To Globalise or not to Globalise?

For many commentators there is little doubt that globalisation has produced significant gains at a global level. Foreign trade in goods and services, capital, technology and labour all move more freely across borders. In addition to economic gains, there have been significant benefits in the areas of culture and governance. Public awareness of issues such as human rights, democracy and gender equality has increased significantly because of greater access to newspapers, radio, television, telephones, computers and the internet. These developments have arguably led to improved allocative efficiency which, in turn, enhances growth and human development.

However, at the same time, globalisation is also perceived to be creating new threats: threats to individuals, societies and eco-systems. There are fears that it may exacerbate the gap between rich and poor — both within and across countries — creating new threats to human security in terms of financial volatility, political and cultural insecurity and environmental degradation. In other words, the beneficial, innovative and dynamic aspects of globalisation are being tempered and, according to some, more than offset by forces that create disruption and marginalisation. For example: population growth and migration, the emergence of infectious diseases, widening disparities in development worldwide, climate change, an accelerating loss of biodiversity and the scarcity and pollution of fresh-water resources.

The sustainability of globalisation may or may not be heading in the same direction for all nations. Some countries may experience an improved local environment as a result of the globalisation process whereas others experience a deteriorating one. Of course, the globalisation outcome that most would want is one in which – globally – the environment, societies and the economic system develops sustainably, and all local “environments” improve as well as the welfare of all nations. However, globalisation is unlikely to achieve all of these objectives simultaneously.

The complexity of the globalisation process calls for policy-makers that are aware of developments that take place simultaneously; and the increasing interconnectedness needs to be the starting point for sustainable global policies. If consumerism and global economic processes do have polluting side-effects, it needs to be asked which direction these dynamics need to take for a sustainable future. We need to move from the long-existing ‘environment versus growth’ tension, in which the demands for environmental protection and economic development are said to be competing. No ‘externalising’ of environmental costs of economic processes – this is old-school – but internalising these costs in every way we can. Globalisation, coupled with concern for the environment and society, appears to be the most sustainable option. I repeat myself and will continue to do so: “It’s sustainable development, stupid!”

Written by Pim Martens. Find a link for a free download of the full article, Is Globalisation Sustainable? (co-authored by Mohsin Raza) here.

Pim Martens holds the chair “Global Dynamics and Sustainable Development” at Maastricht and Leuphana University, The Netherlands, and is a honorary professor at Stellenbosch University, South Africa. He is also Director of the International Centre for Integrated assessment and Sustainable development (ICIS) and the Academic Director of the Maastricht University Graduate School of Sustainability Science (MUST).

Pim is also co-editor of the book, The Social and Behavioural Aspects of Climate Change. Buy it direct from Greenleaf Publishing and receive a 30% discount off hardback and 10% off the PDF version. Just use voucher code sbacc298 at the checkout.

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