Globalisation and the Environment

Everyone eats bananas, right? And avocados are everywhere at the moment?
When did we start eating delicious food produced in parts of the world that have not always been so easy to reach? Does this have an impact on the environment?

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Globalisation and the Environment Globalisation and the Environment

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    This explanation will help you understand how globalisation not only opened the trading of food and of many other goods but also impacts the environment around us.

    Globalisation and the environment overview

    Globalisation is a process through which the world, as we know it today, has become increasingly interconnected. But it also has strong impacts on the environment, here we will give a brief overview of the link between globalisation and the environment.

    The current human-caused global warming has historical roots and has mainly been caused by the Global North. The rise in industrial production through burning fossil fuels such as coal emitted high quantities of CO2 into the atmosphere.

    Globalisation is seen by many scientists as connected to the worsening of climate change because many Global South countries have adapted to the Global North model of industrial development.

    The Global North refers to a group of socio-economically developed countries and usually includes North America, Europe, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand.

    The Global South refers to a group of developing countries in Africa, South and Latin America, and West, South, and East Asia. These are also countries that have gone through industrialisation later in history, and most of them have been ruled by European powers during colonial times.

    This development model is based on Modernisation Theory.

    Modernisation Theory

    Modernisation Theory was developed at the end of World War II, to attempt to explain the so-called "underdevelopment" of countries outside of the Global North. This theory is supported by International Organisations such as the IMF and World Bank. Based on Western development models, both the World Bank and IMF, aimed to export economic growth through liberal democratic values. This theory sees non-Western values as preventing development. Western interventions in many developing countries were driven by these beliefs and aimed at democratisation, economic liberalisation (e.g. establishment of free markets), and industrial development.

    Globalisation and the Environment definition

    Before exploring the relationship between globalisation and the environment, let's delve into some key definitions.

    Globalisation is the process through which different parts of the world become interconnected. Globalisation tackles different levels of connection, for instance, economic, political, cultural, and technological. This drives interaction and integration between countries—the greater the intertwinement between us, the greater the level of globalisation.

    Globalisation and the Environment, Connection of the world Globalisation and the Environment definition, StudySmarterFig. 1: Globalisation creates a situation of interconnectedness between all places of the world.

    In particular, we will see that globalisation impacts the environment by connecting the world politically and economically. Let's try and define these two Types of Globalisation.

    Political globalisation drives higher cooperation on international measures by state actors. Governments meet with technical experts to discuss global issues such as the challenge of climate change on an intergovernmental level. The UN is an example of an intergovernmental organisation with a political purpose, i.e. global governance.

    Economic globalisation is a process of interconnection between economic systems through trade, exchange of resources, and global economic policies. This type of globalisation brings together state officials but also private corporations. The IMF and the World Bank are examples of international organs born out of the needs of economic globalisation.

    Finally, to fully comprehend how globalisation informs how we act on the environment, we'll explore two critical groups of international actors that aim to respond to the world's new interconnectedness.

    1. NGOs (Non-Governmental Organisations): NGOs tackle all sorts of socio-economic and political issues on an international or national level. World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and Green Peace are crucial animal, nature, and environment rights-focused NGOs.

    2. IGOs (Inter-Governmental Organisations): These became much more common after the end of World War II. The most crucial one is the United Nations. The WTO, World Trade Organisation, is also a crucial organ for globalisation, particularly economic globalisation.

    Environment politics and globalisation

    Now that you have a clear overview and definitions of the critical terms let's delve deeper into the politics of globalisation and the environment. We will first look at a crucial actor in the global governance of climate change, the UN, and then give some examples of policies.

    You must observe the global character of these politics as they are the product of globalisation and respond to the effects of globalisation on the environment. These policies and institutions are examples of political globalisation.

    The UNFCCC, the IPCC and Agreements

    The UN is the primary international organisation responsible for coordinating inter-governmental measures to mitigate and adapt to climate change. Here is an overview of the main political instruments developed by the UN.

    • The UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) of 1994 brought together 165 countries. This convention and the developed framework and regulations were among the first attempts at finding global consensus on the threat of climate change, the urgency of action, and the need for a global governance framework to stop the Challenge of Climate Change.
    • The IPCC is the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. It gathers and analyses existing scientific data to assess climate change. This can help countries to develop polices to mitigate climate change.
    • A COP (Conference of the Parties) is a UN Summit that happens almost annually and brings together state leaders to discuss climate change-related issues. The last COP was the COP26 in Glasgow.
    • The Paris Agreement of 2015 was a crucial moment in the history of global climate change governance since it brought together 196 countries in a legally-binding agreement on emission reduction.

    Global policies of the UN

    Global challenges such as the challenges of climate change require a global response.

    We can divide policies developed through the above-listed organs into two big groups:

    1. Mitigation policies: this has always been the main policy focus of UN Summits. A classic example of mitigation policies is emission reduction targets. The Paris Agreement obliges states to submit emissions targets through five-year plans.Emission reduction is usually accompanied by technological solutions such as solar energy and climate finance, such as finance programs to support and incentivise the transition to a sustainable economy.

      Globalisation and the Environment, Wind power Environment politics and globalisation, StudySmarterFig. 2: Another example of a technological solution for mitigating climate change is wind power.

