Question 1: The tragedy of the commons
a) Using the example of a problem of the global commons outline the “tragedy of the commons” and explain its causes. In order to aptly outline the “tragedy of the commons” using an example of a problem of the global commons, it is essential to first put in context what both terms mean and how they relate to each other. The “tragedy of the commons” is a type of market failure under the banner of property rights that is described as ‘an economic problem in which every individual tries to reap the greatest benefit from a given resource. As the demand for the resource overwhelms the supply, every individual who consumes an additional unit directly harms others who can no longer enjoy the benefits’ (Investopedia, 2014, para. 1). A global common is used to indicate the worlds shared resource domain or areas that are not confined to the political reach of any one nation state and are open for use by states, organisations and individuals worldwide. International law specifically identifies four global commons: space, the high seas (deep ocean), Northern and Southern polar regions, Antarctic in particular and the atmosphere (United Nations Environment Programme, 2003, para. 1). Another category fast becoming recognised as an electronic global commons is the likes of man-made cyberspace to which presents as many issues as other global commons (Yale Journal of International Affairs, 2013, para. 33). One example of a problem associated with a global common is that of climate change. Climate change is referred to as the influences on climate caused from human practices and considered the ultimate “tragedy of the commons” (Paavola, 2011, p. 9). There are many factors contributing to climate change but a large part is down to individuals and firms releasing pollution and enhanced greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere. The issue signifies an environmental externality, the overuse of a common property resource and a neglection to the wellbeing of society in the pursuit of individual gain (Harris and Roach, 2006, p. 2). One example to explain the “tragedy of the commons” is through the unsustainable use of global atmospheric sinks for greenhouse gases, a key resource use problem of climate change. They are common-pool resources (rival, non-excludable) used to absorb pollutants which is replenished by natural processes. The consumers of the sinks range from people driving their cars and keeping livestock to coal powered electricity generation plants (Ostrom, 1990). “Tragedy of the commons” occurs because consumers act on their own self-interest to use sink service units before other users make them unavailable and what promotes further opportunity for this is the non-excludability factor (Hardin, 1968). The main greenhouse gases produced from human activities that lead to climate change are from the following sources; •
The burning of fossil fuels such as coal and petroleum for energy (e.g. for electricity and transport). •
Deforestation is a natural atmospheric sink that turns carbon dioxide from the air into oxygen (photosynthesis). When trees are cleared (deforestation) the stored carbon is converted back into carbon dioxide. •
Agriculture greenhouse gases come from agricultural soils and rice production. Another chief source is from animals such as sheep and cows as they create high levels of methane. •
Industrial processors both produce and emit different greenhouse gases through operations of coal mining, cement production and liquid natural gas production. (World Wildlife Fund, 2014).
b) What kinds of policies might be used to tackle the problem you use? Responding to climate change can be done through preventative measures to lower the effect of greenhouse gases or adaptive actions to minimise impact of greenhouse gas consequences. The EU implemented the European climate change policy, a long term strategy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through ‘consuming less-polluting energy...
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Yale Journal of International Affairs
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