Fairness in a Fragile World: A Memo on Sustainable Development
The Heinrich Boll Foundation sponsored this study
by Wolfgang Sachs, Henri Acselrad, Farida Akhter, Ada Amon, Tewolde Berhan
Gebre Egziabher, Hillary French, Pekka Haavisto, Paul Hawken, Hazel Henderson,
Ashok Khosla, Sara Larrain, Reinhard Loske, Anita Roddick, Viviene Taylor,
Christine von Weizsacker, Svlatoslav Zabelin, and Heman Agrawal.
Livelihood Rights vs. Export-led Growth
It is the challenge of Johannesburg to move beyond Rio, yet it is the
danger of Johannesburg to regress behind Rio. The Rio Conference on Environment
and Development strove to address two major crises: the crisis of nature
and that of justice. Environmentalists-often from the North-were expected
to take into account the desire of the majority of the world's citizens
for a life beyond poverty and distress. By contrast, developmentalists-often
from the South-were called upon to recognize the disastrous repercussions
of a deteriorated nature base. Typically, environmentalists were seen
to be opposing deforestation, chemical agriculture or expansion of power
plants, while developmentalists were pushing for marketing timber, expanding
food supplies or electrifying villages. Therefore, the Earth Summit aimed
at integrating the environment and development agendas to liberate policy
makers from the dilemma of either aggravating the crisis of nature by
pushing for development or aggravating the crisis of justice by insisting
on the protection of nature.
As it turned out, the Rio process fell short of fulfilling this ambition.
How to respond to the desire for justice without upsetting the biosphere
is still a puzzle for the 21st century. Of course, the fact that helping
people and helping nature can go hand in hand has been demonstrated in
many instances: in organic agriculture, in sustainable forestry and in
resource-efficient industries as well. But on a macro-scale, the reconciliation
of environment and development agendas remains light years away. Furthermore,
if things are not brilliant with regard to the environment, they are worse
when it comes to development. Despite the prominence of "development"
in all the Rio documents, the demand of the South for recognition and
equity has largely been frustrated during the past decade, reinforcing
the fear of many Southern countries of falling further behind and remaining
forever excluded from the blessings of the modern world.
Against this background, the South-and in particular South Africa-intend
to transform Johannesburg into a development summit rather than an environment
summit. While Rio was considered to be dominated by the North, it is hoped
that Johannesburg will be the Summit for the South. Indeed, the conference
title "World Summit for Sustainable Development" clearly reflects
the intention to elevate "development" on the political agenda.
Yet, we believe that focusing on a development agenda as if the worldwide
crisis of nature did not exist would signify sliding back behind Rio.
It would be a regression of sorts, a rollback in the growing sensibility
toward the finiteness of the natural world. And it would be a disservice
to the South, since equity can no longer be separated from ecology. Instead,
fulfilling the ambition of Rio requires the effective response to the
demand for equity arising from the South, but in a manner which takes
full account of the bio-physical limits of the Earth.
Some claim that humanity faces a choice between human misery and natural
catastrophe. This choice is false. We are convinced that human misery
can be eliminated without catalyzing natural catastrophes. Conversely,
natural catastrophes can indeed be avoided without condemning people to
a life of misery. Getting ready to meet this challenge, however, requires
revisiting the technologies, the institutions and the world views that
dominate the globe today.
SHRUG OFF COPYCAT DEVELOPMENT | Partly through imposition, partly
through attraction, the Northern development model has shaped Southern
desires, offering tangible examples not only of a different, but of a
supposedly better life. After decolonization, the newly gained political
independence notwithstanding, the South set its sights on the industrial
style of life and moved to catch up with the richer countries. And after
the fall of communism, countries in Eastern Europe and Central Asia jumped
to embrace capitalism and the glittery products of the free market. The
winner takes all-including imagination. Where countries want to go, what
they thrive to become, has most often not emerged naturally from their
respective history and traditions, but has been forged by emulation of
the Northern model. In this way, dignity has been identified with becoming
modern, and international equity has been conceived as catching up with
the developed countries.
The times of copycat development are over. Not because emulation of the
North has not produced the desired results, but because the development
model of the North is historically obsolete. Until the environmental crisis
broke out, one could still attribute a certain degree of superiority to
technological civilization. But it has become obvious that many of its
glorious achievements are actually optical illusions. They essentially
consist in transferring power from nature to man, leaving nature degraded
and depleted in the process. As a consequence, natural systems, which
serve as sources (water, timber, oil, minerals), sites (land for mines,
settlements, infrastructure), and sinks (soils, oceans, atmosphere) for
economic development are disrupted or seriously degraded.
Consider the environmental trends of the last 50 years: greenhouse-gas
concentrations have surpassed tolerable levels, one third of arable land
has been degraded worldwide, just as one-third of tropical forests, one-fourth
of the available freshwater, and one fourth of the Þsh reserves
have disappeared, not to mention the extinction of plant and animal species.
