Nexus of International Institutions, Overpopulation and Waste Management

"Can we continue to overcrowd and over-consume without losing the very things that have given us joy, kept us safe, and provided inspiration for as long as we've been a species?"

-Tom Hayden

Shall Overpopulation Concern Us ?

From early on, globally environmentalists sidelined overpopulation. For instance, the 1972 United Nations Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm, Sweden, did not deal with overpopulation at all. Many international agencies dropped work on overpopulation. Studies show that the underlined reason was the human rights wrongs which got associated with overpopulation overtime for example, China’s one child policy and forced sterilisation in India under Indira Gandhi’s leadership. (Foreman 2012)

Several reports and studies prove that high birth rates and overpopulation are prime factors that undermine efforts to promote well-being especially in the developing nations. This has also been showcased in reports which show progress towards achieving the United Nation's Millennium Development Goals. To. uplift the lives of billions of people around the world population reduction is considered essential. (United Nations Population Fund 2009)

The above infographic talks about overpopulation. It tries to list down major causes of overpopulation which are unequal allocation of resources, falling mortality rate, inadequate family planning, underutilisation of contraceptives, inactivity of international institutions etc. It also tries to state few problems that arise due to overpopulation such as global inequality between global north and south, extinction of species, uneven distribution of natural resources between rich and poor, destruction of natural habitat and climate change.

It then leads on to showcase the distribution of population amongst different parts of the world. Asia constituting 60% of the population. It goes on to divide the actors between two which are involved in the issue of overpopulation that are international and national institutions. Then it addresses two major gaps that exist when it comes to the issue of overpopulation which is that there is no specialised environmental institution working on the issue of overpopulation in particular and there is yet a lot of discussion which needs to be done around the issue and to understand this problem. It also talks about three major roles international institutions can play which is to stir discussion globally about overpopulation, its implication and how Sustainable Development Goals can be reached faster. It also talks about customised solutions for different nations as situation, culture and norms differ from region to region. It finally ends with a solution to address overpopulation.

How is Overpopulation related to Waste Generation?

There has been a trend recorded worldwide that shows significant increase in municipal solid waste generation. The main causes behind it are overpopulation, urbanisation, industrialisation and economic growth. Speed of consumerism has grown multi-folds and consequently led to an increase in the solid waste generation.

The arisen crisis is primarily due to the consumption patterns of the growing population.

What are the problems related to Poor Waste Management ?

Classification of waste can be done into five types namely namely liquid waste, organic waste, solid rubbish, recyclable rubbish and hazardous waste. Segregation of waste becomes important to ensure safe, hygienic and proper waste removal.

In developing nations, especially Asia, municipal corporations are failing to handle the solid waste. Consequently, the uncollected waste is spread in public areas resulting in higher pollution levels and leaving a negative impact on lives of people in close proximity. Municipal solid waste is a collection of heterogeneous groups of waste produced majorly in urban areas. (Khajuria et al 2009)

There is a worldwide concern about the issue of solid municipal waste generation. The generators of these specific kinds of waste can be classified broadly as commercial, residential, industrial, institutional, demolition, municipal, construction, and agricultural types. (Sekhar and Beukering 1998)

All developing Asian countries face a common problem of municipal solid waste disposal and landfill site availability.

The waste discharged for collection in developing countries is often stored in closed containers and dumped directly on the ground, and is then picked up by hand.Therefore workers in developing nations have significantly more direct contact with waste compared to their counterparts in developed countries, who primarily handle sealed plastic bags. (Jayakrishnan et al 2013) These workers have various health problems and many studies have proved the same. A study showed how majority of the workers had higher percentage of musculoskeletal symptoms.

This work constitutes of multiple issues of socio-economic and gender based discrimination and causes environmental deprivations. (Furedy 1991)

Role of International Environmental Laws when it comes to Environmental Issues ?

This video briefly talks about the role of International Court of Justice when it comes to cases related to environmental issues.

"Compared to other subjects... [environmental laws] ... has been perhaps, at least until recently, rather less evident in the records of the Court."

