Neither "Davos Man" nor "Porto Alegre Protester"
Nitin Desai is the UN undersecretary general for economic
and social affairs. In that capacity he is chair of the UN's World Summit
on Sustainable Development.
New York -
The impact of globalization on the environment and development has been
debated heatedly for years in the streets and in salons from Davos to
Porto Alegre. My hope is that a new synthesis will emerge as a result
of dialogue between these different visions as a result of the World Summit
on Sustainable Development that convenes in Johannesburg, South Africa
Of the major UN conferences in the 1990s, none captured the world's imagination
like the Earth Summit held shortly after the end of the Cold War in Rio
in June 1992. Nearly 10 years later, however, many of the commitments
made there to balance environmental protection with development have remained
There has been progress, of course. The public is more generally aware
of environmental issues. Gains have been made in life expectancy and certain
areas of health. Above all, there has been a decline in the world population
While the overall poverty rate worldwide has declined, however, it has
increased in some countries, and the gap between rich and poor has widened
considerably. Energy use is up even though global growth is down. Global
warming remains a significant threat. Deforestation, desertification and
the number of endangered species continue to rise.
In short, the key concerns of Rio persist.
For this reason measures adopted in Johannesburg will have to be taken
not just by governments, but by all stakeholders-corporate leaders, trade
unionists, farmers, local authorities, community organizations, NGOs and
This will require a shared vision of how development should proceed. "Davos
Man" [the name Harvard professor Samuel Huntington coined for the
global business and political elites of the World Economic Forum who meet
each year in Davos, Switzerland-ed.] sees a globalized world with open
borders and a liberal market economy as the route to prosperity. But even
"Davos Man" has doubts about how to deal with the global poverty
and disease as well as the alienation, social stress and threats to order
that emerge from these. As a result corporate leaders seek a dialogue
with critics to ?nd new answers.
By contrast, protest movements and dissenting academics who gather annually
in Porto Alegre, Brazil, are deeply skeptical about the benefits of the
globalized market economy. They give precedence to the local over the
global and hence are not convinced that liberalization and the opening
of borders are the route to prosperity for all. For them, the world is
becoming globalized not because the average person has opted for it, but
because effective power is in the hands of the few. But in Porto Alegre,
too, there is a move from protest toward dialogue.
The vision we seek to embody in the form of the "Johannesburg activist"
is different from both Davos and Porto Alegre.
The Johannesburg activist is enough of an economist to respect the need
to compare costs and benefits and to recognize the potential of a properly
managed market system to save us from the excesses and perversions of
public control. He or she is enough of an engineer or technologist to
recognize that the right sort of development requires not just tweaking
of the market, but a systematic effort to promote alternative technologies
that are less aggressive in their use of natural systems.
The "Johannesburg activist" is an ecologist who recognizes that
the inputs and outputs of cost/benefit analysis need to be evaluated with
a full understanding of the complex pathways through which local, national
and global ecosystems are affected. He or she recognizes that development
requires empowerment, and that means democracy and decentralization.
In all these, the "Johannesburg activist" is guided by the principle
that the real test of development is what it does to the self-respect,
dignity and well being of the poorest person in society.
This vision is grounded in a large number of local projects that have
combined social, economic and environmental imperatives into a single
whole. It is a vision based on the potential of new technologies to promote
decentralized development that works with, not against, the local environment.
It rests on a notion of solidarity and responsibility-not only with regard
to each other but to future generations.
Our great hope is we can unite the community of concern that ties the
multinational corporate executive to the village family not only into
a consensus but into action.
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