As 2013 draws to a close, the outlook on globalisation and sustainability suggests a tentative balance between two alternative futures: one of intensifying zero-sum competition — a scenario that would be disastrous for the world’s poor — and one of increasing co-operation in a revitalised, rules-based order.
Globalisation, the engine of emerging economies’ growth over the past 15 years, appears to be entering a period of increased stress. Having previously outstripped GDP growth for 30 years, trade has expanded more slowly since 2011. About 1,500 “stealth protectionist measures” have been introduced by G20 members since 2008, when they promised to eschew such practices. And amid stagnant wages, high unemployment, and anaemic growth, support for globalisation is waning in advanced economies. Meanwhile, the world remains way off track for sustainability. Globalgreenhouse gas emissions are now 46 per cent higher than they were in 1990, and the International Energy Agency estimates that existing policies will result in long-term warming of between 3.6°C (38.5°F) and 5.3°C — well into the zone where catastrophic climate tipping points could be triggered, potentially wiping out progress made on poverty reduction over the past 15 years. Yet, the decisive action needed to halt these trends is being held back by the usual squabbling and concerns about competitiveness. Efforts to formulate new international development targets to succeed the millennium development goals (MDGs) when they expire in 2015 are emerging as a key indicator of what the future holds. And it’s middle-income countries — a group that includes not just the emerging economies of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, but also players like Indonesia, Turkey, and a range of highly influential Latin American countries, including Mexico and Colombia — that could have the casting vote on which of these scenarios we end up heading into.
Governments agreed at this year’s U.N. general assembly that the post-2015 goals should be universal, targeting not only the 1 billion people living in absolute poverty, but all 7 billion of the world’s inhabitants. The reality, though, is that the new development agenda will be anything but that unless middle-income countries engage with it seriously — and at present, it’s unclear what, if anything, they really want or feel they stand to gain. After all, middle-income countries are much less reliant on foreign assistance than they were when the MDGs were agreed.
Of course, middle-income countries still face massive development challenges. They house the majority of poor people, often in stubborn poverty “tails” hallmarked by political or geographical marginalisation.
And while hundreds of millions of their citizens have escaped poverty since 2000, the members of this “breakout generation” are finding that though they have new opportunities to improve their lot, they are also encountering dangerous new risks that could halt their progress — or push them back into poverty.
If we’re going to eliminate poverty by 2030 (the probable headline target of the post-2015 goals), limit global warming to 2°C, or move to more sustainable and inclusive globalisation, we’re going to need a serious new global partnership — with middle-income countries fully on board. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2013