Global Disparity and Environmental Sustainability


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It is about Global Disparity and Environmental Sustainability. A new approach called Consumption Approach. Prof.K.V. Bhanu Murthy, Delhi School of Economics, Delhi 110007, India.


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IIT Delhi 13 November 2007: 

IIT Delhi 13 November 2007 Global Disparity and Environmental Sustainability

Global Disparity and Environmental Sustainability : 

Global Disparity and Environmental Sustainability The global economy is poised to enter into a new phase of growth and development in the next millennium that shall be unprecedented. It has been over a decade since the process of globalization has started. Already signs of this massive change to be are visible. These are apparent from the trends in income distribution, trade, environmental pollution, and so on. What is most apparent about these trends is the extreme disparity on a global scale. We shall discuss these trends in disparity shortly and relate them to the crux of the matter, that is, environmental sustainability.

Global Distribution of Per Capita GDP: 

Global Distribution of Per Capita GDP

Global Income Disparity: 

Global Income Disparity In the case of GDP Per Capita (expressed PPP $ - real terms) the high development countries (30 per cent in all) corner 70.22 per cent, followed by medium development countries (48 per cent of the countries) whose share is 26.28 and lastly, low development countries (22 per cent of all countries) who have only 3.5.

Global environmental issues: 

Global environmental issues While all intellectual inquiry has a great responsibility, in a state of such upheaval, environmental studies have the greatest onus to understand and anticipate global challenges rather than to react to them. Any serious attempt to study the process globalization and its implication for environmental sustainability has to necessarily follow a truly global approach. While such a position might sound tautological, there is grave paradigmatic problem with this fundamental position.

Global Environmental Degradation: 

Global Environmental Degradation A truly global approach has three dimensions to it. It should be global in the sense of including all factors responsible for global environmental degradation (GED) and secondly, it must transcend space to include all countries of the world. Finally, it should also be truly global in the sense of being concerned with the global interests in from the point of view of global environmental management and not just be based on certain sectional interest. For being global in all senses of the term, the first and foremost requirement is to be able to understand the global environmental issues and concerns, in the spirit in which it has been outlined above. For meeting this end an approach and certain methods need to be developed.

A new approach to Environmental Sustainability: 

A new approach to Environmental Sustainability Even a casual look at the trends (that follow) would make it clear as to how urgent it is to evolve a global approach to environmental sustainability. This presentation is based on our approach which is perhaps the only truly global approach to environmental sustainability. We have called it the * “Consumption Approach to Environmental Sustainability” It is global approach that is all-inclusive in terms of all factors responsible as well as all countries of the world. And represents all interests. This approach is laid out in our book (*K.V.Bhanu Murthy and Raghbendra Jha (2006) Environmental Sustainability: A Consumption Approach. Routledge, London)

GED and GEM*: 

GED and GEM* There are several issues that can be taken up for having a general understanding of the global trends. But we wish to take-up some of the most pertinent issues. Many of the factors that affect the global environment are inter-connected. Therefore, in the following analysis we shall study these interrelationships from the point of view of understanding the problems in global environmental degradation (GED) and global environmental management (GEM).

Related Issues: 

Related Issues Global Trends in Development and Environment – “The Carbon Sink” Global Trends in Development and Environment – “The Elixir of Life” Development Pattern and The Environment

The Carbon Sink: 

The Carbon Sink The three related issues are CO2 emissions; Forests; And paper.

Wood and Paper: 

Wood and Paper While the relationship between them may be amply clear to the aware reader, we would like re-emphasize the relationship. Paper of any kind is made from wood pulp. Essentially the demand for paper arises from rich countries and is largely for fine paper. The finer the paper the higher the grade of wood required. Hence, more superior is the tree that is to be felled [1]. [1] One ton of newspaper is the equivalent of 19 pine trees.

Paper quality and the environment: 

Paper quality and the environment In the sense that its wood is much more expensive and its role in nature is much greater. For instance, while local handmade paper is made from bamboo, high quality paper is made from pinewood.

Dilemma of poor countries: 

Dilemma of poor countries The choice that developing countries face is to earn by exporting such superior wood and augmenting growth and incomes domestically or preserving the forests and remaining poor. Needless to say this is apparently an individual choice being exercised by some poor countries but has a global implication for environmental sustainability.

Carbon Sink: 

Carbon Sink These trees have a great capacity to absorb carbon dioxide (CO2) and act as a ‘carbon sink’, which is the only insurance against global warming being caused by ‘green-house gases (GHG)’, like CO2, that destroy the ozone layer. By felling the forests the developing countries benefit themselves and by retaining forests the world benefits, at large, and they lose.

Early industrialization: 

Early industrialization Developed countries experienced early industrialization at a time when there was no awareness about the environment. They indiscriminately felled their forests. Today they are pressurizing developing countries to preserve their forests.


Reforestation Apparently developed countries have green cover but it is as a result of ‘reforestation’ and not natural forests. It has been found that ‘reforestation’ reduces the original bio-diversity and habitat by 90%.

