Global Trends by
Monday, 18 April 2011
New challenges 20 years after Earth
The United Nations
is preparing for a new sustainable development summit in 2012, two decades
after the Earth Summit.
It must take action on new and emerging challenges facing the world.
In 1992, the United
Nations held a summit on the environment and development crises, known
as the Earth Summit at Rio, Brazil.
When the 100 over political leaders adopted the Rio Principles and the
action plan called Agenda 21, there was euphoria.
At last, the world leaders had pledged to take action on a wide range
of environmental, economic and social problems.
Almost two decades have gone by. Most of the environment problems (like
global warming, water scarcity, biodiversity loss, deforestation) have
In addition, there have been new and emerging challenges. These are
to be examined in a new Summit on Sustainable Development at Rio
next year, to mark the 20th anniversary of the Earth Summit.
The first major problem since 1992 was the emergence of a global policy
framework contrary to the cooperative sustainable development paradigm.
The 1992 framework was holistic (having three pillars of economy, social
development and environment). It also has an international cooperation
dimension, with the developed countries agreeing to help developing
countries with finance, technology and global economic reform.
However a competitive market-driven globalization paradigm emerged with
greater force since the mid-1990s, with WTO at its centre. Its strong
compliance mechanism gave it an advantage over other international organizations
and frameworks, and led countries to give greater priority to this framework.
The bilateral and regional free trade agreements also have strong
Many provisions of these trade agreements can hinder sustainable development
policies. The Washington Consensus policies tied to IMF and World Bank
loans have also been contrary to sustainable development.
However, there is a silver lining. The de-regulation and liberalization
assumptions that drove these policy frameworks have been put into question
by the financial crisis. Many developed countries are re-regulating
their financial sector, and are themselves reluctant to liberalise their
subsidies and tariffs; inflow of foreign workers) though they are pressing
developing countries to do so.
It is thus time to review the trade agreements as well as the IMF-type
policies and align them to sustainable development goals.
A new and stronger
sustainable development framework should be established, which has equal
or superior weight to the orthodox globalization framework and institutions.
A second new development was the global financial crisis and economic
slowdown. The effects include reduction of export earnings for many
developing countries, and uncertainty on future export prospects. This
makes it more difficult to implement sustainable development policies.
The 2012 summit should usher in a reform of the global economic system.
A third challenges is that developed countries failed to meet their
commitments to transfer funds and technology to developing countries.
While the aid target of 0.7% of GNP has not been met, there are ominous
signs that some developed countries facing budget constraints are sharply
reducing aid budgets.
Moreover, there has been little technology transfer because a new global
regime on intellectual property, set up after Rio
1992, has made it difficult for developing countries to access technology
at affordable cost.
The new Rio Summit should reaffirm the 0.7% aid target, and state that
developed countries agree to maintain and increase their aid budgets
even if their overall budget is reduced. It should set up a new sustainable
development fund and a technology transfer agency.
A fourth problem is the tremendous jump in world food prices. Many
developing countries had been food self sufficient or even exporters,
but government withdrawal from agriculture and drastic lowering of tariffs,
caused food imports to surge, damaging local production.
The entrance of speculators in the commodity markets also contributed
to the spike in food prices.
Thus action is needed to enable local food production in developing
countries and to curb speculation in commodity markets.
A fifth challenge is the rapid depletion of natural resources and the
emissions of Greenhouse Gases. Thus, the developing countries’ fair
access to the remaining resources, and to technologies to enable sustainable
development utilizing less and less natural resources becomes a major
Thus the issue of equity in the sharing of environmental and developmental
space has become a very acute challenge. To resolve this in a fair
manner requires a major change in mindset and the operationalising of
equity and development principles.
The sixth major new challenge is that the number, intensity and effects
of natural disasters have increased very significantly.
If 2010 was the worst
year in recent history, 2011 will be worse, because of the Japanese
tsunami. In future the problem will worsen as climate change effects
At present, Countries affected by floods, earthquakes, forest fires
etc have to appeal for aid mainly on a case by case basis. Too little
money is available and it comes after a delay.
Thus, UN agencies dealing with natural disasters should be strengthened.
And a new mechanism should be set up to deal with damage and loss resulting
from natural disasters . Developing countries should obtain funds to
cope with the disasters and to rebuild their damaged infrastructure
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