-Professor Malgosia Fitzmaurice said in an article in 1996 at the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the ICJ

Initially the concept of environment protection was narrow in scope and focussed primarily on the injury caused due to transboundary issues instead of focussing on environment as a common good which shall be preserved by all the states. Dr. Jorge in his paper divided the evolution of environmental law in three waves. The first wave according to him was to some extent ambiguous as the Court did not explicitly state the transboundary environmental harm. Nonetheless, Principle 21 of the Stockholm Declaration received indirect support from the Court. In the second way, a cautious and thorough analysis proved that the principles established in the Corfu Channel case were acknowledged and formulated within the framework of International Environmental Laws and “component of environmental protection was expressly recognized as part of customary international law.” Apart from these fundamental contributions of the International Court of Justice, “a number of more progressive statements...widely influenced the development of international law in areas such as state responsibility, international humanitarian law or the international law of development.”Consequently, it became necessary to incorporate “environmental considerations in other fields of international law”. For example, what is considered proportionate and necessary for the objectives of legitimate military defense. Furthermore, opinions of Judge Weeramantry and jurisprudence of International Court of Justice raised and addressed several essential issues such as monitoring and environmental impact of large projects, substitution of environmental rights as human rights, limitations that come with the right to economic development and relationship between treaty and customary law when it comes to the subject of environment. These contributions may seem to be relatively modest compared to treaties and conventions that moulded the development of International Environmental Law. The prime role of the International Court of Justice is “that of being the gate-keeper and guardian of general international law.(Vinuales 2008)

International environmental issues are linked intrinsically to international security issues and require global solutions. Without such rules, the international community risks both global environmental degradation....and disputes among states in response to specific local problems such as acid rain and access to fresh water.

-Gareth Evans, the former Australian Foreign Minister

A study was done to understand the importance of international environmental law not just in the global context but also in the Asia-Pacific context and to analyse the impact of Conventions and sub-regional responses and implementation done by individual states. The study showcased that the Rio Conference held in 1992had a substantial impact upon the development of international environmental Law. However, much remains to be achieved before international environmental law which is truly comprehensive and effective at the global, regional and national levels.” It showed many essential challenges for International Environmental Institutions. For instance there is a need for new and more effective compliance mechanisms. Stating that the global environment will keep on deteriorating until international environmental law gets minimum acceptance from parties. As the Vienna Convention, which was held in 1995 for the Protection of the Ozone Layer and the Montreal Protocol which was held in 1987 Substance that Deplete the Ozone Layer still have not been accepted completely. This incomplete acceptance especially by the states which are significantly responsible for the depleting gases will hinder to achieve true results. The study also focuses on the need to have interactions and reconciliation between global and regional legal regimes. Furthermore, there is also a need for institutional development especially in the Asia-Pacific region. This strengthening of institutions is required to help states “within the region to meet their obligations.” For instance institutions such as “UNEP, UNDP and ESCAP do operate throughout the whole Asia Pacific and assist states in implementing their treaty-based obligations. However, none of these institutions have a central mandate for the Asia Pacific environment.” The study concludes that international environmental law can be criticised on multiple grounds but “the initiatives taken at UNCED have assisted in the crystallization of developments which have been taking place since the 1972 Stockholm Conference.” As there is much greater respect and acknowledgement of International Environmental laws globally, it can significantly help to develop and evolve the law in future. Nonetheless, it is crucial to address the lack of clear guiding legal principles which poses the prime threat. (Sijapati 2015)

What is the Role of Basel Convention?

In 1989, The Basel Convention was adopted “based on broad international consensus that the widespread business practice of exporting hazardous waste from industrialized to developing countries required stricter regulation.” Transcripts of the earlier negotiations show that even though there was a consensus it was unethical to dispose of toxic wastes in developing and poor countries. There was still vast disagreement on what substances shall be considered as “hazardous waste” and whether trade in hazardous waste for recycling and recovery purposes should be exempt from restriction.” As plastic is an internationally traded commodity and since a very long time is following the dynamics profitability in the waste and recycling market globally. This in turn is leaving a disproportionate health and environmental burden on the developing countries which consist of the world's most vulnerable populations. Since the late 1980s, the plastic waste globally generated has been exported to East Asian and Pacific countries. These countries have shown underdevelopment, inefficiency, and non-existence of waste management infrastructures. Khan in his study notes that despite the grave environmental and health impacts of these practices, “the global plastic waste trade has predominantly operated outside the scope of the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal.” The treaty was however amended in 2019. Nonetheless, in order to be more effective, the trading rules of new plastic will further require greater transparency and legal clarity, and more effective law enforcement mechanisms within and between nations when it comes to customs and environmental protection authorities. There are many aspects which are out of the mandate of Basel Convention. For instance, assigning responsibility (financial and environmental ) within plastic product supply chains. (Khan 2020)

Analysis of both the institutions makes it clear that the major weakness are unclear roles and enforcement mechanisms. To save the environment and stop further destruction and exploitation especially of developing nations it becomes crucial to work on both the aspects by both the institutions.

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