Forest Cover: 

Forest Cover

Data on Forest Cover: 

Summary Statistics Developed Developing   Weighted average of percentage forest cover: 24.36 81.00  Simple average of percentage forest cover: 23.92 43.89  Share of Countries having > than 1% forest cover 16.65 58.93  Percentage of Countries (out of 162 countries) 1.85 8.02  Forest Area in '000 Sq. Km. 6,286.44 22,246.97 Data on Forest Cover

Developed Countries: 

Developed Countries The Human Development Index conceals the fact that high-ranking (highly developed) countries do not contribute much to green cover. So the index takes into account economic and social criteria but not environmental criteria. The top 48 countries, that is, 30 percent of percent of all countries possess only 23 percent of the cover. Out of these three countries - USA, Canada and Australia, that is 1.85 percent of the total number of countries, have 16.65 percent and the rest of the 28 percent have less than 13 percent of the global cover.

Poor countries provide forest cover: 

Poor countries provide forest cover There are 16 countries that possess significant forest cover. We have defined any country that contributes more than one percent to the total forest cover in the world as having ‘significant cover’. Of theses only three countries USA, Canada and Australia are developed countries. The rest of the 13 countries are all developing countries. The greatest single contributor is the Russian Federation, which has a 22.55 percent share in global, forest cover.

Paper and pulp: 

Paper and pulp The pulp and paper industry is the single largest consumer of water used in industrial activities in OECD countries and is the third greatest industrial greenhouse gas emitter, after the chemical and steel industries (OECD Environmental Outlook, p. 218) Paper pulp exports from Latin America from forests converted into plantations and from the harvesting and conversion of tropical and subtropical forests are expected to grow 70 percent between 2000 and 2010. (Mark Payne, “Latin America Aims High for the Next Century, Pulp and Paper International ’99)

Paper and ecology: 

Paper and ecology Most of the world’s paper supply, about 71 percent, is not made from timber harvested at tree farms but from forest-harvested timber, from regions with ecologically valuable, biologically diverse habitat. (Toward a Sustainable Paper Cycle: An Independent Study on the Sustainability of the Pulp and Paper Industry, 1996)

Paper Consumption: 

Paper Consumption

Distribution of CO2: 

Distribution of CO2

Contribution to CO2: 

Contribution to CO2 On an average the per capita contribution of rich countries over 11.87 metric tons while that of developing countries is 3.03 and poor countries is just 0.56. The maximum of rich countries is 52.3 tons. Similarly, on an average the share of each rich country is more than 1 per cent, that of developing countries is less half and that of poor countries is less than 0.02 per cent.

Inequalities in CO2: 

Inequalities in CO2 Interestingly, about half the countries in the world contribute such an insignificant amount that it may be treated as zero. Out of 174 countries 144 contribute less than 0.5 per cent and 168 countries contribute less than 2.5 per cent, on an individual basis. The last 20 countries or the poor countries as class do not contribute anything to global CO2 emission!! Half the countries in the world contribute less than 0.05 per cent, individually. In other words the median of all countries’ contributions is 0.05 and the average contribution of all countries is just 0.57. Finally, just six countries contribute about 61 per cent of all the CO2 in the world!!


Water The single feature of our planet that distinguishes it from other planets is water -“The Elixir of Life”. It is obvious that this unique resource of our planet is not distributed uniformly in the world. The following table (Table 1.3) gives the details of the overall distribution. As has been stressed earlier while understanding the core issues in global environmental sustainability it is important to understand the inter-connection amongst factors. Three such factors can be identified – water, fertilizer and population.

Fertilizer, water and population: 

Fertilizer, water and population The relationship is as follows. Land is the next most important natural resource after water. The exploitation of land is essential for food, which in turn is essential for survival of the population. Such exploitation is justified if it is done at a sustainable rate. At a rate that gives nature the time to recoup. Hence, there must be a balance between these three factors. If on the other hand, modern farming methods are used to accelerate the exploitation it must be understood that it necessitates the use of chemical fertilizers. These fertilizers require huge amounts of water. Therefore, there must be a consonance and a balance between the use of fertilizer and water, and the population.

Water Availability: 

Water Availability The categories of countries have below average water resources are Least Developed Countries, Developing Countries, in general, Sub-Saharan Africa, Low Income Countries, South Asia and Arab States, in that order. While High Income Countries have 30 per cent more than the world average, Developing countries have 20 per cent less than the same. Needless to say Arab States possess the least. This spells out the supply or availability situation.

Freshwater consumption: 

Freshwater consumption High development countries draw 108 per cent of their fresh water resources, medium development countries draw 80 per cent and low development countries draw only 15 per cent and the least developed countries consume only 6 per cent. The standard deviation of low development countries is the lowest. They consistently draw only a fifth of the world average level. This is despite the fact that their possession is barely 10 per cent less than the world average. This clearly points to sustainable use.

Population trends: 

Population trends The average population was 36.18 million in 1999, while high development countries had a mean population of 22 million. The average for medium development countries was 51 and that of low development countries was 19.5. The total population of high, medium and low development countries was 1054, 3990 and 680, respectively. If medium development countries were to consume more they would have a legitimate reason. The high development countries that have ¼ of the population of medium development countries and still make heavy drawls of resources and overconsumption.

