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Baghaki, Azin --- "The Inequitable Connections between Environmental Degradation, Climate Change and Poverty - An Overview and Analysis of Current and Future Frameworks and Strategies" [2014] NZJlEnvLaw 2; (2014) 18 NZJEL 1

Last Updated: 21 January 2023


The Inequitable Connections

between Environmental Degradation, Climate Change and Poverty —

An Overview and Analysis of Current and Future Frameworks and Strategies

Azin Baghaki*

This article will look at environmental degradation, in particular the impacts of climate change and extreme poverty, and how these two issues are intrinsically connected. The focus will be on the devastating effects of environmental degradation on the poor, in particular the most vulnerable in developing countries. It will examine the goals of eradicating poverty and achieving sustainability and environmental protection, and whether they are able to be tackled together. It will then look at the frameworks and strategies currently in place, including the Millennium Development Goals, the Kyoto Protocol, and the currently evolving Sustainable Development Goals, and whether these frameworks have worked in resolving the issues of poverty and environmental degradation. It will be argued that the current direction is acceptable, although continued bold action needs to be taken to achieve the interconnected goals. It is also argued that future frameworks must include the following essential strategies: adaptation to the impacts of climate change, controlling and stabilising population numbers, and investing in sustainable economic development.

*LLM (Hons) (University of Auckland) LLB/BA (University of Otago), admitted as a Lawyer of the Supreme Court of Victoria, Australia and admitted as a Barrister and Solicitor of the High Court of New Zealand. This article is a shortened and edited version of a paper submitted by the author in 2013 for partial completion of the author’s LLM specialising in International Law at The University of Auckland. Azin is interested and involved in a number of international humanitarian organisations. Email contact:


Alleviating poverty, protecting the environment and promoting sustainability may seem like contradictory objectives, but in reality they are interconnected. These issues are some of the biggest challenges of our time and require urgent steps to tackle the devastating effects both on humanity and the environment. While the effects of environmental degradation, namely climate change, on the environment are generally understood, the effects on humans are less accepted. Environmental degradation not only affects humans globally, but unfortunately it has the biggest impact on the most vulnerable, the poor and low­income families, in both developed and developing countries. Therefore, sustainability has become a major global concern. Poorer communities around the world, in particular in developing regions, face greater challenges than ever before and suffer inequalities from environmental injustices caused from a poor framework for wealth distribution. As wisely stated by Boyce, “[t]he global environment is our common home, but not everyone lives in the same room”,1 as affluent members of developed countries do not face these same inequalities. It is now more important than ever to protect and assist those suffering from poverty and environmental injustices through a system of sustainability, economic growth and wealth distribution, as well as mitigating and adapting to the effects of climate change. Despite the goals being connected they are high on different political agendas,2 thus there is a need to explore and drive the co-benefits of both policies to create a synergic policy action, which will mean that the policy incentive is stronger and more cost-efficient than tackling the policies separately.3

The global problems of poverty and environmental protection require an international response and global policies that encourage sustainable energy, particularly in developing regions.4 The international community has recognised the need to help the world’s poor and vulnerable, and set time­ bound goals to combat many issues suffered, through the establishment of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and the Kyoto Protocol. A number of the goals and targets of both frameworks have been met or will be met by

  1. James K Boyce “Inequality and environmental protection” in Jean­Marie Baland, Pranab Bardhan and Samuel Bowles (eds) Inequality, Cooperation, and Environmental Sustainability (Princeton University Press, New Jersey, 2007) 314 at 315.
  2. Diana Ürge­Vorsatz and Sergio Tirado Herrero “Building Synergies between Climate Change Mitigation and Energy Poverty Alleviation” (2012) 49 Energy Policy 83–90 at 83.

3 At 83.

4 Daniel Behn “Linking Climate Change Mitigation and Poverty Education: Continued Reform of the Clean Development Mechanism in the Post­Kyoto Era to Promote Sustainable Energy Development on the African Continent” in Yves Le Bouthillier, Miriam Alfie Cohen, Jose Juan Gonzalez Marquez, Albert Mumma and Susan Smith (eds) Poverty Alleviation and Environmental Law (Edward Elgar, Cheltenham, 2012) at 263.

deadlines. However, goals set for a more sustainable world and eradicating poverty were not sufficiently achieved and require further work and stronger commitments. The United Nations and its Member States are now in the process of establishing a new set of Sustainable Development Goals to progress sustainability and environmental rights. While the MDGs may provide useful tools towards alleviating poverty and protecting the environment and promoting sustainability, a shift in focus towards population control, adaptation measures and sustainable economic growth and development is needed otherwise these interconnected goals will not be achieved.


2.1 Environmental Protection and Sustainability

Sustainability, or “sustainable development”, is a complex issue and can have various definitions and interpretations.5 However, in the context of this article, sustainability is as defined by the Brundtland Commission as:6

development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. It contains within it two key concepts: the concept of needs, in particular the essential needs of the world’s poor, to which overriding priority should be given; and the idea of limitations imposed by the state of technology and social organization on the environment’s ability to meet present and future needs.

With the loss of forests, water, food and various species, our global resources are running out7 and human and ecological survival is at great risk. Agricultural sustainability is already facing many concerns such as land degradation and population growth.8 One of the main challenges to environmental protection and sustainability is anthropocentric climate change caused by greenhouse gas emissions, the by­products of carbon energy and fossil fuels. This threat

  1. For an overview of the principle of sustainability and sustainable development and its origins see Klaus Bosselmann “The Concept of Sustainable Development” in Klaus Bosselmann, David Grinlinton and Prue Taylor (eds) Environmental Law for a Sustainable Society (2nd ed, New Zealand Centre for Environmental Law, Auckland, 2002) 95.
  2. Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development (the Brundtland Commission) Our Common Future (Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1987) at 43.
  3. United Nations The Millennium Development Goals Report 2013 (UN, New York, 2013) at 3.
  4. The World Bank and others Poverty and Climate Change: Reducing the Vulnerability of the Poor through Adaptation (The World Bank, Washington, 2012) at 7.
to environmental sustainability will be the focus of this article. It is essential that environmental protection, climate change and sustainable development issues be mainstreamed by development and environmental agencies in order to promote sustainability and protect our natural resource base.9

With nearly 50 per cent of the world’s population under the age of 25, it is critical that there is a focus on teaching the next generation the value and importance of environmental awareness and protection10 in order for progress and education on the topic to continue. A statement made by the previous Australian Government should resonate with all governments and individuals worldwide and spur them into action:11

The decisions governments make today about infrastructure, health, water management, agriculture, biodiversity and housing will have lasting consequences for our children and future generations. By considering the future climate when making these decisions Australia [or any country] will be in a better position to deal with the unavoidable impacts of climate changes.

2.2 Poverty

Eradicating extreme poverty is a major challenge plaguing the world that requires the joint efforts and actions of governments, non­governmental organi­ sations and the private sector.12 Poverty is generally defined as a lack of access to resources. However, reports indicate that the poor actually consider poverty as “disempowerment and exclusion”. It is about more than a lack of wealth, as Shelton states: “For them, development is about human choice and freedom, the self­determination to decide on a future that is not constrained by sickness, hunger, illiteracy, or oppression.”13 The association between the environment and poverty is even more apparent when poverty is looked at in this light, where it is not a matter of income and wealth, “but encompasses the capability

  1. At XII.
  2. United Nations Children’s Fund Climate Change and Children (UNICEF, New York, December 2007).
    1. Australian Government, Department of Industry, Innovation, Climate Change, Science, Research and Tertiary Education “Adapting to Climate Change” < au/climate ­ change/adapting ­ climate ­ change> .
  3. United Nations The Millennium Development Goals Report 2013, above n 7, at 3.
  4. Dinah Shelton “Using Law and Equity for the Poor and the Environment” in Yves Le Bouthillier, Miriam Alfie Cohen, Jose Juan Gonzalez Marquez, Albert Mumma and Susan Smith (eds) Poverty Alleviation and Environmental Law (Edward Elgar, Cheltenham, 2012) at 14.
of an individual or group to access the various elements that contribute to well­ being”.14

Despite the benchmark for extreme poverty increasing to US$1.25 a day from US$1 a day, the World Bank has stated in 2008 that more people are living in poverty than ever before.15 Even though the poverty benchmark has increased, 2 billion people around the world survive on under a mere $2 a day.16 Even without anthropogenic global warming, developing regions still suffer from a lack of resources and pollution caused by poverty.17 Those who are not in, or have come out of, extreme poverty may be faced with being pushed back into poverty because of the impacts to their livelihoods from climate change. Climate change also has the effect of ruining livelihoods to such an extent that it often leads to climate change migration and climate refugees.18

Connections have been established between levels of carbon energy consumption and levels of industrialisation, levels of national income and prosperity, but also a higher contribution to climate change.19 Therefore, a challenge faced by governments, particularly of developing countries, is choosing between opposing forces of rapid growth or sustainable policy changes, as discussed by Ward and Shivley:20

Should they pursue rapid growth, thereby affording to their citizens possible protection from extreme events, or should they undertake policy changes — especially in the energy and industrial sectors — that could slow economic growth, but that might otherwise help or slow or reverse the anthropogenic build­up of greenhouse gases and thereby reduce the risk posed by climate change?

It will be argued that these two objectives are not exclusionary, as sustainable economic growth through the investment in and use of renewable sustainable energy is possible.

  1. At 14, where Shelton also states: “These elements are very closely linked with ecosystem services such as sufficient clean water for drinking and bathing.”

15 At 13.

  1. Hans Rosling “The Magic Washing Machine” (presented at TedTalks, December 2010).
  2. Patrick Ward and Gerald Shivley “Vulnerability, Income Growth and Climate Change” (2012) 40 World Development 916–927 at 916.
  3. The World Bank and others Poverty and Climate Change: Reducing the Vulnerability of the Poor through Adaptation, above n 8, at IX.
  4. Ward and Shivley, above n 17, at 916.

