EXPLORING THE POSSIBILITY OF A NEW SOCIAL CONTRACT
"Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction, and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you!”
These words ring vociferously in the ears as the world encounters two major incidents of oil spillage, the first one being in Russia where 17,500 tons of oil leaked into a river and the latest being in Mauritius which has seen 1,000 tons of oil leaked into the ocean, endangering the local ecosystem and marine life. Mauritius is an island nation which depends on the beauty of its beaches and its sprawling marine ecosystem to attract tourists from around the world. The spillage site is in close proximity with protected marine ecosystem and the blue bay marine park reserves, making the location a great concern. Satellite images reveal that around 30 kilometers of its coastline has been heavily affected.
The recent trend suggests that such activities are likely to surge as ship traffic increases in the oceans due to increase in the global trade demand, with the no. of ships four times now than in 1992. The International Tankers Owners Pollution Federation Ltd reports that 500 million tons of oil has ended up in sea in the last forty years, with 1.5 million gallons of used oil entering the oceans annually. Thus, we must question ourselves whether we are taking more from the nature than we are giving back? Does the existing social contract needs rethinking?
A Social Contract Redesigned
Social contracts define the reciprocal rights, duties, and responsibilities between states and citizens. Human induced Climate change is creating new challenges for both states and citizens, inevitably forcing a rethinking of existing social contract –one that can provide people with a decent standard of living through the ‘ecological transition’ towards sustainable development. Social contracts have been denounced for vindicating the exploitation and subjugation that nature and environment have suffered in the name of development, economic growth and advancement. A tripartite agreement involving ecology, citizens and the state should be made, apart from guaranteeing equity among all members of the society. Obligations such as carbon tax and pollution charges should be imposed on those who try to exploit it and Mutual benefits should be accrued to citizens who vow to save the environment. For ex – Subsidies on eco-friendly products such as electric vehicles and solar panels would stimulate the citizens to go green and be a force in changing the environment for good. At the same time it would fulfill government’s ambition of environmental protection.
Role of Citizens
The 14th Sustainable development goal talks about Conservation and sustainable use of the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development. It sets out the role and the guidelines for businesses in achieving sustainability while also setting time barred targets. But such laws and conventions won’t make any difference until and unless there is a fundamental change. We humans are the cause, and we’re the sufferers. The problem of oil spillage ensues from our addiction of fossil fuels. We must react by shifting to other renewable sources of energy.
Sensitivity towards the environment can be achieved by imparting environmental education from a tender age. Resilience is the capacity to deal with the change and continue to develop. Resilience thinking must involve people from all strata of society ranging from – bureaucrats, scientists, and technologists to economists, political scientists and sociologists to assess the impact the mankind is having on the nature, what could follow and what needs to be done. A Paradigm shift is the need of the hour. Every individual in the society needs to practice self-discipline and must conform to rules without exception and know how one’s irresponsible actions can adversely impact others and that minor behavioral shifts can transform the landscape.
Role of Government
The market value of marine and coastal resources industries accounts for about 5 percent of global GDP and is estimated at US$3 trillion per year. These figures would plummet and affect the world economy if the oceans continue to suffer loss in their ecosystems due to climate change as thousands of species living in the oceans are at risk of drowning in a polluted sea, with dire consequences including that of food security and health. Although the no. of incidents of oil spillages have declined, the sheer increase in the demand of fossil fuel has increased the traffic of oil carrying vessels, leading to increase in likelihood of oil spillage incidents. The government must be very swift in its actions while dealing with climate threats such as oil spillage and while taking action against climate change in general. The Mauritian government declared environmental emergency but were not quick enough to maneuver and only did when the oil started leaking out of the ship which led to the spread of oil near its coast.
Governments across the world must set up standards and ensure compliance of those standards heavy-handedly. Section 5 of the United Nations Conventions on the law of the Sea (UNCLOS) talks about international rules and national legislation to reduce and control pollution of the marine environment. Article 207 – 212 posit that the state should adopt laws, standards and regulations to prevent, reduce and control pollution of the marine environment via land sources, seabed activities, dumping, vessels, and through the atmosphere. Article 211 (3) entails that States which establish particular requirements for the prevention, reduction and control of pollution of the marine environment as a condition for the entry of foreign vessels into their ports or internal waters and shall communicate them to competent international organizations. Governments should also introduce carbon pricing to increase the cost of using fossil fuel, thereby encouraging people, in this process, to shift towards green energy. The revenue generated should be used to invest in the solar and green energy industries leading to employment generation, embarking economies towards growth, prosperity and sustainability.
There must be a relationship of trust between the state and its citizens, as it is essential for the effective and efficient policy making. Trust between the state and its citizen hinges on empathy for the vulnerable sections of the population, commitment to inclusiveness, a pledge to be more disciplined, transparency, equity and sustainable prosperity. Let us lay the groundwork of a functional social contract.
Manish is a 2nd year student at National University of study and research in law, Ranchi. He has keen interest in Environment law and Constitutional law.