Fertilizer consumption: 

Fertilizer consumption

Inequality in consumption: 

Inequality in consumption There is a justification of developing and poor countries to accelerate food production for feeding their ever-growing population. But the use of fertilizer accelerates the use of water. However, we find that developed countries, which have much less population, unjustifiably consume much more fertilizer. Their appropriation is rather high. They consume 72 per cent of the global fertilizer while they are just 30 per cent countries. Developing countries consume only 26 per cent although they are 48 per cent of all countries. The low development countries are 22 per cent of all countries but consume only 2 per cent! Their state of poverty is such that they need to augment domestic food supply. Yet they consume only 2 per cent of fertilizer.

Unsustainable consumption: 

Unsustainable consumption So far we have been studying various factors of that relate to the environment and have seen their interrelationship. The picture that emerges is that developed countries have the lowest population but even on a per capita basis have displayed highly unsustainable consumption levels. This has resulted in gross global environmental degradation. The complex web of factors that are responsible for this state cannot be seen in isolation of each other. We have seen how a comparative study of these patterns of consumption across levels of development and classes of countries reveals that consumption, level of development and environmental degradation are intricately related.

Consumption and Income: 

Consumption and Income Consumption is however, enabled by income. Therefore, the question is as to what is the kind of income generation process that has evolved and what are the implications of such a process for environmental sustainability. We have now examine the global distribution GDP per capita (in real terms – PPP $).Now we see relationship between three related factors, namely, Trade, Urbanization and Energy

Energy consumption: 

Energy consumption

Inequality of Energy Consumption: 

Inequality of Energy Consumption Energy Use by Countries: 20% - Richest 5% 60% - Rich20% 80% - Rich37% 90% - 50% Poorest 25% countries get only 1%.

Technology and energy: 

Technology and energy Ordinarily, extant literature views the question of energy by emphasizing the relatively efficient technologies and efficiency of energy use by developed countries. Such a relative notion ignores the absolute level of energy use. Therefore, it is a misnomer that developed countries are much more efficient. Their growth and industrialization is based on extremely high-energy use that causes environmental damage. And this is done at the cost of the using environmentally degrading development inputs.

Global Distribution of Trade: 

Global Distribution of Trade

Inequality in Trade: 

Inequality in Trade The top 7% countries have cornered 50% of world trade. Top 26% have 80% of the trade. Like-wise 47% of the countries at the top possess 90% of the trade. Finally, the last 25% have only 2% of the trade.

Trade patterns: 

Trade patterns The developed world produces and exports industrial goods by high-energy use and, on the other hand, by using a lot of fertilizer and water they are able to support their population, as well as agriculture and export primary products on a large scale, as well. Therefore, their trade volumes are much larger. Thus, they actually leave no space of poor countries to use their comparative advantage in cheap labour. Neither can they compete in industrial exports through their cheap labour nor can they compete in agricultural exports.

Global Distribution of Urbanization: 

Global Distribution of Urbanization

Inequality of Urbanization: 

Inequality of Urbanization The inequalities are less in the case of urbanization. 51% of the urban area is with the top 37% of the countries. And 70% urban area is with 55% of the top countries.

Consumption and environment: 

Consumption and environment So far we have been studying various factors of that relate to the environment and have seen their interrelationship. The picture that emerges is that developed countries have the lowest population but even on a per capita basis have displayed highly unsustainable consumption levels. This has resulted in gross global environmental degradation. The complex web of factors that are responsible for this state cannot be seen in isolation of each other. We have seen how a comparative study of these patterns of consumption across levels of development and classes of countries reveals that consumption, level of development and environmental degradation are intricately related.

Global Inequalities: 

Global Inequalities   Inequality in Consumption and Environmental Degradation across HDI Classes

Why study disparity?: 

Why study disparity? The above trends in development and the environment reveal great disparities that are inherent in the process of globalization. A prime question is as to why it is important to study such disparities. At one level the response to such a question is to look into the issues arising from the equity angle that relate to inequality and poverty.

Our approach: 

Our approach Our approach is however different in many ways. Firstly, while we may be concerned about the equity angle, and the human dimension of development, our primary purpose of delving into disparity in the process of globalization is analytical. Our understanding is that global disparities lie at the root of aggravating global environmental degradation.


Convergence Our approach is to illuminate how globalization has brought about a process by which patterns of development as well as consumption are converging and are likely to set in a process of environmental degradation in the indefinite future.


Conclusion Finally, an essential part of our approach is not merely to study the cause and analytical framework of global environmental degradation, but to point out that there is an urgent need for global environmental management, whose central theme would be to address these disparities as the basis of environmental degradation. An institution like the World Environment Organization has to evolve and come to terms with this reality. A mere tinkering with treaties, conventions and permits would be far from the solution.


Adieu!! I would be glad if this lecture helps you to understand the global environmental problem better. Any questions are welcome. Thank you!!

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