This is the third article in a series of General Paper revision topics that we have prepared for you at Basecamp.

At the Paris climate conference in December 2015, the world signed the inaugural, universal, legally binding global climate agreement. The agreement aims to limit global warning to below 2 degrees Celsius, because any higher than that, we are on track to disaster. While the agreement is monumental and praise worthy, it makes us wonder why did the world take so long to take action when global warming has already been an established fact for many years?

Tragedy of the commons

One reason why humans do not care as much about the environment as they should is because of the tragedy of commons. Without taking ownership of certain resources, humans will act individually in ways that are detrimental to the entire group’s interests.

If I don’t fish more, others will. Why should I be the one planting trees when everyone will benefit from a cleaner atmosphere? Even if I cut greenhouse gases emission, another country will just increase her pollution level. What good will my sacrifice do?

And with this mentality, we made Mother Earth less hospitable. Back in 2005, NASA linked hurricane Katrina to global warming. Today, cancer has become the biggest single cause of death in heavily polluted China, where it kills 80 per cent more people than it did 30 years ago. At the same time, we are also short-changing our children and grandchildren. Plant and animal species worldwide are vanishing at an unprecedented pace – 100 to 1,000 times the natural extinction rate.

There is clearly a need to do something. But who will do it? Enters the question of whose responsibility it is to save the planet. And you will get a lot of finger pointing.

Round 1

Developing countries: Developed nations started industrializing more than a hundred years ago, and have been spewing large amounts of pollutants and carbon emissions into the atmosphere ever since. Thus, most of the damage seen in the world today is largely a result of developed nations’ actions.

Developed countries: But you are becoming increasingly bigger polluters and carbon emitters! China, you especially! You are now the biggest carbon emitter! Treaties, such as the Kyoto Protocol, typically last for decades after ratifying. Are you saying that you should go scot-free for this entire period?

Round 2

Developing countries: We have more important issues at hand, such as feeding our poor. Global warming is a first world problem, one that we simply cannot afford to tackle. Whereas you have both the financial resources and the technical expertise to implement green solutions. What are the rest of you waiting for? You should learn from Norway, who invested billions to develop carbon capture and storage technology.

Developed countries: Look at how you are talking! You do not want to contribute your fair share and now you expect us to do all the work. I can see why though, you bugger. When we impose stricter regulations on our corporations, their costs will increase and they will lose their price competiveness. Your companies will benefit from capturing the market share. Left with no choice, my companies will simply have to relocate overseas. Again, your economies will benefit from foreign investment. Either way, you stand to gain. You think you can play us for a fool? Think again.

Round 3

Developing countries: Excuse me, your companies are the ones causing the damage to the environment. The world’s largest 90 companies, almost all from developed nations, produced nearly two-thirds of the greenhouse gas emissions between them. Companies such as Nike and Gucci have been linked to illegal deforestation in the Amazon. What’s more, your citizens are leading such wasteful lifestyles. Britain, every citizen of yours has the carbon footprint of 22 Malawians. America, you are not any better. If we all adopt the average American’s lifestyle, we will need 5 earths.

Developed nations: Wow, now you are faulting us for buying and producing stuff? Have you ever wondered where you will be if we do not trade with you?

(Both sides exit angrily)

In reality, the negotiations probably have less bite. But they are not any less heated. However, things do not have to be this way. In actual fact, conservation can be a win-win situation.

Economic growth and conservation efforts

When Singapore first started industrialising, the government set standards on waste and pollutant discharge. While different from the FROG (first raise our growth) mentality found in many developing countries, it nevertheless did not hinder growth. On the contrary, it helped to cement our reputation as a clean and green country, and attracted investment.

By capitalising on a country’s unique strength, conservation can be made easier. Costa Rica, a moderately developed country, is heavily reliant on wind energy, with more than 90% of its electricity generated from renewable sources.

Conservation can also generate monetary returns. For instance, countries such as England, Ireland, Norway and Italy are paying Sweden to get rid of their trash. Canada based Plastic Bank also set up a recycling centre in Peru, where the poor is able to trade plastic waste found on the streets for food and clothes.

Luckily for us, all the political manoeuvring was done behind closed doors in Paris in December 2015. The end result being the Paris climate change agreement. May this agreement protect the commons from becoming a tragedy.