Saturday, April 30, 2005

The gloomy state of today's world

International Herald Tribune
Friday, August 30, 2002

By Thang Nguyen, with Frank-Jurgen Richter

Friday, August 30, 2002

GENEVA--Graham Greene once said, "I often find myself torn between two beliefs: the belief that the world should be better than it is and the belief that when the world appears to be better, it is actually worse."

During the World Summit for Sustainable Development, now taking place in Johannesburg, it is necessary to question ourselves honestly on the state of the world.

Since 1992 when the United Nations held the Earth Summit focusing on environment and development in Rio de Janeiro, the state of the world has deteriorated.

On climate change, for example, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports that the increase of global warming in the past 50 years "is attributable to human activities" and that by 2100, temperatures will increase by 1.4 to 5.8 degrees centigrade.

The special world summit edition of "The State of the World 2002," an authoritative publication by the Worldwatch Institute, cites similar alarming trends in health, agriculture, population growth, natural resources and other areas of development.

"Ten years after the Rio Earth Summit, we are still far from ending the economic and environmental marginalization that afflicts billions of people," says the institute's president, Christopher Flavin. His words refer to the increasingly widened divides - wealth, health, digital and so on - between the industrialized and developing worlds.

Some view these divides as consequences of globalization. Is globalization the cause of these divides? The answer depends on who you ask. Officials from the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the World Trade Organization would tell you that globalization has improved the world by increasing international trade and capital flows, transferring technical know-how, and giving jobs to the developing countries.

But if you asked the people from Third World countries or critics of globalization, they would tell you otherwise. For them, globalization is nothing but a process by which the rich and powerful enjoy the fruits of wealth at the expense of the poor and the powerless, and international institutions are responsible for all the mishaps that it causes. Many critics of globalization organize themselves to protest every time these institutions launch a summit.

In "Globalization and Its Discontents," an influential book, the 2001 Nobel laureate in economics, Joseph Stiglitz, argues that, as well-meaning as they may be, the IMF, the World Bank and the WTO have failed to deliver the benefits of globalization to the developing world.
Citing both East Asia's economic success as a result of globalization and the wrong medicine that the IMF prescribed for the victim countries of the 1997 Asian financial crisis and other cases, he recommends that these global institutions need to reform their policies so that they can make globalization fairer and work for everyone.

The world economy had already been feeling experiencing turbulence when the tragic events of Sept. 11 created a new crisis in the United States.

Worse, while having to fight terrorism, the United States has recently been hit by the corporate governance scandal. Such gigantic corporations as Enron and WorldCom collapsed. As of this writing, United Airlines has signaled signs of danger, and no one really knows which will be the next corporation to fall.

In security terms, the post-Sept. 11 world is more fragile and uncertain than ever before.
Insurgencies in South Asia and the Middle East continue to worsen. We are also warned of a potential U.S. attack on Iraq. No one can say for sure when, where, how or if this attack will take place.

As we are confronted with all these global challenges, the need for open and solution-driven discussions is greater now than ever before. Based on our experience with the World Economic Forum, we strongly believe that a multi-stakeholder approach with a balanced participation - including the private sector recognized as a full part of society, governments, international organizations and various representatives of civil society from all over the world - is the best way to tackle global issues head on.

Green's observation reminds us not to be complacent about the state of the world. In fact, let us acknowledge that the world in which we are living is getting worse every day and, each and every one of us - regardless of our professions, race or religion - is responsible for and has a role to play in the process of making it a more just and livable place.

The writers are with the World Economic Forum, Geneva. They contributed this comment to the International Herald Tribune.

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