A tale of four futures

The best laid plans ...
... gradually go astray
Constraints are lifted ...
... but not for all
What lies ahead?
Renewing commitments
Customizing the blueprint
Collaborative frameworks
Trade and industry take a lead
Dealing with debt and conflict
Tax breaks and other instruments
Challenges remain
Biotechnology watchdog
Reviewing progress
The market’s call: the need for security
Veering towards breakdown
Divided world
What lies ahead?
An age of reflection ...
... and a time for action
A great swing
A redefinition of roles ...
... and a redirection of actions
No turning back?

The turn of the 21st century was an opportunity to reflect on the past and speculate about the future. This milestone not only heralded the beginning of a new millennium but also marked more than 50 years of several key global institutions, not least the United Nations and World Bank.

‘When sizing up prospects for the future, some find grounds for optimism but others are more apprehensive.’

Events at regional level also provide much food for thought. The countries of the European Union (EU) face the possibility of membership nearly doubling in one or two decades, spurred on by the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the eastern bloc. In Africa, the relatively peaceful end of apartheid in South Africa and the transition from military to civilian rule in Nigeria have changed the political climate. These turnabouts in the continent’s two most populous countries open the door for new debate on how to solve Africa’s persistent problems, including civil wars, poverty, inequality and the AIDS pandemic. Political changes in Asia and the Pacific, notably in Indonesia and the Philippines, and the repercussions of the economic crisis in the late 1990s are stimulating fresh dialogue about the future of the region. In Latin America and the Caribbean, a period of relative stability has prompted increased willingness to address important issues inherited from the past. As they find themselves in the centre of some of the most publicized geopolitical events, the people of West Asia eye their future warily. Meanwhile, the recent economic slowdown and terrorist attacks have led many North Americans to reassess their actions at home and abroad to a degree not seen in decades.

At this time, the world is marked by tumultuous change. A global system seems to be taking shape as economic interdependence increases. Information technology accelerates the spread of ideas and the human transformation of nature becomes evident on a planetary scale. As economies grow, the rich get richer and many of the poor manage to escape from poverty. But huge disparities persist as vast wealth coexists with abject poverty and each extreme generates its own characteristic environmental pressures.

When sizing up prospects for the future, some find grounds for optimism but others are more apprehensive. In spite of potentially powerful antiglobalization forces, the optimists foresee the formation of a true global market and relish the opportunities for greater efficiency and connectedness. The pursuit of individual wealth on a global economic playing field made level by universal governance mechanisms to reduce market barriers can, they believe, open the way to a new age of affluence for all. If developing country institutions can be adapted to benefit from the new technologies and the emerging borderless economy, and if appropriate forms of global governance can be created, the rising tide of global prosperity will lift everyone to new heights of well-being.

Sceptics, looking at the same phenomena, see riskier times ahead. They point to wealth and power accumulating in just a few hands, especially those of transnational corporations. They see unequal expansion of modern production methods around the world, two-track development and stubbornly onesided and manipulative approaches to global negotiations. The pessimists fear the result will be erosion of trust between the North and the South and between populations within both, ending up in a chronic inability to forge credible, legitimate and enforceable agreements on sustainable development. How, they wonder, can unbridled pursuit of economic growth be kept within environmental limits? Will market-driven global development, far from engendering a sense of participation in a common global society, tend instead to continue to split humanity into privileged and excluded, North and South, modernist and traditionalist factions? If the accelerated transition to a global economy fails to give institutions time to adapt, will community cohesion and democratic participation be sacrificed to it?

Markets First
Most of the world adopts the values and expectations prevailing in today’s industrialized countries. The wealth of nations and the optimal play of market forces dominate social and political agendas. Trust is placed in further globalization and liberalization to enhance corporate wealth, create new enterprises and livelihoods, and so help people and communities to afford to insure against — or pay to fix — social and environmental problems. Ethical investors, together with citizen and consumer groups, try to exercise growing corrective influence but are undermined by economic imperatives. The powers of state officials, planners and lawmakers to regulate society, economy and the environment continue to be overwhelmed by expanding demands.

Many feel apprehensive, too, about the prospect that their children will inherit an impoverished and fragile world that is ecologically, socially and economically depleted. More fundamentally, some object to the encouragement of traits and lifestyles founded on individualism and greed, which they see emerging from this global consumer culture. Several important initiatives pave the way for the major developments in the new century. The Doha round of negotiations within the World Trade Organization (WTO) — including its newest member, China — provides the legal basis for an expanded global trading system. Significantly, it has written into it a recognition that this system must take into account important social and environmental concerns, in addition to the core economic goals. A multilateral agreement on investment liberalizes investment regimes first in Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries, with expectations that this will follow shortly throughout the world. The coalition against terrorism paves the way for new approaches to international security.

‘Factors combine to make the shift to a liberalized, marketoriented society almost universal.’

Meanwhile, efforts continue to salvage the climate negotiations, to build upon multilateral environmental agreements in other areas and to address important social issues. Much of this effort initially hinges on international activities, particularly the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) and follow-up activities, which galvanize a renewed commitment to action.

This commitment revolves around a mixture of old and new initiatives designed to gain a better understanding of the issues that cause concern and to tackle them more effectively. Goals and targets related to basic needs (food security, access to clean water, sanitation, literacy and life expectancy) and environmental conditions (urban air quality, availability of fresh water, resource use, waste disposal and habitat/species preservation) are reiterated. A commitment is also made to strengthen international institutions of governance.