Although it was just a minority of the world population which fed off
nature for just a couple of generations, the feast is quickly coming to
A dramatic situation has now emerged. At present, the world consumes more
resources than nature can regenerate. Indeed, human activities have exceeded
the biosphere's capacity since the mid-1970s. Since then, ecological overshoot
has become the distinguishing mark of human history. In 1997, the overshoot
amounted to 30 percent of the Earth's carrying capacity, or even to 40-50
percent if the needs of other living beings are taken into account. A
large part of this overshoot is due to the extravagant use of fossil fuels,
whose carbon waste would require a vast bio-productive surface area as
a natural sink. Indeed, the global fossil fuel bonanza is mainly responsible
for the quandary of conventional development. If, for instance, the present
average carbon emissions per capita in the industrial world were extrapolated
to all countries, the atmosphere would have to absorb Þve times
more emissions than it can take-without even counting the expected increase
in population. In other words, if all the countries of the globe followed
the industrial model, Þve planets would be required to provide the
carbon sinks needed by economic development. As humanity is left with
just one, such an equity approach would become the mother of all disasters.
Consequently, there is no escape from the conclusion that the world's
growing population cannot attain a Western standard of living by following
conventional paths to development. The resources required are too vast,
too expensive and too damaging to local and global ecosystems. Indeed,
UNDP's 1998 Human Development Report emphazises that "poor countries
have to accelerate their consumption growth, but they must not follow
the road taken by the rich and rapidly growing economies in the past half
a century." While this is definitely good advice, it fails to highlight
the window of opportunity which lays wide open for many countries of the
As never before in history, there is an opportunity to transform "under-development"
into a blessing. At the historical juncture where fossil-fuel dependency
drives industrial societies into an impasse, economies that once were
seen as lagging behind, suddenly Þnd themselves in a favorable position.
Not yet fully locked into an old-style model of industrialization, they
have the prospect of leapfrogging into a post-fossil age, skipping the
resource-intensive styles of production and consumption so dear to the
industrial world. Thus the challenge they face is to choose a path that
is both pro-environment and pro-poor. De-linking economic growth from
an increase in resource use, and social progress from economic growth,
can take them a long way into a sustainable future. In case of success,
they could even reverse the usual master-student relationship, showing
the North the way out of a self-defeating economic system. This window
of opportunity, however, will close rather fast if the South continues
to stick to copycat development. It will only remain open if the South
musters the courage to envisage models of wealth that are different from
those in the North.
REDUCE THE FOOTPRINT OF THE RICH | Without ecology there will be
no equity in the world. Otherwise, the biosphere will be thrown into turbulence.
The insight that the globally available environmental space is finite,
albeit within flexible boundaries, has added a new dimension to justice.
The quest for greater justice has always required containing the use of
power in society, but now it also requires containing the use of nature.
The powerful have to yield both political and environmental space to the
powerless if justice is to have a chance. It is for this reason that,
after the age of environmental innocence, the question of nature is inherent
in the question of power, just as the question of power is inherent in
the question of nature.
Power determines who occupies how much of the environmental space. Neither
all nations nor all citizens use equal shares. On the contrary, the environmental
space is divided in a highly unfair manner. It still holds true that about
20 percent of the world population consume 70-80 percent of the world's
resources. It is those 20 percent who eat 45 percent of all the meat and
fish, consume 68 percent of all electricity, 84 percent of all the paper
and own 87 percent of all the automobiles. Above all, it is the industrialized
countries which tap into the heritage of nature to an excessive extent;
they draw on the environment far beyond their national boundaries. Their
ecological footprint is larger than their own territories. In fact, the
OECD countries surpass (in terms of ecology and equity) the admissible
average size of such a footprint by a magnitude of about 75-85 percent.
The wealthy 25 percent of humanity occupy a footprint as large as the
entire biologically productive surface area of the Earth.
Zombie Concepts | Especially when it comes to resource consumption,
the conventional distinction between North and South is misleading. "North"
and "South" are "zombie categories"-concepts which
clumsily survive in everyday speech despite the fact they do not reflect
political realities. The classical juxtaposition of the g7 (plus Russia)
and the g77 (plus China) still exists in international fora, but it fails
to represent the political dynamics of the real world. The collective
"South" comprises the most heterogeneous situation, ranging
from the financial capital Singapore or oil-rich Saudi Arabia to poverty-stricken
Mali. As such, a common unifying interest is difÞcult to discern.
The same is true for the North, though to a lesser degree. "North"
and "South" are therefore mainly diplomatic artifacts.
Most importantly, though, the conventional North-South distinction obscures
the fact that the dividing line in today's world does not primarily run
between Northern and Southern societies, but right across all of these
societies. The major rift appears to be between the globalized rich and
the localized poor. It separates the global consumer class on the one
side, from the social majority outside the global circuits on the other.
This global middle class is made up of the majority of citizens in the
North, along with a varying number of elites in the South, with about
80 percent of it found in North America, Western as well as Eastern Europe,
and Japan. Twenty percent of it can be found dispersed throughout the
South. Its overall size equals roughly that 20 percent of the world population
which has direct access to an automobile.
