Globalization and the Environment


The United Nations Poverty and Development Division, defines globalisation as; “an increasing interaction across national boundaries that affects many aspects of life: economic, social, cultural and political. In the context of this study, in order to keep the analysis within reasonable bounds, the focus is only on the economic aspects, with particular emphasis on the role of ICT [information and communications technologies]. As such, globalization narrowly refers to the growing economic interdependence of countries worldwide. This includes increases in the international division of labour caused by swelling international flows of FBI( foreign based investments) accompanied by an increasing volume and variety of cross-border transactions in goods and services, international capital flows, international migration and the more rapid and widespread diffusion of technology. This should not be construed to imply that social, cultural and other forms of globalization are unimportant, only that they are less germane to discussions of economic security and development“[1]

This definition describes globalization as a bitter sweet process which is only vastly increasing globally with no limitations. While it is able to remove barriers of trade and provide a “One world” approach to society, its detrimental effects of the environment are often overlooked. Acting as an essential integrating force in international communication, trade and global co-operation, acts as a veil to the other underlying problems it creates.


The globalization process has indirectly had a destructive effect on the already damaged environment by magnifying and intensifying the existing problems.  Most predominantly in the Northern Hemisphere there has been an increase in global warming since the 1980s. Scientists on the intergovernmental panel for climate change believe that increase in carbon dioxide emissions is due to human activity. Globalisation was brought about via the introduction of industrialisation, however, it not only stimulated international trade and communication but also global warming, degradation of biodiversity, resource depletion and deforestation. The increased energy needs of the growing global population contribute hand in hand with globalization for the environmentally unfriendly world existing today. Globalization has affected the environment both directly and indirectly. There has been an increase in GHG emissions due to industrial activity and consumption, deforestation and destruction to biodiversity.


The greenhouse effect is the causal explanation for climate change Increased CO2 and other GHG (greenhouse gasses) present in the atmosphere absorb thermal radiation that is then re-radiated within the atmosphere.  Increased CO2 emissions are the effect of industrial production, transportation and indirectly deforestation. The process of globalization encompassed a reliable and efficient transport system. Due to this the transport world multiplied in its methods to accommodate trade and communication needs. For the past decade, the primary mode of transport facilitating globalization has been the aeroplane. From aviation only, there has been an 86% increase in GHG emissions from 1994 to 2004. There has been a rapid upsurge in air travel not only as a means of transport for trade, but also for domestic travel. Between 2005 and 2007, Indian airline companies ordered 500 new aeroplanes from aircraft constructors Airbus and Boeing in order to cover new domestic travel needs.[2] Sea transport is no less hazardous to the environment since it uses 2-4% of all the fossil fuels consumed by the planet every year, 70% of international transport of goods towards the EU and 95% trade to the United States by sea. There is a 3% annual increase in shipping because of processes such as online shopping.

Industrial activity and consumption have both directly and indirectly contributed to GHG emissions. The industrial revolution in 1970 was the spark which ignited the ever burning globalization flame. The increase in cross border trade and investment nurtured industrial growth. Many western countries have mass industrial areas, example in the US, China and Russia. These areas have some of the highest GHG emissions globally. Everyday life is a cause of this need to consume energy. For example electricity generation still largely involves burning coal and oil. Several developed countries emit large amounts of GHGs, and have also invested industrial plants in developing countries, likewise emitting larger amounts of GHG. This fostered the industrialization of the Asian Giants. China for example emits the highest amount of GHGs in the world due to their power plants, transport system and immense urbanization. In 2007 they became the largest emitter of CO2 ahead of the US. In order to quench its thirst for energy, China opens one new coal fired power plant every week. While coal is the cheapest and most abundant fossil fuel it is also the most polluting.[3]


These vast expanses of industrial areas came about through another non-environmental scheme; deforestation. This is an indirect cause of the greenhouse effect however it is highly significant. Deforestation also prompts for increased CO2 in the atmosphere since there would be less forested area to convert the carbon dioxide to oxygen. In addition to this, the disposal of the trees via the burning of the cleared wood releases mammoth quantities of carbon dioxide. Therefore, not only is more carbon dioxide being dispersed in the atmosphere but a solution to reduce it is also being disposed. The estimated emissions from deforestation represent 20% of the increased concentration of GHG in the atmosphere.[4] Between 1990 and 2005, the world lost 3% of its forest. It is also estimated that 200kms of forested lands disappears each day. The main cause for deforestation in developing countries is the conversion of forest to agricultural land. A prime example of this is in Brazil where part of the rainforest was converted into farmland, as a result of their booming increase in exports. This was predominantly found with their exports to China when it went from 15,000 tonnes of soy to 6 million tonnes.  It is estimated that by 2060, drought could render 90 million hectares in Sub-Saharan Africa sterile and 1.8 billion people could lack water within the following 70 years. Regions such as Central Asia, Northern China and the Andes are particularly at risk.

climate changepolar

Globalization not only deteriorates the physical environment but also the biodiversity of the animal ecosystem. Human activities have been the indirect cause in the extinction of some species. The displacement of species is therefore linked back to industrial development, pollution of the ecosystem, urban sprawl, farming and mining. Overfishing has lead to the extinction of the Atlantic Cod and Mediterranean Bluefin tuna in the seas. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), 22% of the world’s mammals are threatened with extinction today, as well as 24% of the world’s snake species, 31% of the world’s amphibians and 35% of the world’s birds.[5] This depletion of species is not only specific to animals, but also to flora. An example of this is the island of Borneo, where there is popular taste for exotic wood furniture. This has pushed some kinds of wood such as teak into the threatened species category.There is a growing reliance of agribusiness on palm oil and the needs of the paper industry is at the root of the gigantic deforestation of Borneo’s rainforest. Add galloping urbanisation and, at this pace, one-quarter of Borneo’s flora and fauna will be wiped from the surface of Earth in a few years’ time. The forest has been quickly retreated in the past 15 years in the South Pacific and in South Asia than anywhere else on earth. Forests in Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa are also being ravaged.[6]

green plug

In conclusion, globalization has opened many barriers and broken several boundaries. This was however at the cost of the earth’s resources, environment and ecosystem. Now there are measures in place to look into energy saving and sustainable methods such as solar and wind power. These methods look to replace the use of fossil fuels and non-renewable resources. While allowing international trade, transport and communication, globalization has also caused deforestation, high GHGs and specifically, Carbon Dioxide emissions, mass consumption of energy sources and depletion of species of flora and fauna.  While globalization is imperative to global advancements, less harmful and more energy sustainable methods should be implemented. While there is the Kyoto protocol which limits the countries GHG emissions, implementations for more “clean energy” methods should be made a priority.


-Nikhita Seepersad

[1]United Nations Poverty and Development Division. Economic and social survey of Asia and the Pacific, 1999. New York: The United Nations; c1999 [updated 1999 Dec 20; cited 2006 June 1]. Available from:

[2]Huwart, Jean-Yves and Loïc Verdier (2013), “What is the impact of globalisation on the environment?”, in Economic Globalisation: Origins and consequences, OECD Publishing.

[3](Weitzman 2015)

[4]Antle, J.M. and G. Heidebrink (1995), ―Environment and Development: Theory and International Evidence‖, Economic Development and Cultural Change, 43, pp. 603-625

[5]Berenberg Bank and HWWI (2006), Strategy 2030 – Maritime Trade and Transport Logistics. Berenburg Bank, Hamburg

[6]Huwart, Jean-Yves and Loïc Verdier (2013), “What is the impact of globalisation on the environment?”, in Economic Globalisation: Origins and consequences, OECD Publishing.

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