20 At 916.

To combat the challenges above, we need to consider the protection of the environment and sustainability, and alleviating poverty, as two distinct but interconnected goals. Alleviating poverty requires economic development, which means an increase in energy consumption. Conversely, environmental sustainability requires a reduction in energy consumption. These objectives can be brought together by employing sustainable economic development strategies.21 Both goals have equal importance and aim to achieve the same outcomes, as rightly argued by Shelton:22

[W]hile recognizing that a healthier environment can help improve the lives of the poor, environmental protection is its own goal, nature has intrinsic value and the global resource base and ecological services should be conserved for this reason alone. Putting the two goals together is not only possible, it is essential and leads directly to legal approaches based not only on environmental protection, but on environmental justice and human rights.

The definition of sustainability by the Brundtland Commission above was influenced by the realisation that these ideas are separate but linked and therefore should be dealt with in unison, as Bosselmann comments:23

One was the observation that development is not a uniform process benefitting all people and nations, but divided between the rich North (“developed countries”) and the poor South (“developing countries”). The task here is to combat poverty. The other theme was the observation that the planet’s resources are finite, requiring careful management. Here the task is to stop environmental degradation.

We are already seeing the negative and taxing impacts of climate change, on individuals, communities, businesses and governments,24 and in 2007 the United Nations Development Programme reiterated the importance of accelerated action:25

  1. Sustainable economic development and the development and utilisation of green technologies are crucial, and is discussed below in part 6.2 as a necessary strategy to achieve both goals.
  2. Shelton, above n 13, at 12.
  3. Klaus Bosselmann “The Concept of Sustainable Development”, above n 5, at 97.
  4. Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and Climate Analytics 4° Turn Down the Heat — Climate Extremes, Regional Impacts, and the Case for Resilience (The World Bank, Washington, 2013) at 11.
  5. United Nations Development Programme Human Development Report 2007/2008 —

What we do today about climate change has consequences that will last a century or more. The part of that change that is due to greenhouse gas emissions is not reversible in the foreseeable future. The heat trapping gases we send into the atmosphere in 2008 will stay there until 2108 and beyond. We are therefore making choices today that will affect our own lives, but even more so the lives of our children and grandchildren. This makes climate change different and more difficult than other policy challenges.

Society is organised in such a way that currently we do not have a fair distribution of wealth, which is clearly unfair to the rights of various members of humanity. Globally, there is a struggle for wealth, development and power between the minority (the white, western and rich) and the majority (the indigenous, coloured, eastern and poor), with the minority in an elite position of power. The unequal balance of power and wealth resulting in poverty is a destructive element to sustainability. Human development is essential not only for moral reasons but also to promote and achieve poverty eradication and a healthy economy, and this cannot be achieved without investment in the basic requirements such as equality, health, education, social protections and security.26

Each goal is absolutely necessary for the other to succeed. We must eliminate poverty in order to stop environmental degradation, and we must stop environmental degradation to eliminate poverty. The poor not only suffer from damage to the environment, they are also now becoming a cause of the environmental concerns as there is increased overharvesting, overgrazing, overfishing and generally overexploiting of resources to meet the needs of the poor.27

2.3 Environmental Justice

Treating these two issues, environmental sustainability and poverty, as linked also connects them to the concept of “environmental justice”. The term and theory of “environmental justice” has stemmed from the disproportionate and devastating effects discussed above of environmental degradation, on the

Fighting climate change: Human solidarity in a divided world (Palgrave Macmillan, Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire and New York, 2007) at v.

26 At 7–8.

27 RJA Goodland “South Africa: Environmental Sustainability Needs Empowerment of Women” in Laura Westra and Bill E Lawson (eds) Faces of Environmental Racism: Confronting Issues of Global Justice (2nd ed, Rowman & Littlefield, MD, 2001) 229 at 232.

vulnerable, the poor, minority groups and future generations.28 Environmental justice has been defined as “a system of norms, institutions and procedures aimed at maximizing the well­being of present and future life on the planet”.29 The theory of environmental justice has also been defined by the US Environmental Protection Agency as:30

[T]he fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies ... It will be achieved when everyone enjoys the same degree of protection from environmental and health hazards and equal access to the decision­making process to have a healthy environment in which to live, learn, and work.

A connected movement dubbed “climate justice” is also emerging, which connects human rights with ecological sustainability.31 These movements need to gain momentum and to be taken into account when negotiations for international conventions and policy decisions take place as they portray the voice of the poor. Immediate action has to be taken to mitigate and adapt to the impacts of climate change and ensure that all people are protected from the environment. If we do nothing, then it may not be possible to bring the poorest and most vulnerable out of poverty.32

When considering justice in an environmental sense, it is clearly unfair that one seventh of the world’s population, the affluent citizens of industrialised nations, consume half of the energy used by the entire world.33 Even more

  1. Concern over the condition of the environment is not only significant for our current generation, but also future generations. If we do not focus on mitigating and adapting to climate change and eliminating poverty, future generations are inheriting a gloomy picture. Internationally, protection of future generations has been recognised in UNFCCC, art 3.1 which states: “The parties should protect the climate system for the benefit of present and future generations of humankind, on the basis of equity and in accordance with their common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities. Accordingly, the developed country Parties should take the lead in combating climate change and the adverse effects thereof.”
  2. Shelton, above n 13. At 16, Shelton provides an analysis of the different meanings of environmental justice including procedural, reparative (or corrective) and distributive justice.
  3. US Environmental Protection Agency “Environmental Justice” <http://ww w environmentaljustice/> .
  4. RD Bullard, GS Johnson and AO Torres “Addressing global poverty, pollution and human rights” in Robert D Bullard (ed) The Quest for Environmental Justice: Human Rights and the Politics of Pollution (1st ed, Sierra Club Books, San Francisco, 2005) at 292.
  5. Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and Climate Analytics, above n 24, at 11. 33 Hans Rosling “The Magic Washing Machine”, above n 16.
alarming is the way that developing regions or “the third world” is being used by developing countries as a “dumping ground for hazardous waste”.34 Meanwhile, developing countries have a much smaller carbon footprint than developed countries, yet have to pay for the mistakes of the rich, which is undoubtedly unjust. The inequalities between the responsibilities of developing countries and developed countries surrounding climate change has been recognised, which is why “climate change has been called the world’s biggest regressive tax, with the poorest paying for the behaviour of the richest”.35 36

Developed countries have to take responsibility for their sizeable contri­ bution over the years to damaging the environment, and they must accept that their role in alleviating the damage should be greater than that of developing countries. The theory of “common but differentiated responsibilities” (CBDR) is based on the idea that all states must take responsibility for the planet, but in a differentiated way.37 There needs to be a split in responsibilities between the two dichotomies — “the north” and “the south”, or the developing versus developed countries. Those groups of people whose previous generations or current generations have done little to contribute to this threat are being forced to face the consequences — consequences that some will not be able to cope with and adapt to. To conquer the inequalities inherent in poverty and environmental degradation there needs to be a shift in power and a greater distribution of wealth, and as Boyce argues: “advocates of environ­ mental protection are beginning to recognize the importance of social justice: if inequality exacerbates environmental degradation, then advances in environmental quality will require movement toward a more democratic distribution of power and wealth”.38 Developed industrialised countries have a moral obligation, based on a polluter pays principle,39 to pay for repairing and mitigating the detrimental environmental effects that stem from the pollution

  1. Bullard, Johnson and Torres, above n 31, at 285.
  2. K Smith “The IPCC: Impressions from a Foot Soldier”, speech delivered at the United Nations Association, International House, UC Berkeley, 24 October 2007.
  3. Karen Bubna­Litic “Climate Change Impacts on the Poor — A Case­Study of Australia’s Indigenous Population and the Impact of Australia’s Response on this Population” in Yves Le Bouthillier, Miriam Alfie Cohen, Jose Juan Gonzalez Marquez, Albert Mumma and Susan Smith (eds) Poverty Alleviation and Environmental Law (Edward Elgar, Cheltenham, 2012) at 69.
  4. SR Chowdhury “Common but Differentiated State Responsibility in International Environmental Law” in Konrad Ginther, Erik Denters and Paul JIM de Waart (eds) Sustainable Development and Good Governance (Martinus Nijhoff, Dordrecht, 1995) 322 at 329–339. See Chowdhury for a complete overview on the theory of CBDR. Also see above n 28 where the CBDR theory is incorporated in UNFCCC, art 3.1.
  5. Boyce, above n 1, at 342.
  6. The polluter pays principle is included in the Rio Declaration, principle 16, which states: “National authorities should endeavour to promote the internalisation of environmental costs and the use of economic instruments, taking into account the approach that the
they have created which unfairly impacts on the poor. They should afford developing countries protection from environmental damage by mitigating the effects of climate change, reducing energy consumption, and also by assisting developing countries to cope with and adapt to the imminent impact of climate change.40 Shelton provides a profound statement on the idea of environmental justice, which illustrates how much we are failing the world’s poor:41

The ethics and morality of any society can be measured partly on the basis of how it treats its most vulnerable members. By this measure, modern society is failing by placing its heaviest environmental burden on those who have been least responsible for creating environmental harm, including climate change, and on those who have the fewest resources to combat or adapt to environmental degradation. More specifically, the poorest 2.6 billion people on earth are being forced to confront climate change which they did not create and over which they have no control, in countries where they have little or no political voice. These facts raise issues of international and domestic environmental justice.

It is argued that the protection of the environment and the climate should be considered not only a public good, as everyone benefits from the protection of the environment,42 but also a fundamental human right,43 as both environmental protection and human rights seek to achieve the same goals, specifically sustainability. As outlined by Shelton, human rights and environmental pro­ tection should be integrated to achieve a sustainable existence for humankind:44

... human rights and environmental protection both ultimately seek to achieve the highest quality of sustainable life for humanity within the global ecosystem. Potentially conflicting differences of emphasis still exist, because

polluter should, in principle, bear the cost of pollution with due regard to public interest and without distorting international trade and investment.”

