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A time to design new models


A 'fortress North' mentality would be a dangerous and self-defeating illusion. The rich and privileged cannot insulate themselves from these emerging dilemmas, but must take the lead in finding new ways of dealing with them.

written by Maurice Strong in 1995, as Chairman of Ontario Hydro, Canada, Chairman of the Earth Council.

The global move towards free trade and market economies has brought rapid economic growth and many benefits. particularly to the rapidly developing countries or Southeast Asia and Latin America. Paradoxically, it has also sown the seeds of social and economic imbalance both domestically and internationally. The 'new world order' will drive national economies to become more competitive. Capital and knowledge - in the form of technology, design, information, marketing and management - will be the primary sources of added value and competitive advantage. The benefits from applying them will now primarily to those who possess them.

Those who have no capital and only their unskilled labour to sell will be left by the wayside. This includes the growing underclass of young people who have never had permanent employment the landless, the homeless, the displaced and the dispossessed. Despite growing migratory pressures, the borders of rich countries are increasingly closed to them.

If developing countries grow in the same way as those who were first to industrialize, there will be devastating consequences for them and the entire human community. Yet they must not be denied their right to grow - and cannot be expected to respond to exhortations to reduce population growth and adopt stringent environmental controls from those whose patterns of production and consumption have largely given rise to the environmental risks and social dichotomies now faced by the world community.

Government, will be forced to make increasingly tough trade-offs between maintaining social stability and environmental integrity on the one hand and a competitive economy on the other. They have only just begun to confront this dilemma.

Global economic growth will relieve, but not resolve, the problems of joblessness and poverty, which will become even more acute as we move into the 21st century. Developing countries deficient in capital and knowledge will be further disadvantaged - and the least developed countries, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, may become victims rather than beneficiaries of global interdependence.

The gaps between privileged and underprivileged are widening. This threatens to entrench the rich-poor dichotomy both within nations and internationally - and, if not reversed, will inevitably lead to greater social tensions and potential for conflict. A recent article in The Economist stated: 'If the Marxist prediction of a proletariat plunged into abject misery under capitalism has so far been unfulfilled, the widening gap between haves and have-nets is causing some to think that Marx might yet be proved right on this point after all.'

A 'fortress North' mentality would be a dangerous and self-defeating illusion. The rich and privileged cannot insulate themselves from these emerging dilemmas, but must take the lead in finding new ways of dealing with them. The prevailing economic and social systems cannot last if large sections of society are denied the ability to participate equitably in their benefits, and we must now reshape them to ensure that everyone can do so.

Solutions will require radical changes in our current mind-set and policy frameworks. There must he changes in the policies and priorities of governments and a shift in values and culture towards an ethos of greater snaring and cooperation. Above all, governments must reorient the system of incentives and penalties through which they motivate economic behaviour to provide positive support and incentives for the transition to environmentally, socially and economically sustainable development models.

Developing countries must design their own model to provide meaningful participation for the vast numbers of people who will be bypassed if they follow the development patterns of the North. The industrialized countries will need to reshape their model to make it more participatory and responsive environmental and social needs, They must also provide stronger policy. financial and technological support to developing countries in making their transition to sustainable development.

We should not, and need not, wait until the dangers we face require us to act.

Agenda 21, agreed by world leaders at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, and the measures adopted by the International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo last September, together provide the basic framework required to carry out this transition and make the elimination of poverty a central priority.

The Social Summit offers another important opportunity to provide new insights to guide this transition and give new impetus to the political will required to effect it. The poor of the world are looking to Copenhagen to give further substance to the hopes and expectations raised in Rio and in Cairo. The future of the entire human community - rich and poor - requires nothing less.