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European Community Commission President Delors has referred to global environmental management as “the greatest phenomenon of world interdependence there is”. Indeed, due to its inherently trans-national character and global implications, environmental conservation has blossomed into an urgent and salient sphere of cooperation and coordination in the international community. Common to all of humanity, it cannot be resolved by a few countries acting alone. Thus, I fully agree that international co-operation is crucial in tackling world environmental problems and will subsequently prove the justification for my stand.

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First and foremost, we must be aware that sole actions undertaken by various countries and organisations effect significant impacts upon the global environment, whether positive or negative. Wise measures implemented by cooperative parties can very well play a role in tackling environmental problems. Yet, they may be hampered by contradicting parties. A nonchalant attitude adopted or lack of discipline displayed by uncooperative parties which cause inconsiderate damage to the environment, inevitably disrupts the global climb towards an enhanced environment. Hence, due to the fact that all individual efforts add up eventually, international cooperation, the cooperation of all countries, is crucial in tackling world environmental problems.

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For instance, China, with 11% of the world’s carbon dioxide output – second to the United States – has cracked down on emissions and reduced its greenhouse output by 17% between 1997 and 1999, eliminating more than the entire carbon dioxide production of Southeast Asia. “When China takes action,” says climate expert Kevin Baumert of World Resources Institute, Washington, “it has global implications.” This underlines how a sole power can help make a considerable advancement towards the goal of environment conservation, single-handedly.

Conversely, the 1997 Indonesian forest fires set by palm-oil plantation owners and slash-and-burn farmers consumed as many as 400,000 hectares of forest. The smoke from the fires, aggravated by El Nino, polluted the air not just of Indonesia and Malaysia, but also of Singapore, Thailand, Brunei and the southern Philippines. The government, however, took ages to react until neighbourhood countries applied pressure. From a global perspective, biomass burning anywhere is a major source of greenhouse gases contributing to global warming, influencing the climate on regional and global scales.

Likewise, in the disruption of achieving environment conservation, newly- elected United States President George W. Bush announced the abandonment of his campaign pledge to curb carbon dioxide emissions from power plants in March 2001, due to an energy crisis and economy slowdown. Highlighting this significant disruption is the fact that the United States is home to 4% of the world’s population, but produces 25% of its greenhouses gases. Thus, it is clearly evident how damage caused in a single region can hamper the course of tackling world environmental problems.

Furthermore, international cooperation can bring about the creation of a more standardised and effective liaison network for environmental policymaking, information exchange, and data compilation. Borders will then no longer impede the tackling of environmental problems once communities worldwide are empowered with the accessibility of vast knowledge and expertise for usage and research purposes. When innovations and discoveries are made towards the tackling of environmental problems, like the discovery of alternative environment-friendly energy sources, there can be generous dissemination of the newly acquired knowledge. This allows for improvisations through discussions with other countries and organisations, in order to attain wholesome benefits from its implementations.

A situation, which illustrates the above reasoning, is the sharing of climate change satellite data among countries. Different United States government agencies collect air and ground data, including the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and others such as the Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency. However interagency cooperation associated with this task is too fragmented presently. Although European and Japanese space agencies collect and share their respective data with them, the information is often plagued by compatibility problems. Whereas, China and India are allegedly reluctant to share all of their collected data due to national security concerns. As such, inter-calibration of instrumentation procedures and practices among and between the various satellites, and the international cooperation of countries to provide data will infinitely aid environmental research and the ability to handle environmental problems.

Another example is the 1997 Nakhodka oil spill within the Sea of Japan (East Sea). In contrast to the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Prince William Sounds, Alaska, the scale of environmental impact assessments for it were limited due to restrictions placed upon the researching and advisory agencies like the NOAA. This hindered the precise data needed to further tackle world environmental problems. Moreover, the clean-up unit lacked field-specific knowledge about collecting heavy oil. If the authorities had accepted the liaison network wholly, competent expertise and technologies in dealing with the crisis could have been readily employed. Thus, it is unmistakable that international cooperation in the sharing of information and techniques is indispensable in the restoration of the environment.

Last but not least, a reasoning to reinforce the necessity of international cooperation in tackling world environmental problems is the establishment of financial aid between countries. I recognise the common argument that it is uncalled for for relatively affluent countries to provide resources for poorer countries. However, it must be kept in mind that environmental problems in a specific region can very well grow to a global danger, like nuclear contamination of the air, water and land. Usually, if poorer countries are inadequate in handling problems with their limited capital, the problems are frequently left unresolved. International cooperation in setting up financial aid will ensure the availability of funds for less affluent countries to address threats to their regional environments in correspondence to “saving the earth”.

An example is Sulawesi, Indonesia, where the gold mines, 300-odd processing units and factories are spewing out toxins of some 150,000 tons of mercury-laden slurry into the environment annually. World Bank estimates put the cleanup costs at around $1 billion, a laughable figure in near-bankrupt Indonesia. Other than the necessity for reinforcement of better environmental laws in the region, financial aid is also essential for tackling this environmental problem.

Currently, there is such a funding establishment – the Global Environment Facility (GEF). Launched in 1991, with participants including 167 member governments, leading development institutions, the scientific community, and various private and non-governmental sectors, it was to serve the environmental interests of people globally.

In conclusion, international cooperation is critical in the tackling of world environmental problems on the basis that worldwide collaboration in research, observation and consistent monitoring and encouragement of environment-friendly activities by local governments and private sectors is required for environment restoration. As the saying goes, “united we stand, divided we fall” – it is wholly dependent on the strength of coming together as one, to see the global forest beyond local trees.

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Kylie Garcia

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