  1. Dirk TG Rübbelke “International Support of Climate Change Policies in Developing Countries: Strategic, Moral and Fairness Aspects” (2011) 70 Ecological Economics 1470– 1480 at 1472.
  2. Shelton, above n 13, at 15.
  3. Rübbelke, above n 40, at 1472. See Rübbelke for discussions on the varying economic efficiency and cost-effectiveness of climate protection mechanisms.
  4. In the US, the Supreme Court in Montana has described a clean, green and healthy environment as a fundamental right, that cannot be infringed unless some compelling state interest is shown, that may cause a grave abuse of the government’s interests, which puts the onus on the government to prove that it is in their best interests to allow the degradation of the environment. See Cape-France Enterprises v the Estate of Peed cited in Shelton, above n 13, at 36–37.
  5. Shelton, above n 13, at 40.

the essential concern of human rights law is to protect individuals and groups within a given society, while the purpose of environmental law is to sustain all life and ecological processes by balancing the needs and capacities of present generations with those of the future. Nonetheless, these two fundamental objectives of society are as interdependent as are the economies and communications networks of the world today. They must be integrated and addressed in a holistic manner that is sustainable and just, using all the legal techniques of the past and present as they may be modified to protect the future.

Achieving environmental justice and eradicating environmental racism is essential in achieving sustainable development, and as such, policies pro­ moting environmental justice and human rights should be entrenched.45 There are a number of various legal constructs to give effect to environmental justice including: private law (tort and property), public regulation, market mechanisms, and constitutional or human rights law.46 The importance of including provisions for the protection of the environment in a constitution or as a universal human right is significant as these types of laws are on top of the hierarchy of norms and “‘trump’ conflicting norms of lower value”.47


3.1 Developing Countries

An ever­increasing amount of evidence and research supports forecasts that the poorest in the developing countries and minority communities are going to be the hardest hit by and most vulnerable to the destructive and overwhelming effects of anthropogenic climate change, while developed communities will also be affected.48 Shelton looks at the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report in 2007, which confirmed:49

... “the poorest of the poor in the world — and this includes poor people in prosperous societies — are going to be the worst hit”. They already are.

  1. Bullard, Johnson and Torres, above n 31, at 280.
  2. Shelton, above n 13, at 20–36. Unfortunately, it is not within the scope of this article to examine which legal construct is the best way to give effect to environmental justice.
  3. Shelton, above n 13, at 36.

48 At 14.

49 At 14.

The Red Cross estimates that 1998 was the first year in which the number of refugees from environmental disasters exceeded those displaced as a result of war. Between 2000 and 2004, some 262 million people were affected by climate disasters and 98 per cent of them were in the developing world. (citations removed)

Effects will disproportionately be felt by those least able to adapt to and cope with the impacts in developing countries, in particular those in the equatorial region,50 and those living in the low coastal areas around mega­ deltas in Asia and Africa.51 The effects of climate change have been predicted by scientists as including extreme weather events, such as flooding, droughts, rising sea levels, storms and high winds, and it is the poor that are unlikely to be able to adapt to these events.52

Countries with a low Human Development Index (HDI) suffer to a greater extent as generally they live in geographical areas where the most extremes will be seen and felt, exemplifying why there is such urgency in developing and implementing coping mechanisms in these regions.53 By not acting, we are allowing regions like sub­Saharan Africa and South­East Asia to remain in poverty. If action is delayed, the cost of recovery will be greater. Therefore, as the Human Development Report 2013 states: “To ensure sustainable economies and societies, new policies and structural changes are needed that align human development and climate change goals in low­emission, climate­resilient strategies and innovative public-private financing mechanisms.”54

The report focuses on sub­Saharan Africa, South­East Asia and South Asia, and has a number of key findings across the regions including: more frequent unusual and unprecedented heat extremes; water shortages; pressure on agricultural production systems; ecosystem shifts; rising sea levels; and damage to marine ecosystems.55 Sub­Saharan Africa has its own separate concerns, particularly due to the population growth estimates of 1.5 billion people across varying cultures, climates and 49 countries. Even with an increase of less than 2 degrees, some of the damage will occur. The risks of a 2­degree increase

50 Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and Climate Analytics, above n 24, at vii. 51 ML Parry, OF Canziani, JP Palutikof, PJ van der Linden and CE Hanson (eds) Climate

Change 2007: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. Contribution of Working Group II to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2007).

  1. Bubna­Litic, above n 36, at 69.
  2. United Nations Development Programme Summary Human Development Report 2013 — The Rise of the South: Human Progress in a Diverse World (UNDP, New York, 2013) at 10–11.

54 At 10–11.

55 UNDP, above n 53.

faced by sub­Saharan Africa include: water shortages;56 spread of aridity; drastic effects to agricultural production;57 an increase of undernourishment; and an increase in diseases, which consequently also affect childhood education performance.58 South­East Asia will also see impacts from climate change, which could be drastic for its growth, despite its recent economic growth and urbanisation. As a result of its large coastal areas, South­East Asia is expected to see: heat extremes; rising sea levels; increase in intensity and number of tropical cyclones; saltwater intrusion; affected fisheries and aquaculture farms; loss and degradation of coral reefs and the marine ecosystem, in turn affecting tourism and the economy.59 South Asia will also face extreme weather conditions with increased heat extremes; a 30 per cent increase in precipitation (on an increase of 4 degrees), making wet areas wetter; an increase in temperatures, meaning dry areas get drier; increased monsoons; glacial snow melting from the Himalayas; rising sea levels; affected crop production and water scarcity in an already densely populated region.60 Latin America will suffer from increased floods and droughts; tropical cyclones; and coastal human settlements will be affected by rising sea levels.61 Small Pacific islands will suffer loss of land; poverty; dislocation of people; storm surges; as well as concerns for food security and water resources.62

These predicted outcomes clearly show that although a 2­ or 4­degree warming does not sound dangerous, its effects are catastrophic in regions all around the world, but in particular for regions that are developing and do not have the resources to protect and prepare for these outcomes. These thresholds we are getting closer to each day will drastically affect not only the environment in these regions, but also the livelihoods of the communities that live there. World Bank executive and Vice President of the World Bank’s Sustainable Development Network Rachel Kyte describes the findings of the report as “chilling”,63 and as these findings will have significant impacts on

  1. With water perspiration expected to decrease by up to 30% in a 4­degree increase.
  2. Livestock, vegetation and food production will be greatly affected by a decrease in rainfall and an increase in heat and drought. These types of occurrences would significantly affect the food and income source of sub­Saharan families. Even with only an increase of 1.5 degrees, expected by 2030, 40% of maize harvesting areas will no longer be suitable for crops.
  3. Undernourishment rates are expected to increase from 15–65% (region dependent) to as high as 25–90% by 2050. See also Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and Climate Analytics, above n 24.

59 At 17.

60 At 19.

  1. The World Bank and others Poverty and Climate Change: Reducing the Vulnerability of the Poor through Adaptation, above n 8, at 4.
  2. At 4.
  3. Interview with Rachel Kyte, Vice President of the World Bank’s Sustainable Development Network (Frank Jotzo, ANU Channel, 21 March 2013).
the entire world’s development, Kyte says that it has forced the World Bank to reassess what it is currently doing.64 The World Bank is now involved in reassessing its processes including going through its current approach to its work in the transport, energy and agricultural sectors and examining whether the work being done is building resilience in the community and also reducing emissions.65

The progress and development that has been made in tackling the challenges of poverty and vulnerability will be undermined and will worsen by climate change if no decisive actions are immediately taken.66 This is the time to take the opportunity to progress towards a cleaner and greener world and deal with inefficiencies in the current economic system.67 We can move away from fossil fuels, which are not helping our environment or the poor, to cleaner technologies and use carbon taxes and market­based mechanisms as a disincentive to their use. While there is an upfront cost to these mechanisms and new technologies, over time the benefits will be clear.68

3.2 Indigenous and Poor Communities in Developed Countries

Damage caused by environmental degradation is not only felt by those in developing countries, but minority and poor communities in affluent developed countries also disproportionately face damaging effects.69 Research has found significant geographic correlations between where poor and minority communities live and the areas of high rates of pollution, respiratory illnesses, landfills, toxic waste dumps, lead poisoning and contaminated fish consumption.70

Globally, indigenous communities frequently suffer from environmental injustice.71 In developed countries they will suffer prematurely as they are often deficient in the resources or education needed to combat the impacts of climate change which include increased costs of food and water, decreased levels of health, and lack of housing. Conversely, non­indigenous com­

  1. Interview with Rachel Kyte, above n 63. 65 Interview with Rachel Kyte, above n 63.

66 Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and Climate Analytics, above n 24, at 11. 67 Interview with Rachel Kyte, above n 63.

68 Interview with Rachel Kyte, above n 63. 69 Shelton, above n 13, at 13.

  1. RD Bullard “Decision Making” in Laura Westra and Bill E Lawson (eds) Faces of Environmental Racism: Confronting Issues of Global Justice (2nd ed, Rowman & Littlefield, MD, 2001) at 4.
  2. Sidra Sabzwari and Dayna Nadine Scott “The Quest for Environmental Justice on a Canadian Aboriginal Reserve” in Yves Le Bouthillier, Miriam Alfie Cohen, Jose Juan Gonzalez Marquez, Albert Mumma and Susan Smith (eds) Poverty Alleviation and Environmental Law (Edward Elgar, Cheltenham, 2012) at 85.
munities often have the necessary economic and technical resources as well as a higher standard of living and education.72 Reports have also shown that due to a lack of representation of minority and low­income communities in government, there are fewer environmental resources implemented in these communities.73 The lack of representation, choice, opportunities, empowerment and wealth leave the poor unable to choose where they live; they are often trapped together in communities in areas of pollutants, contamination and environmental degradation, detrimental to their health74 and consequently affecting opportunities for education and work.75 Conversely, wealthy families can choose to live in cleaner environments beneficial to their health.76 This unequal and undemocratic representation and protection is concerning and illustrates how the vulnerable minority are being failed by the majority. This unequal environmental protection has been termed “environmental racism”,77 and as with fighting for equality in any movement, such as the civil rights movement, we need to see greater justice, fairness and the empowerment of these disadvantaged and vulnerable members of our society.

