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Should Developing Nations Share the Burden of Environmental Sustainability?

Updated: Jul 3, 2023

Megan Tarbuck explains why it’s unfair to place the burden of environmental sustainability on developing countries.


By Kristoferb [CC BY-SA 4.0] Wikimedia Commons

Our world today is split between the developed and developing, each country usually fits into one group. However, a nation’s development is not a linear progression from developing to developed, every nation is unique in its path.

Development today has shifted: we want sustainable development, not more problems. All in all, climate change should be solved on a unified front, but pressure grows for developing countries to develop sustainably not necessarily as quickly as they could.

So is it fair to place the burden on a categorical grouping system? Developing in a sustainable way helps relieve pressure on the environment but can be costly to an developing country unless done effectively. A 3 degree Celsius warming is expected to cost the world £270 billion a year: can the developed world be expected to foot the bill? Historically, as a nation progressed through its development, sustainability was never on the agenda, until now. Living and being sustainable has suddenly become a high priority for the planet.

China and India are consistently bearing the brunt of the burden of sustainability, as many people negatively view the environmental impact of these rapidly developing countries. Other developing nations such as the ‘Asian Tigers’ can also feel the burden of world environmental problems – but should it be argued that developed nations have placed a burden in order for the world to stay exactly as it is?

Initiatives such as the Sustainable Development Goals are fantastic in ethos, but create huge pressure for newly developing countries to develop through a framework. This is potentially placing the burden to compensate for already established countries’ environmental mess.

Current and past development has been anything but sustainable, placing the planet in its current precarious position. The best solution in theory would be greater action from those who have created the most greenhouse gases, consume the most or have the biggest impact on the planet. Not to mention that some of the highest emitting countries today are the least vulnerable to climate change.

Conversely, places such as Kiribati, a tragically low-lying island, have very little environmental impact and yet still will feel the effects first. Can it really be fair to place the burden of sustainability on countries like this that are too invested in fighting the real consequences first?


Colombia is developing a green mass transit system

Some developing countries of today are taking it in their stride. Costa Rica is a great case-study, with its rainforest conservation and diverse tropical wildlife, 25% of the land is protected and it manages to produce 90% of electricity through renewables. Colombia leads in sustainable green development through its fuel-efficient integrated mass transit scheme. Developing countries are now beginning to take innovative paths creating their own solutions to a sustainable development journey.

A blunt answer to this question: no, it’s not fair to place the ‘burden’ upon anybody. Our mindsets are wrong in believing sustainability is any burden. Sustainable development should be encouraged, celebrated and achieved by every country today. There is little time to be passing blame or burdening others to avoid facing these issues collectively.

About the Author: Megan Tarbuck is Lifestyle Editor for Wild and currently studying human geography and the environment at the University of York.

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