    2. Adaptation policies: adaptation policies are assessed based on the predicted risk of future climate-change-related catastrophes. These policies are often targeted at Global South countries since they face the most substantial climate change impact. They include technical solutions for river beds, against floods, and protecting climate migrants that are dispossessed due to climate change.Global South countries advocate for these policies as they are primarily impacted but have historically participated less in emissions.

    Negative effects of globalisation on the environment

    All of the above policies are needed, first and foremost, because globalisation has exacerbated the effects of human-caused global warming. Below is an overview of some of the negative effects of globalisation on the environment.

    • The industrialisation of Global South countries post-World War II on the basis of Modernisation Theory.
    • Higher consumption of products.
    • Hence, higher production of goods through polluting non-renewable energy.
    • Higher transportation of raw materials due to new trading interconnection and higher consumption of foreign goods.
    • More frequent use of modes of transport all over the world driving higher use of petrol and other non-renewable sources of energy.
    • Higher production means higher industrial waste, which is often dumped in oceans, causing damage to marine ecosystems.

    This series of ways in which globalisation impacts the environment is sometimes explained through the race-to-the-bottom hypothesis.

    The race-to-the-bottom hypothesis argues that gains from globalisation are based on low labour and environment standards in developing countries at the expense of the environment because of the way free markets are based on boundless profit. In particular, it indicates how developing countries tend to open their markets to developed countries, leading to a series of loosenings of regulations on the environment and labour to attract investment.

    This hypothesis highlights a series of controversial issues around the negative impact that globalisation can have on environmental protection and social justice.

    Positive effects of globalisation on the environment

    Despite the above-listed negative effects, some observers of the climate crisis argue that globalisation can be a fertile terrain for developing global solutions to climate change.

    Globalisation and the Environment, Climate change protest Positive effects of globalisation on the environment, StudySmarterFig. 3: Globalisation creates global demand for uniform action.

    It is crucial to understand that without political globalisation, we can't find solutions that can effectively mitigate climate change. This is because this is a global issue, which therefore needs global solutions.

    This is somewhat controversial because many developing countries argue that rich developed countries were able to become rich and developed by abusing the environment and that they should be able to do the same. Therefore, rich developed countries need to develop solutions to climate change alongside developing countries. For example, by helping them to become industrialised and to develop stronger economies through methods that won't harm the environment, but might be more expensive so they need help to implement, such as green technologies.

    Here is another overview to see how this might happen:

    • Globalisation doesn’t just regard the transportation of material goods but also capital and technology. Clean corporations can use the interconnectedness of the world to transfer green knowledge.

    • This leads them to believe that we should find global governance solutions that increase the trading possibilities between countries. Indeed, they indicate that if we develop trade with Global South countries, we are also investing in developing shared knowledge on cleaner industries.

    • Cultural globalisation creates shared public awareness of the risks of climate change and drives people to ask for global action. The student strikes for the climate of Fridays for Future that you might have seen in the last five years exemplify global demand for action.

    Check our explanation of the Challenge of Climate Change and of International Climate Change Agreements to learn more about Climate Change and the possible solutions to the issue.

    Globalisation and the Environment - Key takeaways

    • Globalisation is the process through which the world becomes interconnected culturally, politically, economically, and technologically.
    • IGOs and NGOs coordinate global action on the environment. The UN is the key actor in this coordination. The UNFCCC, COPs, the IPCC, and International Climate Change Agreements are key instruments for finding a global solution to climate change.
    • Mitigation policies are developed to reduce the current emissions and, therefore, reduce future, while adaptation policies help countries which are more hit by climate change to prevent future damage.
    • Globalisation impacts the environment negatively through the industrialisation of Global South countries, growth in trade, gasoline usage, and consequent industrial waste.
    • Globalisation impacts the environment positively through global cooperation to find solutions that mitigate the impact of climate change.


    1. Fig. 1: Globalisation network on the Earth (
    2. Fig. 2: Wind energy (
    3. Fig. 3: Young people protest (
    Frequently Asked Questions about Globalisation and the Environment

    Does globalisation have any implication for environmental policy?

    Globalisation influences environmental politics and policies because climate change responsibilities and impact are globally shared and therefore states have to formulate global answers. 

    How does globalisation impact the environment? 

    Globalisation impacts the environment in two main ways: through the connection of the world under one mode of industrial economic development and through the subsequent effects, e.g. CO2 emissions that such development has on the planet. 

    How does globalisation affect the environment positively?

    Globalisation can help transfer knowledge on green politics globally and create global public awareness of the risks and urgency of climate change. 

    What are the environmental impacts of globalisation?

    Globalisation impacts the environment by driving higher industrial production to fulfil the need of global trading markets, the increase in transportation and the use of gasoline, and finally, the creation of industries in countries with different forms of economy. 

    What is an example of environmental policy?

    Setting emission reduction targets is a global governance policy that aims at mitigating the effects and future worsening of the climate crisis. 

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    What is the name of the organ of the UN that is responsible for analysing data on the climate crisis? 

    Identify two types of globalisation.

    How has economic globalisation impacted the environment? Select one true statement. 


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