As stated, environmental racism is not limited to developing boundaries; inequalities are also spread through developed regions from South Africa, Australia, Canada and the United States. In South Africa the living standards of blacks are far below those enjoyed by the rich white elite. To raise the living standards of poor black South Africans, Goodland argues that limiting population growth is essential because, on their own, technological advances in agriculture, urban planning and transportation will help alleviate environmental damage being caused by the current system, but will not bring the current living standards even close to those of the affluent.78 Indigenous Australian communities are disproportionately affected by the impacts of climate change as they are susceptible to poverty and remoteness, and as Bubna­Litic notes: “They often have less access to the education and skills required to understand the impacts and take advantage of the opportunities offered by a carbon

  1. Bubna­Litic, above n 36, at 67.
  2. LeRoy C (Lee) Paddock “The Role of Public Engagement in Achieving Environmental Justice” in Yves Le Bouthillier, Miriam Alfie Cohen, Jose Juan Gonzalez Marquez, Albert Mumma and Susan Smith (eds) Poverty Alleviation and Environmental Law (Edward Elgar, Cheltenham, 2012) at 129.
  3. Shelton, above n 13, at 13.
  4. The World Bank and others Poverty and Climate Change: Reducing the Vulnerability of the Poor through Adaptation, above n 8, at 9.
  5. Shelton, above n 13, at 13.
  6. A term coined by Laura Westra.
  7. Goodland, above n 27, at 236. Goodland also argues that while limiting population growth is the initial step, we also need to stabilise the growth so that families have fewer children from an average of 4.0 per family to 2.1.
constrained world.”79 Furthermore, although there have been discussions and policy decisions on climate change in Australia, little attention is given to the position of indigenous and low­income Australians, who may be adversely and disproportionately affected by any climate change policies.80 Canada considers its environmental, health and social welfare programmes as significant. However, the various aboriginal communities, the First Nations, suffer an unfair burden of environmental damage and pollutants, and do not have access to a healthy environment, yet the regulatory schemes in place do not tackle these prevailing issues.81 In the United States of America numerous environmental inequalities have been recorded, again, generally suffered by low­income or minority communities, such as higher mortality rates from respiratory illnesses induced by pollution among poor minorities than whites.82 These communities are faced with low­quality water, pollution and toxins, and suffer greater damage from environmental disasters such as Hurricane Katrina, and are often not in the financial position to recover.83 Compare this to the preparedness, recovery efforts and progress in the privileged and affluent Upper East Side of Manhattan, New York in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, and discrepancies are clearly visible.84



Around the world, radical policy decisions need to be made to tackle the challenges of environmental degradation, climate change and poverty. This discussion and decisions needs to occur now, as delaying action will only make the fight to eradicate poverty and develop a sustainable environment more difficult. The World Bank President, Dr Jim Yong Kim, asks employers and world leaders he meets what their answer would be to a question asked by their children or grandchildren in 40 years’ time if we continue down the track we are going down now: “What did you do when you knew?”85 When asking

  1. Bubna­Litic, above n 36, at 69.
  2. At 67. These policy decisions and government initiatives will be outlined and discussed below.
  3. Sabzwari and Scott, above n 71, at 85.
  4. Shelton, above n 13, at 13.
  5. Paddock, above n 73, at 129.
  6. J Manuel “The Long Road to Recovery: Environmental Health Impacts of Hurricane Sandy” (May 2013) 121(5) Environmental Health Perspectives 152–159.
  7. Interview with Rachel Kyte, above n 63.
ourselves this same question, we have to be satisfied with our actions and steps taken today.

With increasing evidence and reports illustrating the sad state of affairs regarding the environment and the position of the poor, sustainability and poverty eradication have gained importance and are thankfully high on the priority list of the UN General Assembly.86 Climate change was first officially recognised and included in an international convention in Rio de Janeiro (the Earth Summit) at the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) where the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was adopted and voluntarily signed by 192 countries to combat global warming.87 The UNFCCC dealt with general commitments of reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, the by­product of fossil fuel energy, but was also the platform for the first international negotiations of “common but differentiated responsibilities”.88 Parties agreed that the financial burden of combating climate change should be differentiated based on capabilities. However, this was not without controversial negotiations flooding discussions between the framework and binding protocol stage, until the third UNFCCC conference where Parties agreed to adopt the Kyoto Protocol.89

4.1 The Kyoto Protocol

The Kyoto Protocol is the first binding step to a global effort towards reducing GHG emissions, which commits member Parties to binding reduction targets “that will stabilize GHG emissions, and can provide the architecture for the

  1. At the United Nations Fifty-fifth session Agenda item 60 (b) Resolution adopted by the General Assembly 18 September 2000 55/2. United Nations Millennium Declaration:

Respect for nature. Prudence must be shown in the management of all living species and natural resources, in accordance with the precepts of sustainable development. Only in this way can the immeasurable riches provided to us by nature be preserved and passed on to our descendants. The current unsustainable patterns of production and consumption must be changed in the interest of our future welfare and that of our descendants.


We will spare no effort to free our fellow men, women and children from the abject and dehumanizing conditions of extreme poverty, to which more than a billion of them are currently subjected. We are committed to making the right to development a reality for everyone and to freeing the entire human race from want.

  1. The World Bank and others Poverty and Climate Change: Reducing the Vulnerability of the Poor through Adaptation, above n 8, at XI.
  2. At XI. See also above n 28, which discusses the CBDR theory incorporation in UNFCCC, art 3.1.
  3. At XI.
future international agreement on climate change”.90 It is an international agreement adopted in Japan in 1997 and entered into force in 2005, with its origins stemming from UNFCCC negotiations. The Kyoto Protocol places a greater burden on developed countries, using the theory of “common but differentiated responsibilities”, as it was recognised that it is developed nations that have contributed the most to GHG emissions as a consequence of over 150 years of industrialisation.91 The Protocol has a set framework and procedures and rules that must be followed, termed the “Marrakesh Accords”.92 Developing countries, however, did not accept any new commitments and disagreements remain between developed and developing counties with regard to responsibilities and binding protocols concerning GHGs.93 The debate between developing and developed countries regarding the extent of responsibilities and financial burdens is unhelpful as it prohibits progress. Developed countries should accept their role in the damage to the environment by having higher levels of GHG emissions, which affects less industrialised countries to a much greater extent, and should therefore assist emerging developing countries financially and also give them technological means so that they may work towards eradicating poverty and achieving sustainable development. Developing countries must also accept that making the same mistakes in damaging the environment through carbon energy consumption and industrialisation is the wrong path to go down. As mentioned above, the protection of the environment is in everyone’s best interests. Therefore, assisting those that are unable to make improvements will be beneficial for the entire international community.

While the Kyoto Protocol requires countries to establish their own national methods in reducing GHG emissions, it also suggests further ways of reaching targets through three cost­effective market­based mechanisms, including: international emissions trading; clean development mechanism

  1. United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change “Kyoto Protocol” <http://> .
  2. UNFCCC, above n 90.
  3. UNFCCC, above n 90.
  4. Erik Pellander “United Nations — Overview of Conventions and Agreements” in Klaus Bosselmann, Daniel S Fogel and JB Ruhl (eds) Berkshire Encyclopedia of Sustainability: The Law of Politics and Sustainability (Berkshire Publishing Group, Massachusetts, 2011) at 475 where Pellander states:

Developed countries argue that developing countries should agree on binding emission targets. Developing countries argue that developed countries still have to bear the major burden with regard to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. This debate was one of the main reasons why the 2009 Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC did not lead to a new internationally binding convention. Thus, it will be left to future climate conferences to agree on binding emission targets for the years after 2012.

(CDM); and joint implementation.94 The Protocol requires Member countries to monitor trades, keep records and report them, as well as follow a compliance system. The Protocol helps countries deal with adaptation by facilitating the development and operation of technologies to combat the impacts of climate change. Notably, the Protocol also set up an Adaptation Fund to support developing countries that are a Party to the Protocol to establish adaptation programmes. From 2012 it was decided that backing for the fund would come from 2 per cent share of proceeds from international emissions trading and joint implementation.

The Kyoto Protocol was split into two commitment periods. The first commitment period saw 37 developed countries and the European Community come on board and agree to reduce their GHG emissions by 5 per cent (from their 1990 levels). The second commitment period saw Parties agree to reduce their emissions by a further 18 per cent from their 1990 levels between 2013 and 2020.95 In 2012 the “Doha Amendment to the Kyoto Protocol” was adopted which included new commitments for Parties for the second phase from 1 January 2013 to 31 December 2020, a revised list of GHGs that are required to be reported, and several other amendments.96 While these reductions are improvements, they are not sufficient to achieve a sustainable clean environment. Looking beyond the Kyoto Protocol era, a $100 billion a year Green Climate Fund (GCF) has been announced to remedy these energy poverty issues,97 which is a giant step in the right direction.

4.2 Millennium Development Goals

The long discussions concerning the challenges of international poverty, sustainability, climate change, shelter, health, hunger, education, equal rights and basic human rights were the focus of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) established in 2000 and signed by 189 countries which outlined the following eight essential time­bound goals:98

  1. UNFCCC, above n 90. Unfortunately it is not within the scope of this article to analyse the effectiveness of these mechanisms.
  2. UNFCCC, above n 90.
  3. UNFCCC, above n 90.
  4. Behn, above n 4, at 264.
  5. United Nations The Millennium Development Goals Report 2013, above n 7.

