000 lakes that are 200 or more meters wide providing water access for all. Haiti on the other hand is at low latitude so rainfall is significantly less, so water strain is greater. Whilst on the topic of physical influences, it is also important to mention it has a high prevalence for natural disasters, such as the 2010 earthquake, which impeded development and available funds to contribute to environmental improvement and also means persistent rebuilding of infrastructure and property and the associated environmental impacts of doing so cheaply. Energy efficiency is also likely to be poor, if an LEDC has natural resources it is likely to exploit them in an attempt to spur on industrialisation, or have them exploited by other MEDCs, such as is looking likely with the new found oil in Haiti. Developed nations such as Finland are unlikely to do this under restraints of trading groups, or simply do not have it. Furthermore, due to the cheaper labour costs in LEDCs and the environmental restraints in MEDCs, TNCs are likely to locate production plants in countries such as this. The environmental pollution attributed to this can be seen if we look back to the UK in the 80s, the same situation has simply moved abroad.