Global cops

By Anil Agarwal
Last Updated: Thursday 11 June 2015

In just less than a decade, a big shift has taken place in the substance of the dialogue between environmental ngo s in the North and the South. Whereas in the mid-1980s the focus was on national issues, for example, on how Indian and British ngo s could work together to oppose a British aid project in India, the focus now is increasingly on the global rules and regulations that are being set up to manage the world's environment.

Few people realise that two processes of globalisation are taking place simultaneously: Economic globalisation pushed by industrial corporations and ecological globalisation pushed by environmentalists. The former is driven by the fact that the Northern markets are now saturated and thus there is a desperate search for new markets and, secondly, by the need to search for competitive advantage on a global scale, made increasingly feasible by the extraordinary changes taking place in communications technologies.

Meanwhile, ecological globalisation is being driven by the fact that levels of world production and consumption have reached a stage that what one does in one's own country can have major impacts on neighbouring countries or even on the rest of the world.

Even simple things like using a refrigerator or an air conditioner can today destroy the ozone layer; running an automobile or cutting a tree without planting another one can destabilise the climate; and, using a persistent compound like ddt in India can mean life-threatening pollution for human beings and other life forms in the remote polar regions, these compounds being slowly but steadily carried to these regions by oceanic currents and air streams.

As a result, nations are increasingly getting together to create systems of global economic and environmental governance -- the former being best represented by the creation of the World Trade Organisation and the latter by the numerous environmental treaties that have come into existence since the mid-1980s. The management of the current process of globalisation leaves a lot to be desired.

Firstly, the two processes of globalisation outlined above are not accompanied by any form of political globalisation. As a result, no political leader has any interest to ensure that the emerging global market or the emerging global ecological policy is managed in the best interest of the maximum number of people and on the basis of the principles of 'good governance', that is, equality, justice and democracy.

Secondly, there is no clear and transparent mechanism to integrate the two processes of globalisation. But nations are doing so individually, often in a covert manner, through the positions they take to set the rules for the two processes.

When leaders of nation-states meet to develop rules and regulations for economic globalisation they take positions which help them to derive the maximum economic benefits for their national economies whereas when they meet to develop rules and regulations for ecological globalisation, they take positions which ensure that there would be either no costs or, at worst, least possible costs to their individual national economies. And companies simultaneously insist that global ecological rules be set in a way that it does not reduce the competitiveness of some while increasing the competitiveness of others, which is called the 'level playing field' principle. Though the polluter pays principle is the key principle used within nations to manage the environment it is strongly opposed at the global level because it would mean high costs to industrialised economies. As a result of these two shortcomings, the rules and regulations that are emerging generally tend to be based on the principles of 'business transactions' rather than on the principles of 'good governance'.

In the absence of a global government or a global political order which is going to ensure the greatest good of the greatest number of people, the obvious question is: How do we ensure that the ongoing processes of globalisation helps to develop fair and just social and ecological policies?

The answer may well lie in the global spread of democracy. Social and ecological policies are of great concern to the civil societies of different nations. Is it, therefore, possible for the thousands of members of different civil societies to work together to develop a global civil society to fight for fair and just global social and ecological policies? Without this, there will be no pressure on governments to stop taking positions that are built largely on vested interests.

Therefore, the need to develop a global civil society is becoming imperative for us all. While the civil societies of most nations have reacted negatively to the process of globalisation for a variety of important reasons and fears, it is equally important for them to realise that if they cannot stop the process of globalisation then they must organise themselves to manage the process of globalisation. While, admittedly, the costs of such an exercise will be high, ironically the very communications technologies that are giving industries a chance to promote global economic integration also provide an opportunity for ngo s and other members of the civil society to reduce the costs for global dialogue, debate and advocacy. In other words, the world today has an opportunity for the first time to create a truly 'global consciousness'. The politics of Kyoto shows that the global civil society as yet has little influence.

- Anil Agarwal

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