Measured by 21 targets and 60 official indicators, these goals have a deadline of 2015 as 1990 is used as the base date from when progress is examined.

The United Nations has since commissioned a report to assess the progress of the Millennium Development Goals. This report released in 2013 indicates that to some extent the MDGs have been a success as many of them have been or are close to being achieved before the 2015 deadline. In particular, it has been said that the MDGs have been the greatest anti­poverty momentum in history.99 However, as United Nations Secretary­General Ban Ki­moon has stated, many other goals and targets require “accelerated progress and bolder action” over the next three years to ensure all the MDG targets are reached.100 The next steps and actions we take are critical and unless we act swiftly to alleviate poverty, reduce vulnerabilities, move towards sustainable development and improve the adaptive capacity of the poor, by including these policies in national and international strategies, many of the MDGs may not be met by 2015.101 The importance of an international effort is critical to reach many of these goals, and as Ki­moon states: “In more than a decade of experience in working towards MDGs, we have learned that focused global development efforts can make a difference. Through accelerated action, the world can achieve the MDGs and generate momentum for an ambitious and inspiring post­2015 development framework.”102 In considering post­2015 frameworks, the failures of the MDGs to make significant improvements in sustainability resulted in a new agenda being established to merge sustainability with the Millennium Development Goals. Optimistically, the Sustainable Development Goals will accomplish far greater achievements in the area of sustainability but

also the related area of poverty alleviation.

  1. United Nations The Millennium Development Goals Report 2013, above n 7, at 3 and
    1. The data in the MDGs report is as of June 2013. However, given the time required to examine the data, most of the data was collected from generally 2011 or 2012. The report also states that to examine the progress of the MDG indicators it is important to have accurate, reliable, timely and internationally comparable data to develop appropriate policies and to hold the international community to account.
  2. At 4.
  3. The World Bank and others Poverty and Climate Change: Reducing the Vulnerability of the Poor through Adaptation, above n 8, at 11–13.
  4. United Nations The Millennium Development Goals Report 2013, above n 7, at 3.

4.3 The Future: Sustainable Development Goals

At the June 2012 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20 Conference) in Rio de Janeiro, it was agreed between Member States to establish a set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) built on the Millennium Development Goals.103 The SDGs, as agreed by Member States and outlined in the Rio+20 outcome document The Future We Want, are designed to be integrated into the United Nations Development Agenda post­2015.104 The SDGs are intended to be aspirational, transparent and inclusive, taking into account the views of all stakeholders; are based on Agenda 21; are to be compliant with the Rio principles, international law and the Millennium Development Goals;105 and also focus on achieving sustainable development by being global and action­oriented.106

Member countries have agreed that the MDGs have been a useful tool to focus efforts on specific areas of development.107 There has been general agreement between parties that the outcome of both the 2010 MDG summit, where the Secretary­General was requested to consider global development options for post­2015, and the Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development, where it was agreed to create the SDGs, be linked and dealt with together for a complete and comprehensive United Nations post­2015 development framework.108 This future framework will have sustainable development at its core with the Secretary­General providing the leadership. These discussions have been assisted by the United Nations providing evidence and expertise, and also supporting and facilitating discussions between the Member States, civil society organisations, scientists and private businesses. The framework proposal for the SDGs will be prepared by an open working group (OWG) made up of 30 members from the General Assembly who have been mandated by the Rio+20 outcome document and established on 22 January 2013 by the General Assembly and will present this at the 68th Session of the General Assembly in September 2013–2014.109

  1. Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development “UN General Assembly Creates Key Group on Rio+20 Follow­up Group to work on design of new sustainable development goals” (press release, 20–22 June 2012).
  2. United Nations Sustainable Development Knowledge Platform “Sustainable Development Goals” <> .
  3. And also not take the focus away from achieving the MDGs.
  4. United Nations Sustainable Development Knowledge Platform “Sustainable Development Goals”, above n 104.
  5. Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, above n 103.
  6. United Nations Sustainable Development Knowledge Platform “Post­2015 Process”

<> .

  1. United Nations Sustainable Development Knowledge Platform “Post­2015 Process”, above n 108.
An issue that the Sustainable Development programme will need to take into account are the opposing goals in the current frameworks and mechanisms, as the Kyoto Protocol targets a reduction in GHG emissions, whereas the MDGs focuses on eradicating energy poverty. Behn states: “Despite these policy agendas aimed at both curbing extreme poverty and GHG emissions, the industrialized countries of the world continue to burn fossil fuels at unsustainable rates while 1.6 billion people still have no access to electricity — including 85 percent of the rural population of the African continent” (citation removed).110 These two conflicting goals between the developed and developing world dichotomy will cause tension in any future framework and must be adequately dealt with in the framework proposal. Any future framework needs to take into account the differing needs of the “north” and the “south”. While developing countries need to focus on cleaner, sustainable economic growth and development, developing countries need to reduce current emissions and move to new sustainable technologies. Without these two conflicting needs being understood and met, sustainability and poverty eradication will not be achieved by 2015 or beyond.

As well as the OWG, in 2012 the Secretary­General established a “High­ level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post­2015 Development Agenda” and a “UN System Task Team on the Post­2015 UN Development Agenda” charged with providing reports and analytical inputs to the United Nations.111 The United Nations Development Group is also facilitating global conversations on sustainability by instigating consultations at both national and global levels by including more than 60 developed and developing countries. It is also establishing “My World”, a website where all global citizens can have their voice heard by selecting what is important to them.112 This could potentially be a success for environmental justice groups as the voices of the poor and marginalised may be heard through these types of forums.

  1. Behn, above n 4, at 263–264.
    1. United Nations Sustainable Development Knowledge Platform “Post­2015 Process”, above n 108. See UN website for more information on these two agendas.
  2. Above n 108. See UN website for more information on “My World”. Other networks established include: the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) led by Jeffrey Sachs, which is a “global, independent network of research centres, universities and technical institutions that works with stakeholders including business, civil society, UN agencies and other international organizations”. The SDSN is in charge of establishing 10 international expert groups aimed at dealing with worldwide issues in 10 critical areas of sustainable development, as well as providing the High­level Panel on the Post­2015 Development Agenda with technical support. Also, the UN Global Compact has been involved in ensuring that the voices of the private sector are heard in the formation of the post­2015 framework.


5.1 Goal 7: Ensure Environmental Sustainability

Efforts to ensure environmental sustainability and alleviate environmental degradation have not been as successful as other MDG achievements. Environ­ mental sustainability is still under threat and requires stronger international cooperation.

Carbon dioxide emissions, the main culprit of climate change, are still rapidly increasing and are more than 46 per cent higher than they were in 1990.114 Reducing carbon dioxide global emissions is critical to mitigating climate change. On a positive note, increasingly countries around the world are adopting some form of carbon mechanism to control and regulate their GHG emissions.115 While the financial crisis caused a reduction of GHG emissions between 2008 and 2009 of 0.4 per cent, this was short­lived, and 2009 and 2010 saw an increase of 5 per cent.116 All reports show that GHG emissions are growing rapidly from fast­paced growth in developing areas, where emissions have risen by 48 per cent from the decade starting in 1990, and 81 per cent during the subsequent decade.117 Regardless, emissions in developed regions are still significantly higher than those in developing regions, even with an 8 per cent decrease during the past two decades. Developing regions only produce 3 metric tons of carbon dioxide per person per year, compared to 11 metric tons in developed areas.118

The World Bank believes it is possible to end extreme poverty by 2030, but only if the issue of climate change is also tackled.119 In their first report in 2012 the World Bank concluded that by the end of the century the world’s temperature could increase by 4 degrees Celsius if no action is taken, and in the next 20 to 30 years scientists predict that the world may warm by 2 degrees, which will cause extensive food shortages, powerful cyclones and heat

  1. This article has been edited and shortened for publication, and as a result discussions on Goals 1–6 have been removed.
  2. United Nations The Millennium Development Goals Report 2013, above n 7, at 4. 115 Interview with Rachel Kyte, above n 63.

116 United Nations The Millennium Development Goals Report 2013, above n 7, at 43. 117 At 43.

  1. At 43. There are, however, variations in amounts of carbon dioxide emissions per person in each region, reflecting the variations in wealth.
  2. Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and Climate Analytics, above n 24.
waves.120 In fact the likelihood of it increasing by 4 degrees has been further emphasised by subsequent scientific reports.121 A 4 degrees warmer world will be unmanageable with extreme weather events and human suffering, which is why fast, bold action is needed to avoid such an increase. It is inevitable that the world will heat up as the gases being emitted now will stay trapped in the atmosphere for 100 or so years. Therefore, concentrating on keeping the increase limited to 2 degrees is critical as a 2­degree increase is easier to adapt and build resilience to than a 4­degree increase world. Action can be taken now to protect agriculture and water resources and human health by implementing adaptation measures. To achieve this a fresh drive towards sustainable technological change is needed as well as political will and support and international cooperation, and as reports indicate this progress is needed urgently: “The window for holding warming below 2°C and avoiding a 4°C world is closing rapidly, and the time to act is now.”122

As the world’s second­biggest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions (after China),123 the United States of America is disappointingly the only country not to have ratified the Kyoto Protocol, but it has at any rate implemented climate change policies. As a result of these policies, in 2012 the United States’ carbon emissions have been the lowest they have been in the last two decades, and the White House claims that this is all while the American economy has continued to grow.124 However, it may be argued that the recession assisted in the decrease in emissions. The current Administration led by President Obama has vowed to take further action to ensure cleaner, greener energy production, improve and modernise the infrastructure and transportation sector, as well as reduce private energy consumption. These are promising steps forward by an influential world leader. The largest energy consumer in the United States is the Federal Government and agencies, and in response to this, President Obama ordered the reduction of direct source GHG emissions (building energy consumption and fuel use) by 28 per cent by 2020, and indirect GHG emissions (employee commuting) by 12 per cent by 2020.125 If these goals are reached, this would save US$11 billion in energy costs and eliminate the use of the equivalent of 235 million barrels of oil over the next 10 years.126 This action is productive in the short term, but without a move away from the fossil fuels

  1. At vii.
  2. At vii.

122 At 11.

  1. Millennium Development Goals Indicators: The official United Nations site for the MDG Indicators “Carbon dioxide emissions (CO2), thousand metric tons of CO2 (CDIAC)”

< & crid=> .

