In 2015, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which includes 17 Sustainable Development Goals that range in subject from gender equality, ending poverty, and sustainable cities and communities.
Developing our world to ensure everyone is afforded basic human rights—such as a quality education, a well-constructed shelter, and other rights needed to live a dignified life—comes with a second set of responsibilities that may not be thought of when developing countries. There’s no question that our climate is changing at rapid rates and is posing new questions such as how to develop our world while maintaining sustainable production and ensuring our climate endures as little harm as possible.
It is difficult not to acknowledge the role that large countries, such as the United States, have on the development of other countries. In a June 8, 2022 press conference about the impacts of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Rebecca Greenspan—Secretary General of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development—noted that there are foreseeable impacts on food supply for developing countries, but also pointed to the responsibility of international financial institutions located in the United States to ease lending ratios and reactivate rapid disbursement methods. The World Bank, which provides financing, advice, and research to developing nations to help advance their economies, adopted the Washington Consensus with other international financial institutions in the mid-1980s that consists of 10 liberal economy policy prescriptions that must be attempted by countries requesting development loans. The consensus, largely spearheaded by the Regan administration and UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, proves difficult for developing nations to adhere to when their economies are not as diverse as more established economies such as the United Kingdom or United States.
While liberal trade policies can have benefits, like allowing rapid expansion of markets, they allow for large companies to take advantage of legislative efforts in leading countries that hinder climate justice efforts. For example, from the time the Paris Climate Agreement was adopted, four of the largest fossil fuel companies reported 4,597 instances of lobbying, 8 of which were focused around the Paris Agreement; the majority were focused on taxes. As long as Big Oil has a hold on the world’s most wealthy nations, these countries will fail to see the need to contribute to climate funds that assist developing nations in meeting their obligations to preserve our climate.
A 2009 collective effort by wealthy countries to contribute $100 billion for developing countries to combat climate change issues has been pushed to the side, with countries like the United States, Australia, and Canada failing to pay even half of their obligation. However, pushes for a future where sustainable living is a human right are becoming more prominent. A group of young Vanuatu citizens are seeking an affirmative vote in the United Nations General Assembly later this year to solidify a safe, sustainable future for later generations as a human right in the International Court of Justice. The initiative could be met with opposition from wealthy capitalist countries. Given the history of liberal trade policy and fossil fuel sympathy in affluent countries, despite lower costs of renewable energy, it is important to recognize that we are all responsible for mitigating climate change and that we have a moral obligation to assist those without the means to solidify a sustainable future.
To urge the United States to vote “yes” on referring the case to the International Court of Justice for an advisory opinion that establishes a safe, sustainable future as a human right, sign the UUSC’s petition.