Governments merely pay lip service to protecting the environment
Governments are almost always behind the curve when it comes to environmental issues, they are pressured by environmental campaigners for years and then when they do something they just as quickly break their promises. The Environment is not a core issue for governments, their main concerns are to do with national power and keeping people safe so doing good for the environment comes very far down their agenda. However often governments are the only institution that can protect the environment so it comes down to them.
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Use of resources trumps environment
States are much more interested in how to use resources than how to preserve them for the future. Resources are considered to be there to drive the economy. If a country has good forests for timber it will use those forests and possibly claim to be farming them sustainably with replanting. Even developed countries use the easiest and cheapest methods of extracting minerals even if this causes immense environmental damage in the process hence in the Appalachians the tops of mountains are blown off to make mining easy and cheap so increasing the profits.
It’s the economy stupid.
Governments are almost solely concerned domestically with the economy and those issues that surround it. Social areas such as Health and Education have a direct economic impact, an educated and healthy workforce is more productive. In most cases it is less easy for governments to see and sell a link between environmental protection and the potential for economic growth.
Protecting the environment can contribute to the economy. There are environmental industries such as new renewable technologies. Also tourism is a major industry. Very few people will want to go see a scarred industrial landscape whereas pristine hills can attract visitors and the money they bring with them.
Why do something when you can get away with talking about it?
The environment is an issue that is more about image than substance. Political leaders can announce small green initiatives, ideas or even consultations to great fanfare giving them a softer image as someone likeable and then not do anything about it. Because environmental issues do not bother the media too much there is no need for a follow up, the day’s press coverage has been gained.
There is increasingly pressure from civil society on any country that makes promises that it then reneges on. International civil society puts pressure on the government or political party to fulfil its promises. Yes promises do not always get fulfilled but the environment is no different from any other area of government in this regard.
Environmental conservation is second to economic growth and development.
The governments in many countries first priority is the money. That's the first thing on their lists. Who cares about the environment when you could be making millions?
Several analysis already show that the total economic loss due to environmental changes is exponentially increasing these last decades (due to increase of population, development of highly exposed regions and the high vulnerability of modern societies and technologies, regional effects of global warming...). Money is tightly linked with environmental conservation already. So I guess the problem is not directly about money, but more about who is going to pay.
I would like to add that the current environmental situation and the entire climate change whirl is also an excellent opportunity for governments to gain economically.
Nothing new to shout about.
Governments all over have placed environmental conservation pretty low on their priority list unless it's actually profitable for them to preserve it, like the pandas in China.
First World nations criticize poorer nations for cutting down jungles and destroying biodiversity, but much of the demand for timber comes from the first world. Look at cities like London, Tokyo and New York. You'd have to look hard to find a tree there when in many developing nations, you can still find the countryside within an hour's drive away from the city.
The only reason government will actually protect a part of the environment is if it has tourism value, like Sipadan island in Malaysia. Being rated as one of the top ten diving destinations of the world, the Malaysian government had to put serious effort into preserving it and limiting development. However, this is more the exception than the norm: more often than not, a popular tourist spot will be overdeveloped to the point where it loses its natural beauty in exchange for creature comforts, which is what is happening to other prominent islands in Malaysia.
Worse still is when an entire forest reserve is destroyed in the name of progress, be it to build dams, homes or goodness knows what else. The forest reserve directly across a state minister's offices was being deforested, and he actually had the nerve to claim he had no idea it was happening when his office overlooks the area. So for Malaysia at least, it's pretty clear that environmental conversation isn't exactly high on the priority list.
The only possible protector of the environment.
There would not be any environmental protection at all without governments. Business would not protect the environment rather it would exploit it. Individuals do not have the clout to protect much of the environment. While selfless individuals and a few self interested businesses may team up to protect some areas they are unlikely to be able to protect much or tackle the bigger more global issues such as reducing GHGs. This means that Government is the only possible protector of the environment even if it is not very good at doing it. The government does not have much interest in ruining the environment as it should have the interests of all its citizens in mind not just the few who want to exploit natural resources. Government has the broad reach to legislate and protect huge areas and then the personnel to carry through with the protection.
NGOs have always been at the fore in protecting the environment, saving biodiversity etc.
Create protected areas.
Governments can create protected areas through the strike of a pen. Legislation is often used to create environmental protection. Yellowstone national park was established as far back as 1872. Such national parks have often been successful all over the world at protecting the environment and biodiversity. They also attract tourism to the area meaning to an extent they can fund themselves.
Legislation does not mean anything. Just creating legislation is as bad as just paying lip service. Legislation needs to be backed up in order to have any impact. Almost all countries have legislation against hunting tigers however their numbers are still declining as poachers hunt and kill them while governments do not provide the necessary resources to prevent them.
What do you think?