  1. The White House “Energy, Climate Change and Our Environment” <http://ww w . ­ change> .
  2. The White House, above n 124. 126 The White House, above n 124.
industry, America’s emissions will continue to be among the highest in the world.

New Zealand is seen as a small pure, green, clean country, but despite this is still a contributor to growing greenhouse gas emissions and has failed to take severe, productive steps towards becoming a carbon­neutral nation, which is arguably possible and attractive for a country that relies on its image for its tourism industry. The Government has stated:127

In 2006 we produced 26 per cent more [GHG emissions] than in 1990. Per head of population New Zealanders emit nearly twice as much greenhouse gases as the British and almost five times as much as the Chinese. The sector with greatest growth in emissions (45 per cent) is the energy sector (mainly CO2 from transport and electricity generation). Approximately half of our total greenhouse gas emissions are produced by agriculture (methane and nitrous oxide from farm animals).

These are appalling statistics from a country that prides itself on its clean environmental image. The Government has agreed to reduce GHG emissions by putting a price on carbon, through an Emissions Trading Scheme. A Select Committee Review has been established to look at possible changes to the Scheme, as well as potentially bringing it in line with Australia’s Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme.128 Looking forward, New Zealand has set emissions reduction targets by 2050 to create a low­carbon New Zealand, while wanting the frameworks for the policy to be both economically and environmentally effective. The Government in 2011 announced its target of reducing New Zealand’s net GHG emissions by 50 per cent by 2050 based on its emissions from 1990, which is in line with the Kyoto Protocol starting­date rules.129 In terms of signing further conventions on climate change, the New Zealand Government has encouragingly indicated that it will set targets for the future once the next international framework is established.130

  1. New Zealand Government “Climate Change Information New Zealand: Our Responsibility”

< ­ our ­ emissions/our ­ responsibility.html> .

  1. New Zealand Government “Climate Change Information New Zealand: Doing Our Fair Share” < ­ our ­ emissions/> . Note, however, Australia’s framework is currently in a period of uncertainty and change as a result of a recent change of leadership and government.
  2. New Zealand Government “Climate Change Information New Zealand: New Zealand 2050 Emissions Reduction Target” < ­ our ­ emissions/ targets.html> . The target will also take into account any emissions from deforestation, as dictated by the Kyoto Protocol framework.
  3. Ministry for the Environment “The Kyoto Protocol” < climate/international/kyoto ­ protocol.html> .
Because of New Zealand’s close ties with Australia it is also beneficial to examine what policy decisions the Australian Government has made with regard to climate change, as they may affect the New Zealand Government’s future decisions. Australia has been the scene of many carbon tax programme debates and disagreements. Notwithstanding the heated debates, internationally, Australia is seen as a leader in the field by other countries that are looking at a mechanism to combat their own carbon emissions.131 Despite positive steps towards reducing Australia’s carbon footprint, the current Australian Government is taking damaging steps of repealing the carbon tax,132 leaving Australia with a weak climate change policy and framework.

Looking forward, the United Nations has critically examined the past achievements and calls for bold action to contain GHG emissions, as well as coordinated national and international efforts.133 Action and targets for the second commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol from 2013 to 2020 were discussed and consensus reached at the UNFCCC in Qatar, while continuing to fortify mitigation efforts at national levels under the Climate Change Convention and the Kyoto Protocol.134 As for future protocols or legal instruments dealing with climate change, this is regrettably still at the negotiation stage and will hopefully be completed by 2015 to implement in 2020.135

The impacts of global warming are felt first by the poor and affect the things they rely on the most such as agriculture, forests and fishing.136 Despite policies and laws to protect sustainable forest management, in many countries forests are continuing to be destroyed and lost at alarming rates. In particular, South

  1. Interview with Rachel Kyte, above n 63.
  2. Australian Government, Department of the Environment “Carbon Tax to be Abolished from 1 July 2014” <> .
  3. United Nations The Millennium Development Goals Report 2013, above n 7, at 43. 134 At 43.
  4. At 43. Note that since writing this article the 19th Session of the Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC and the 9th Session of the Conference of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol took place in Warsaw in November 2013, known as “The Warsaw Climate Change Conference”. At this conference an international mechanism for environmentally caused loss and damage was established to protect vulnerable and developing populations, as well as the REDD+ Framework that deals with “reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation and the role of conservation, sustainable management of forests and enhancement of forest carbon stocks in developing countries”. For more information on the Warsaw Climate Change Conference see Asser Institute “Warsaw Climate Change Conference (11–23 November 2013) Report” < & level1=12221 & level2=12261 & level3=12478?> .
  5. Bubna­Litic, above n 36, at 69.
America and Africa have suffered a loss of around 3.6 million hectares and 3.4 million hectares per year respectively between 2005 and 2010.137 One main reason for deforestation is converting the forest land to agricultural land to feed and maintain the poor. This appears paradoxical as it is the poor that suffer the most from the loss of forests as they function as a “safety net”, as the MDGs report explains:138

They contribute to poverty reduction and sustainable livelihoods by providing food, wood, fuel, medicines and other non­wood products used in the households of millions of the world’s poorest people or sold in traditional or informal sector markets.

To achieve sustainability, biodiversity conservation and climate change mitigation a different approach needs to be taken towards creating agricultural land while also maintaining precious forests. It is important to consider alternatives to the current use of crops and water resources so that land that is no longer suitable for cultivation can be used for other crops or purposes by way of examining and implementing various crop diversification options.139 If poverty alleviation and environmental sustainability are not treated as interconnected goals, one goal may be achieved at the cost of the other, but progress will not be sustainable without development in both areas.

In spite of increasing amounts of land and marine areas around the world being protected, fish, birds, mammals and other species are increasingly facing the possibility of extinction caused by overexploitation and the impacts of climate change.140 Around 30 per cent of marine fish stocks are now overexploited and no longer within their safe biological limits, which means globally fish stocks are now below what is considered their maximum sustainable rate.141 With increasing food shortages, sustainability is essential to combat poverty and environmental degradation and protect our resources. While progress has been made to expand protected areas, more work needs to be done to protect biodiversity and the ecosystem, which is why the Convention on Biological Diversity hopes through an international protection network to be able to conserve 10 per cent of the world’s marine and coastal areas (as well as 17 per cent of terrestrial areas globally) by 2020.142 As with the issue of protecting forests discussed above, without strategies promoting both

  1. United Nations The Millennium Development Goals Report 2013, above n 7, at 42. 138 At 42.
    1. The World Bank and others Poverty and Climate Change: Reducing the Vulnerability of the Poor through Adaptation, above n 8.
  2. United Nations The Millennium Development Goals Report 2013, above n 7, at 42. 141 At 42 and 44.

142 At 46.

environmental sustainability and poverty alleviation, economic growth will come at a cost to the environment that may not be repairable.

Despite population growth, since setting the MDGs, over 2.1 billion people have improved access to safe drinking water. This is half the number of people without water five years ahead of the MDGs deadline.143 Regardless, many areas still face a great need for water infrastructure, such as clean drinking water and sanitation. The areas with the most need include the central Asian countries including China and India; the majority of Africa; and South American countries such as Peru and Bolivia.144 In 2011, 768 million people still only had access to unimproved water sources, with over 40 per cent of those suffering residing in sub­Saharan Africa.145 Water is a basic necessity of life. Sadly, however, water security will remain a threat for many years as aggravating factors such as climate change, increasing population numbers, and water use continue to stress current resources, separating the rich from the poor. Improvements in water infrastructure will not only improve population health, but in turn this will promote economic growth and can lead thousands if not millions out of poverty. Unfortunately, improvements in access to clean water and sanitation infrastructure will not be achieved without increased financial investments and policy commitments.146

5.2 Goal 8: Develop a Global Partnership for Development

Financial support is critical to achieve the MDGs as without the financial resources efforts are just not feasible. Developed countries have provided assistance through official development assistance (ODA), which was at US$125.6 billion in 2012; this is around 0.29 per cent of the donors’ gross national income, which is a 4 per cent drop from 2011 levels.147 This decrease in funding support was caused by the global financial crisis, which resulted in austerity measures being put in place by governments around the world.148 Despite the financial crisis, some countries in fact maintained or increased their aid support in order to reach set targets. Reports indicate that the countries belonging to the Development Assistance Committee (DAC) of the

143 At 42.

  1. Bunn and others “Global threats to human water security and river biodiversity” (2010) 467 Nature 555. Bunn and others base their article on the following useful report: “WHO/ UNICEF. Progress on Sanitation and Drinking­Water: 2010 Update. Joint Monitoring Programme for Water Supply and Sanitation” (World Health Organization/UNICEF, 2010).
  2. United Nations The Millennium Development Goals Report 2013, above n 7, at 47.
  3. Bunn and others, above n 144. The article also states that a whopping US$800 billion per year investment is needed in 2015 just to implement water infrastructures for OECD and BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) countries.
  4. United Nations The Millennium Development Goals Report 2013, above n 7, at 52. 148 At 52.
Organisation for Economic Co­operation and Development (OECD) with the largest increases were:149

... Australia, Austria, Iceland (which joined the DAC in 2013), Luxembourg and the Republic of Korea. The United Kingdom maintained its aid at 0.56 per cent of gross national income but has budgeted to increase that to 0.7 per cent in 2013–2014.

