Multiple Dimensions of Globalization


International Environment Forum
Statement for the World Summit on Sustainable Development
August 2002



One of the most significant issues to emerge since the Rio Earth Summit is the debate over globalization. There is growing public concern about the negative consequences of economic globalization. Yet globalization has many more dimensions. It is really only a continuation of the natural processes of human evolution towards higher levels of social integration. It cannot be reversed, but it needs to be mastered and given a more ethical basis. It must be extended beyond the purely economic to become an expression of responsibility for the planet and solidarity with all its inhabitants. This is the major challenge for achieving sustainable development at the planetary level, and a significant issue for the World Summit on Sustainable Development.

While the processes underlying the globalization of human society have been operating for some time, their impacts have only recently come to public attention. The human race is evolving a new global scale of interaction, integration and organization. The emergence of new communications and transport technologies and economic mechanisms has reduced or removed most physical, social and political barriers to exchanges at ever larger scales. The resulting mixing has set in motion accelerating processes of cultural, intellectual, economic, social and environmental change, with the disintegration of old institutions, systems of values and ways of thinking. This has produced increasing chaos on the one hand, and exciting processes of creativity, cross-fertilization and integration in the arts, sciences and technologies on the other. Governments, unable to deal with problems that escape their frontiers, have lost power, while other structures of civil society and the economy have gained strength.

The anti-globalization debate has highlighted the negative aspects of economic globalization, such as a worsening income distribution within and between countries, and growing pressures on the environment and its natural resource base. Cultural erosion and homogenization occur alongside the divisive manipulation of ethnic and cultural differences as populations mix. The strongest driving forces for globalization have been economic and materialistic, without balancing social, cultural and spiritual dimensions. This imbalance is also reflected at the level of international institutions, where there are some economic regulatory mechanisms such as the World Trade Organization and the International Monetary Fund, although imperfect and requiring major reform, but no counterparts for social or environmental regulation to provide a counterweight. Globalization has also been blamed for problems that are really due to failures of governance at the national level or the spread of crime, corruption and unethical conduct in society.

These admitted problems should not hide the fact that globalization is also bringing positive benefits. The accelerating advances in science, engineering, medicine and technology resulting from rapid information exchange have created a global intellectual system. There are increasing opportunities for wealth creation from new combinations of resources and capacities, new economies of scale, and new opportunities to share the great variety this planet offers. Most hopeful of all is the emergence of a new awareness of our common humanity, with a set of universal values, extending beyond traditional boundaries of nations, races, classes or religions. Human differences are coming to be seen not as divisive but as enriching. There is increasing acknowledgement that there is only one Earth, and that we share one world citizenship. The challenge is to add a new level of unity in human society without losing the diversity that is one of the outstanding features of the human race.

Many of the present problems of globalization are due to the lack of an adequate global institutional framework to manage our global problems. There are no global political processes of governance beyond debates between nation states which generally put national interests first. There are only rudimentary structures for collective security and global environmental management, and little to address social or economic justice or the equitable distribution of resources.

The essential requirement for a positive, responsible and just process of globalization is a foundation of universal values, recognizing that the Earth is one country, and that we have an obligation of solidarity for the entire human race. We need to evolve balanced and effective mechanisms for global governance and collective security, while respecting individual initiative and human diversity. These should be accompanied by institutions for global environmental management for problems at the planetary scale like climate change, ozone depletion, biodiversity loss and global contaminants, while simultaneously reinforcing local responsibility for the environment of each community. Economic and social mechanisms are also required at all levels to eliminate poverty and bring consumption into balance with resources. The actions adopted in Johannesburg should aim in these directions.

Last updated 15 August 2002