Whose Right to Development?

Article 1 of the Declaration on the Right to Development holds that the right to development is an inalienable human right.[1] When this was adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1986, it represented a strong step forward for global distributive justice. Today, however, we are facing a situation in which states increasingly invoke the right the development to defend their pollution habits, all while the effects of anthropogenic climate change are threatening the development of others. In this context, it is necessary to ask: whose rights should we favour?

Together, China and India produce around 34% of global CO2 emissions.[2] While China’s emissions had stagnated between 2013 and 2016, they began rising again in 2017 and, in 2018, they jumped by around 5%.[3] India, for its part, is still intensifying its reliance on coal, which has become the backbone of its development strategy and a key factor in the country’s rising emissions.[4] In short, the contribution of these two developing countries to climate change is considerable, and will only grow as they continue to lift their citizens out of poverty.

At the same time, China and India have been among the most vocal about the need to respect their right to development during international climate negotiations. It is their fear that, should they be required to act at the same rate as the developed world, their economic growth, built largely on fossil fuels, will be hindered.[5] They argue that such an eventuality would represent a clear violation of their right to development, a right which they rightly point out was readily available to the developed world during their period of industrialisation.

Yet, when we speak of the right to development in today’s context of anthropogenic climate change, we must also speak of the impact of its pursuit. An illustrative example is that of Sub-Saharan Africa. According to a 2014 report from the IPCC, Sub-Saharan Africa is currently facing extreme agricultural degradation stemming from the extreme precipitation patterns caused by anthropogenic climate change.[6] This is a region where around 75% of the population directly depends on the agricultural sector, all of whom must now reckon with a future in which their livelihoods may be chronically threatened.[7] We can see, then, that one’s right to develop, if conceived as the right to pollute, has decided implications for the development of other states and peoples.

In this context of competing developments, we must begin to be more discerning with regard to the use of the right to development by China and India to justify continued pollution. Not only is this environmentally irresponsible, but it also violates, directly and indirectly, the rights of others to develop. If we fail to do so, we risk losing sight of the central goal of the Declaration on the Right to Development: to allow for the free, beneficial, and, above all, equal development of all peoples.

Axel Jenkin

Bibliography

FAO. Water for Agriculture and Energy in Africa: The Challenge of Climate Change. Report of the Ministerial Conference 15-17 December 2008. Rome: FAO, 2011.

IPCC. The IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report: What’s in it for Africa? Contribution of Working Groups I, II and III to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014.

Li, Anthony H. F. “Hopes of Limiting Global Warming? China and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.” Current Affairs. no. 2016/1 (2016), pp. 49-54.

Stalley, Philip. “China’s Climate Progress May Have Faltered in 2018, But it Seems to Be on the Right Path.” The Conversation. 13 December 2018. Accessed: https://theconversation.com/chinas-climate-progress-may-have-faltered-in-2018-but-it-seems-to-be-on-the-right-path-108589

Vidal, John, “India Pushes Rich Countries to Boost Their Climate Pledges at Paris,” The Guardian. 2 December 2015. Accessed: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/dec/02/india-takes-leading-role-for-global-south-nations-in-climate-talks

United Nations General Assembly, “Declaration on the Right to Development,” United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner, 4 December 1986. Accessed: https://www.ohchr.org/EN/ProfessionalInterest/Pages/RightToDevelopment.aspx

“Each Country’s Share of CO2 Emissions,” Union of Concerned Scientists, 11 October 2018. Accessed: https://www.ucsusa.org/global-warming/science-and-impacts/science/each-countrys-share-of-co2.html

[1] United Nations General Assembly, “Declaration on the Right to Development,” United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner, 4 December 1986. Accessed: https://www.ohchr.org/EN/ProfessionalInterest/Pages/RightToDevelopment.aspx

[2] “Each Country’s Share of CO2 Emissions,” Union of Concerned Scientists, 11 October 2018. Accessed: https://www.ucsusa.org/global-warming/science-and-impacts/science/each-countrys-share-of-co2.html

[3] Philip Stalley, “China’s Climate Progress May Have Faltered in 2018, But it Seems to Be on the Right Path,” The Conversation, 13 December 2018. Accessed: https://theconversation.com/chinas-climate-progress-may-have-faltered-in-2018-but-it-seems-to-be-on-the-right-path-108589

[4] John Vidal, “India Pushes Rich Countries to Boost Their Climate Pledges at Paris,” The Guardian, 2 December 2015. Accessed: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/dec/02/india-takes-leading-role-for-global-south-nations-in-climate-talks

[5] Anthony H. F. Li, “Hopes of Limiting Global Warming? China and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change,” Current Affairs, no. 2016/1 (2016), p. 51.

[6] IPCC, The IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report: What’s in it for Africa? Contribution of Working Groups I, II and III to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014), pp. 10-11.

[7] FAO, Water for Agriculture and Energy in Africa: The Challenge of Climate Change. Report of the Ministerial Conference 15-17 December 2008, (Rome: FAO, 2011), p. 107.

 

Photo by Micheile Henderson on Unsplash

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