This does not represent the largest donors, however, which in 2012 included, by volume: the United States of America, the United Kingdom, Germany, France and Japan.150 Countries exceeding the ODA target of 0.7 per cent of gross national income include Denmark, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden.151 This increased and continued support by the international community is essential to alleviating poverty as well as assisting developing regions with mitigation and adaptation systems against the impacts of climate change. Governments need to recognise that austerity measures of cutting funding now for alleviating poverty and ensuring environmental sustainability will only mean facing significantly higher costs in the long run as the situation around the world will only worsen.

The World Bank’s fund for the world’s poorest people, the International Development Association (IDA), has made climate change a priority, and in particular adaptation measures to the impacts of climate change.152 World Bank reports indicate that between July 2011 and June 2012 US$2.3 billion was provided by the fund to developing countries in need of assistance to both mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change by providing new solutions:153

... such as better weather data and forecasting, drought resistant crops, pioneering disaster insurance, and cyclone­resistant houses and warning systems ... [and] ... by finding innovative ways to harness energy from the sun, wind, and water, to farm with less water and chemicals and with better seeds, and to reduce carbon emissions by avoiding the use of kerosene and diesel for lighting.

149 At 52.

150 United Nations The Millennium Development Goals Report 2013, above n 7, at 53. 151 At 53.

  1. International Development Association (IDA): The World Bank’s Fund for the Poorest “The ABCs of IDA — Climate Change” (The Concessional Finance & Global Partnerships Vice Presidency of the World Bank, Spring 2013) at 1. The document lists the countries that the IDA provides funds to from A–Z, with a brief outline of the key achievements in each country, ranging from flood and storm mitigation, off-grid access to electricity, and reduction in carbon dioxide through the use of environmentally friendly clay cook stoves.
  2. At 1.
The focus towards developing new sustainable technologies and infrastructures to adapt to the effects of climate change is essential and will be discussed in further detail below.

Arguably, to reach many of the goals discussed we need governmental intervention with specific objectives, including efficiency, stabilisation and distribution of wealth, as well as population stabilisation, adaptation and sustainable economic growth.154 One method to achieve reduced emissions and the distribution of wealth is international emissions transfers from developed countries to developing countries; the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Kyoto regime both include such transfer mechanism provisions.155 Significantly, the need for sharing resources to combat climate change was recognised in arts 4.3 and 4.4 of the UNFCCC which provide that developed countries are to provide technology and financial resources to developing countries so that they may take measures that are beneficial for the environment and also meet the costs of adapting to the negative impacts of climate change.156



While achievements have been made to eradicate poverty and protect and promote a sustainable environment, progress has been slow, in particular in the regions that need the most improvements. Any future progress requires major efforts at both national and international levels. It is argued that future frameworks and policy decisions regarding climate change, sustainability and poverty require a focus on the following essential strategies: population control; sustainable economic growth and development; and adaptation.

  1. Rübbelke, above n 40, at 1471. These strategies will be discussed below. Rübbelke suggests there are four main reasons governments intervene, including, at 1471:
    (a) granting development assistance (distribution),

    (b) serving moral obligations, e.g. due to historical responsibilities (distribution),

    (c) Pareto­improvement of global public good provision and of the generation of positive international externalities (allocation), [footnote removed]

    (d) strategic confidence-building by raising fairness (indirectly: allocation). 155 At 1471.

156 At 1471. The Global Environmental Facility (GEF) is also an established financial mechanism to provide financial assistance to developing countries, and the funds are financed by industrialised countries.

6.1 Population Control

An essential strategy to achieve environmental sustainability as well as alleviate poverty is population control and stabilisation. Based on statistics provided by the United Nations, Rosling argues that we have moved from the 1970s “western world” of small families and long life expectancy, and “third world” of large families and short lives, to generally a new world with smaller families and longer lives.157 Despite this trend, the world’s population is still rapidly increasing and it is only a matter of time before we run out of necessary resources. If we continue at our present rate, the outlook is not bright for the future. GHG emissions schemes and policies and frameworks that do not take population control into account are arguably useless. Innovative comprehensive frameworks that look at the root cause of many of these issues, including rising population numbers, may work to improve the lifestyle and health of the poor in addition to achieving sustainability as resources will not be overexploited.

Population control in itself, however, is a complex issue. To achieve popu­ lation stabilisation, morality issues such as women’s rights and empowerment, inequalities and the gender gap need to be dealt with; otherwise achieving population control is not plausible.158 There are also other reasons behind large family numbers in developing regions that need to be taken into account and understood: two main examples are a lack of social security and a lack of family planning education. As a result of poor social security policies, in many developing countries there is an inherent desire in poor communities to have large families so that the younger generation can help support elder family members. China, a rapidly emerging economy, tackled this problem and was able to lower its fertility rates over the last decade by introducing social security reforms as well as family planning campaigns.159 This example shows the importance that social security policies and family planning campaigns can have in these developing regions.

The future of the world’s poorest 2 billion depends on population numbers. At the apex (the rich) family planning is widely used and effective and there are on average two to three children per woman and population growth “is coming to an end”.160 At the other end of the spectrum, population numbers are still growing, and the poorest 2 billion in the next decades will increase to 3 to even 4 billion; and as Rosling argues, nothing but a nuclear war can stop this increase, as it is already in process.161 The only way to prevent even

  1. Hans Rosling “Global Population Growth, Box by Box” (presented at TedTalks, June 2010).
  2. Goodland, above n 27, at 230.

159 At 237.

160 Rosling “Global Population Growth, Box by Box”, above n 157. 161 Rosling, above n 157.

higher population numbers is by bringing people out of poverty and giving them an education and improved healthcare. As long as there are still people in poverty struggling for food and clothing, there will be continued population growth, which in turn affects the environment and the climate. Thinking that population numbers and the economy can continue to grow without affecting the environment and threatening sustainability is irrational.162 However, we can stop population growth at 9 billion if we act now, by changing the mindset of the poor and vulnerable and by understanding that “child survival is the new green”163 as it is beneficial to the environment. By taking care of the population we currently have and ensuring a healthy international community this may in turn stop such rapid population growth.

6.2 Sustainable Economic Growth and Development

Energy consumption will increase by rising population numbers, but more rapidly through economic growth; and with increasing emerging economies, the “new east” will start to consume as much energy as the “old west”.164 Developing countries frequently argue for their right to development and therefore increased energy consumption as this improves health, environmental and poverty conditions as well as protects them from future vulnerability against climate change.165 Therefore, rightly so, economic growth remains an important policy priority for developing countries, and as a report by leading agencies states: “This capacity to cope with climate variability and extreme weather events in itself is highly dependent on the level of economic development.”166 Unfortunately, this is typically at the expense of environmental sustainability and efforts in containing GHG emissions. In many poor developing regions (for example, Africa and South­East Asia) the lack of focus on sustainability measures is also caused by governments’ and citizens’ concern over critical environmental health dangers already being suffered, which understandably takes priority over the possible impacts of climate change.167 This fear is supported by the large number of deaths caused by unsafe water, sanitation and hygiene and indoor smoke from solid fuels, versus the significantly smaller number of deaths from causes attributable to climate change.168 In contrast,

  1. Klaus Bosselmann The Principle of Sustainability: Transforming Law and Governance

(Ashgate, Burlington, VT, 2008) at 2.

  1. Rosling “Global Population Growth, Box by Box”, above n 157. 164 Rosling “The Magic Washing Machine”, above n 16.
  2. Ward and Shivley, above n 17, at 916 and 917.
  3. The World Bank and others Poverty and Climate Change: Reducing the Vulnerability of the Poor through Adaptation, above n 8, at 6.
  4. Ward and Shivley, above n 17, at 917.

168 At 917.

developed countries have a lower vulnerability and also higher adaptive capability to environmental dangers as they have the infrastructure, health systems, social security, housing, high levels of sanitation and water quality, and food stocks to protect themselves from any disaster.169 Economic growth and higher incomes allow families and governments to come out of poverty and protect themselves from various risks by constructing improved infrastructure, technological advances, growing resource stocks and preparing themselves for natural disasters.170

So are carbon emissions policies counterproductive in developing countries, as vulnerability will only increase with slower economic growth? May the best defence for developing countries facing the imminent effects of climate change be to actually continue economic growth? Ward and Shivley rightly argue that it is not that mitigation policies are unnecessary, but alternately, income growth is needed to improve the welfare of poor households as well as decrease their vulnerability to the impacts of climate change, and state:171

We argue that vulnerability to extreme events can only be reduced slowly through gradual economic development and increased wealth, with development and increased wealth arising from increased energy consumption.

Without sustained economic growth in developing regions, achieving many of the MDGs is not realistic, and without increasing the resources available for communities to develop and progress, developing regions will keep falling behind. However, while it is argued that economic growth is essential in order to alleviate poverty and achieve other MDGs, there should be a drive and focus on renewable energy, rather than dirty GHG­emitting energy supplies, otherwise environmental sustainability will be impossible. Economic and environmental policies are still typically distinct from one another, but to achieve sustainable development they must come together in policy decision­making. Furthermore, although “common but differentiated responsibility” is accepted by policy­ makers,172 the better argument is that accountability and responsibility by all nations is necessary, otherwise the same mistakes the industrialised countries have made will continue to occur.

169 At 917.

170 At 917.

  1. At 919. See this article for a complete look at their hypothesis, framework, data and model appendix and results. Ward and Shivley’s results indicate that to reduce vulnerability to climate change at the low to moderate income level, higher levels of consumption lead to better welfare and a greater ability to adapt. However, this reduction in vulnerability is quite small, until the country reaches middle­income level, at which stage its vulnerability to climate­related disasters is typically lower anyway.
  2. And incorporated in the Kyoto Protocol by having non­binding reduction targets for Non­ Annex I countries.
Investing in green technologies and investments in global governance to alleviate poverty are essential to create a more just and equitable world. As MacNeill commented back in 1989:173

Solar electricity, wind power, minihydroturbines, the recycling of waste biomass and the deployment of biomass digestors for making gas and liquid fuel are a few of the many renewable technologies that have enormous potential.

