Global Commons: Whose Responsibility Is It?

8 Pages Posted: 9 Feb 2014 Last revised: 8 Aug 2019

See all articles by Priyamvada Mishra

Priyamvada Mishra

Jamia Millia Islamia - Department of Political Science

Date Written: 2013


Our planet is a finite place. It represents a closed resource system except for the inflow of sunlight from outer space. It is endowed with finite stocks of natural capital, made (by humans) capital and human capital (embodied in persons) at any point of time. Human well being is described by the outcomes of use of these capital stocks. The distribution of these outcomes determines the opportunities that individuals have to make choices. Among the different kind of stocks, made capital is a derivative of the past use of natural resources, human labour and technology. Human capital, on the other hand represents human population human population with its skill and ability of creating values by the use of scientific knowledge and technology. The stock of natural resources - biotic and abiotic - including solar energy flow at any point of time, on the other hand, is entirely given by nature. It is driven by bio-physical laws of natural sciences, although their potential of contribution to human well being depends on the level of development and use of the knowledge base, along with the social and institutional order of the economic system.

The problem of man and biosphere is not only interdisciplinary but also has an international dimension. There are studies of individual countries and of groups thereof, reflecting the specific features of their natural environment, economic system, and social structure and so on. An important aspect of these refers to what is a rational assimilation of natural resources and the economic evaluation of both the positive and negative consequences of man’s interaction with his environment. The concept of territorial Production Complexes which is increasingly being employed in national economic plans is an offshoot of these developments and has considerable bearing on resource studies, their economic evaluation, and estimation of their sufficiency or otherwise, resource cycles etc.

The concept of sustainable development has become currently a fashionable buzzword in the international environmental lobby as well as national policies on environment and development. Every international agency from World Bank to UNICEF now has its own definition of the concept. For the environmentalists, sustainable development denotes a radical change from the past. For the economists and MNCs, the concept means simply “sustained growth” or “sustained profits” while others interpret sustainable development mere as a shift to local self reliance and empowerment of the marginalized poor, where ecology provides the guiding principle. The Economists view sustainable development as economic progress in which the quantity and quality of one stocks of natural resources and the integrity of biochemical cycles are sustained and passed on to future generations unimpaired.

Any discussion on sustainable development has to focus on environment and economy relationship, which is not only close and interconnected, but it is two-way as all economic activities either affects or are affected by environmental resources [Economic Survey 1999]. Almost all economic activities, such as, processing and manufacturing, mining and extraction, consumption, transport, and disposal affect environment in three ways: (i) they change the stock of natural resources through direct consumption, (ii) they add stress to the existing environmental systems, and (iii) they introduce waste to environmental media which require treatment. In any situation, supply and quality of natural resources would influence the productivity of an economic system.

Environmental resources, on the other hand get closely linked to economic activities through three different but related channels: (a) natural resources are used as inputs into production; (b) production process generates waste related to the environment’s assimilative capacity, and (c) they are directly consumed as life support services and for aesthetic amenities. The natural and environmental resources such as water, soil, air, biological, forest and fisheries resources thus are important productive assets. Their quality helps determine the productivity of the economy. The economic management of the environment and the environmental quality has important repercussions on the efficient working of the economy.

Sustainable development as a desirable objective requires a dynamic, participatory and an interdisciplinary approach. Given the tangible damage to the nature and the disharmony between man and nature with emerging uncertainty over the life support which we may all have to witness once the society undergoes a radical shift in the nature, structure and composition of an ecosystem, we must take into account depletion an degradation of natural capital on the one hand, and follow people oriented participatory and interdisciplinary approach to achieve the goals of sustainable development on the other.

Keywords: Consumption, Development, Environment, International, Natural Resources

Suggested Citation

Mishra, Priyamvada, Global Commons: Whose Responsibility Is It? (2013). OIDA International Journal of Sustainable Development, Vol. 6, No. 11, pp. 19-26, 2013, Available at SSRN:

Priyamvada Mishra (Contact Author)

Jamia Millia Islamia - Department of Political Science ( email )

Delhi, ID New Delhi 110032

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