Yet it seems that this potential and the associated benefits are still not being recognised, as globally there has been a very slow movement towards these types of energy production. Public policies that unintentionally support damage to the environment such as deforestation and desertification must be reformed and developed countries must take the lead in this project.174 No longer is the “old west”, the rich elite, living its own separate life. With globalisation and environmental degradation impacts being felt around the whole world, we are increasingly connected. Therefore, our responsibilities, in particular those of the wealthy, change, as Rosling states: “The role of the old west in the new world is to become the foundation of the modern world — nothing more, nothing less. But it is a very important role. Do it well and get used to it.”175 Rosling projects that in 2050, China, as an emerging country, will catch up to the richest countries, and the newly emerging middle­income countries will also move forward economically, “and if, but only if, we invest in the right green technology so that we can avoid severe climate change and energy can still be relatively cheap, then will they [emerging middle economies] move all the way up”.176

Despite poor countries consuming more energy as they develop, the richest people and nations will still be consuming the most units of energy in the world. Therefore, how can we tackle the issue of climate change if the risk is real and the need for economic development is essential? The simple answer is that the rich need to be more energy-efficient, must change their current behaviour, and must modernise and start to produce green energy and technologies. Less energy, water and materials must be used in production, recycling efforts must increase, and there must be continued technological changes and advancements. This responsibility is not constrained to the rich, but developing regions must

  1. Jim MacNeill “Strategies for Sustainable Economic Development” (September 1989) 261(3) Scientific American 154–165 at 162.
  2. MacNeill provides various strategies for achieving sustainable economic development, such as moving agricultural production to developing regions. This, however, may have various undesired side effects for the environment in these regions.
  3. Rosling “Global Population Growth, Box By Box”, above n 157. 176 Rosling, above n 157.
also focus on sustainable technologies and modern infrastructure as their tool for economic development and must not confine themselves to fossil fuel resources. Thus, the difficult challenge is to mobilise people around a vision of sustainability.

6.3 Adaptation

Climate change discussions and research began with a focus on mitigation. However, they have shifted since the mid­1990s to also importantly include adaptation.177 While the traditional discussion of reducing and mitigating the effects of carbon dioxide emissions is valid, GHG emissions can stay in the atmosphere for around 100 years, which means purely mitigating policies are not enough as some of the impacts are already unavoidable and therefore there is a need for bold adaptation policies. Learning from experience, the World Bank suggests that adaptation is most successful when it is integrated in development programmes and strategies for dealing with poverty and sustainability and therefore is essential in order to achieve the MDGs and maintain the achievements beyond 2015.178 Note, however, it is suggested that adaptation be used as a tool alongside the mitigation of climate change and reducing GHG emissions, not as a replacement.179

The future impacts of climate change depend on the amount of GHGs in the atmosphere. Clearly, higher concentrations will have a more damaging, longer­lasting and possibly irreversible effect on not only human but also biological systems. Because of the way the atmosphere traps emissions, even rapid and aggressive action would not stop already occurring increases in GHG emissions. Therefore, adaptation strategies are crucial.180 The mission therefore is to take immediate action to “increase the adaptive capacity of affected poor communities and countries”,181 with developing countries taking the lead. It is suggested that future adaptation mechanisms and strategies should take into account the need for natural resource management, improved accountability governance, financial resources, human resources, resilient infrastructures, the mainstreaming of climate issues, the empowerment of communities, and encouragement of an active and engaged civil society.182

Encouragingly, for many international agencies that deal with poverty alleviation and sustainable development, adaptation to climate change is a

  1. Rübbelke, above n 40, at 1470–1480.
  2. Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and Climate Analytics, above n 24, at v & ix.
  3. At 5.
  4. At 5.
  5. At x–xi.
  6. At xi.
priority as it can ensure the lasting success of their investments.183 As major weather events have the ability to hinder development progress by decades, having adaptation strategies in place ensures development achieved is safeguarded. Human activity has been proven as affecting our climate, and the report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change finds that adaptation measures that are incorporated in a sustainable development framework can reduce the damage from climate change.184 Accordingly, the UNFCCC has begun work on developing programmes to increase the capacity of the least developed countries to adapt to the impacts of climate change. However, the report Poverty and Climate Change: Reducing the Vulnerability of the Poor through Adaptation stresses that experience shows that the best way of addressing climate change is not by treating adaptation as a stand­alone issue but rather integrated in a comprehensive poverty reduction and MDGs framework:185

Only such a comprehensive approach, which provides options for poor people to reduce their current and future risks, will contribute towards achieving the MDGs and ensure that sustainable progress is made beyond 2015.

It is argued that this strategy to integrate adaptation policies with sustainability policies is vital, as it encourages development towards a sustainable future, mitigating current trends, as well as assisting those less able to cope with the impacts of climate change to adapt.

At an international level the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has raised awareness for the need of adaptation and development policies taking the effects of climate change into consideration. The UNDP facilitates and supports discourse surrounding the issue of vulnerability and risk to development faced by developing regions caused by climate change, and attempts to integrate climate change risks at the national strategy levels as well as at the UN/UNDP development assistance level.186 Most recently, the UNDP released its 2013 Human Development Report, appropriately titled The Rise of the South: Human Progress in a Diverse World, which indicated rapid growth in many emerging economies in developing regions, including: Brazil, China, India, South Africa, Turkey and Mexico. This rapid growth was a result of various strategies including: a proactive developmental state; integration in

  1. At x.
  2. At x.
  3. At xi.
  4. UNDP “Integrated Policy and Planning” < ourwork/environmentandenergy/strategic_themes/climate_change/focus_areas/adapting_ to_climatechange/integrated_policyandplanning/>.
global markets and pursuing inclusive growth; and innovative social policies.187 Helen Clark, Administrator of the UNDP, noted, however, that the report indicates that human development will be threatened in these regions without rapid action in promoting equity, education and environmental protection, and combating the threat of climate change, as these regions are less able to adapt to the threats.188 This illustrates the importance of taking a holistic approach at combating these issues as they are so interconnected and will undeniably affect the success of one another.

The issue of adaptation is not constrained to developing regions, as developed countries also need to implement adaptation strategies to protect their poor and vulnerable citizens and assist them in coping with inevitable environmental impacts. While criticisms could be made that developing regions are protecting their own, rather than looking after the international community, it is argued that any advancements developed regions can make in the area of adaptation strategies, and significantly those that are integrated with sustainability policies, can only be beneficial for the entire global community, as it can illustrate different strategies that could work and be of assistance to others.

The Obama Administration has recognised the importance of adaptation in the United States of America, and President Obama has requested that an interagency “Climate Change Adaptation Task Force” develop a proposal for how Federal agency policies and programmes can better prepare the United States to address the risks associated with a changing climate.189 The need for adaptation as well as mitigation policies was recognised by the previous Australian Government, which invested AUS$129 million between 2007 and 2013 in the “National Climate Change Adaptation Programme”.190 Australia faces many weather extremes, which will only worsen and become more extreme with the unavoidable impacts of climate change, including heat waves, bushfires, cyclones, storms and floods. Water shortages are a major concern for Australia as scientists have predicted less rainfall as an effect of climate change.

Recognising its responsibility to assist vulnerable nations to adapt to the imminent effects of climate change, the previous Australian Government established an “International Climate Change Adaptation Initiative” totalling AUS$328.2 million between 2008 and 2013 to assist needy countries,

  1. UNDP “UNDP Chief Launches 2013 Human Development Report” (14 March 2013)

< ­ chief ­ launches ­ 2013 ­ human ­ development ­ report/> .

  1. UNDP, above n 187.
  2. The White House, above n 124.
  3. Australian Government, Department of Industry, Innovation, Climate Change, Science, Research and Tertiary Education, above n 11.
particularly in the Pacific.191 The previous Government also provided AUS$31 million for climate change research though the Australian Climate Change Science Programme to better understand the causes and impacts of climate change. This type of research, in particular by wealthy developed countries, is critical to continue to understand the causes and impacts of climate change. With the current proposed repeals of climate change policies in Australia, this valuable research and work in the climate change field will be dramatically and negatively affected.

Without the development of adaptation strategies integrated in human development and sustainability mechanisms, many of the MDGs — in particular, alleviating poverty and achieving environmental sustainability — will not be achieved. Beyond the MDGs, any future framework will also need to take adaptation mechanisms into account. If a nation achieves economic development and sustainability, or makes progress in the area of alleviating poverty, these achievements will be short­lived, as without adaptation measures in place the impacts of climate change will reverse any progress.


Poverty alleviation and environmental protection seem like paradoxical goals but are in fact connected and are challenges that can be faced in our lifetime, but only with strong and decisive policy decisions and comprehensive mechanisms. Currently, our most vulnerable members of society have to face unbearable conditions stemming from the impacts of extreme poverty and environmental degradation — in particular, the effects of climate change. These conditions will become far worse, dragging millions of others into poverty if bold action is not taken today. Unfortunately, it is these same vulnerable poor communities that will suffer most from climate change as they do not have the resources, financial or technological, to adapt to the looming impacts. We are allowing this to happen by not supporting them and giving them the right to development and environmental justice. Instead we are standing idly by and watching them suffer.

The current strategies employed by both the international and national community through frameworks such as the MDGs and the Kyoto Protocol have been useful and have seen some achievements in these developing regions. However, there is much more to do before they can be called a true success. While many of the MDGs and Kyoto targets will not be achieved by their deadlines, future frameworks must be developed taking into account the flaws

  1. Australian Government, Department of Industry, Innovation, Climate Change, Science, Research and Tertiary Education “Adapting to Climate Change”, above n 11.
and mistakes of previous methods. The challenge for the future is to continue to tackle the issues of poverty and environmental degradation through new dynamic comprehensive strategies and frameworks that integrate population control, sustainable economic development, and adaptation. These three elements are integral to any strategy as they deal with the reasons why greater achievements have not already been reached.

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