In the last decade, globalization has accelerated and intensified the
integration of this class into the worldwide circuit of goods, communication
and travel, most clearly so in newly industrializing countries and Eastern
Europe/Russia. Transnational corporations largely cater to this class,
just as they provide its symbolic means of expression, such as films,
fashion, music and brand names. But entire categories of people in the
North, like the unemployed, the elderly and the competitively weak find
themselves excluded, along with entire regions in the South, from the
circuits of the world economy. In all countries, an invisible border separates
the fast from the slow, the connected from the unconnected, the rich from
the poor. There is a global North as there is a global South, encompassing
even the area of the former Eastern Bloc.
The consumer classes, in the North as well as in the South, have the power
to bring the bulk of the world's marketed natural resources into their
service. Due to their purchasing power, they are able to command the resource
flows which fuel their commodity-intensive patterns of production and
consumption. In attracting resources, their geographical reach is both
global and national. On the global level, a network of resource flows,
generally organized by transnational corporations, extends like a spider
web across the planet, pulling energy and materials towards the high-consumption
zones. On the national level, the urban-based middle classes succeed equally
in capturing resources to their benefit, thanks to patterns of ownership,
subsidies and superior demand. Particularly in Southern countries, market
demand for resource-intensive goods and services stems mainly from that
relatively small part of the population which commands purchasing power
and is therefore capable of imitating the consumption patterns of the
North. As a consequence, the more affluent groups in countries such as
Brazil, Mexico, India, China or Russia use about as much energy and materials
as their counterparts in the industrialized world-a level five to 10 times
higher than the average consumption in these countries.
Reduction of the ecological footprint of the consumer classes around the
world is not just a matter of ecology but also a matter of equity. Though
trade in resources may help economically, it is deleterious ecologically
since the excessive use of environmental space withdraws resources from
the social majority in the world. Moreover, wealth on the one side is
at times co-responsible for poverty on the other. Time and again, the
consumer classes shield themselves against environmental harm by leaving
noise, dirt and the ugliness of the industrial hinterland in front of
the doorsteps of less advantaged groups. Resources are not simply out
there waiting to be extracted; they often are where people reside and
they are used by people to sustain their livelihoods. As the consumer
class corners resources through the global reach of corporations, they
contribute to the marginalization of that third of the world population
which derives their livelihood directly from free access to land, water
and forests. Certainly, such exports may increase a country's income,
but it is not at all certain that the marginalized share in these benefits.
In any case, building large dams and extracting ore, cutting trees and
capitalizing agriculture for the benefit of distant consumers, often degrade
the ecosystems upon which many people live. In fact, such expressions
of development often do no more than deprive the poor of their resources
in order for the rich to live beyond their means.
ENSURE LIVELIHOOD RIGHTS | In contrast to Rio, the Johannesburg Summit
will concentrate on poverty eradication. The South may pin up the badge
of poverty, demanding a greater share in the world economy. However, while
the task is a noble one, its politics are ambivalent. There is certainly
no doubt that the elimination of poverty calls for enormous efforts on
the part of the international community. But it is questionable whether
these efforts should primarily consist of higher development assistance,
increased grants or increased world market integration. For what is good
for government is not necessarily good for the poor. Much too often, and
for quite some time now, the Southern governments, supported by their
elites, have indulged in the expansion of their own consumer classes and
have secured their own power base under the banner of poverty eradication.
Against this background, it is clear that the struggle for poverty reduction
will not be decided in controversies between Southern and Northern governments,
but in conflicts between the marginalized majority and the global middle
class-which includes domestic governments, corporations and multilateral
institutions. After all, it has happened more than once that Southern
and Northern governments have achieved consensus at the expense of the
poor. While everybody agrees that poverty elimination has to have its
due priority, opinions are sharply divided as soon as the key question
is asked: poverty eradication, yes, but by whom?
The first answer highlights the role of investors, transnational companies
and economic planners, emphasizing that the reduction of poverty will
be the result of higher and broader economic growth. Since growth, in
this view, is triggered by export to urban or, better, foreign markets,
the most important ingredients of a poverty-reduction strategy are capital
investments, factories, irrigation systems, transportation networks and
marketing outlets. Moreover, greater purchasing power cannot be mobilized
unless free access to Northern consumer markets is secured. In this perspective,
only the integration of the most productive agricultural sectors into
the world market can provide a steady flow of income and investment, which
in turn may stimulate further growth. In brief, poverty would be overcome
through more globalization.
Environmental issues play only a minor role in export-led poverty reduction
strategies. Export-led poverty reduction is broadly the approach favored
by South Africa and the recently formed New Partnership for Africa's Development
(NEPAD). On the contrary, over-emphasis regarding pesticides, pollution,
clear cutting, or genetically modified crops is portrayed as an obstacle
to development. However, sustainable trade may rise in importance as soon
as there is sufficient demand from consumers for commodities like certified
timber or organic produce.
The second response-which we favor-looks to the poor themselves and recognizes
them as actors who shape their lives even under conditions of hardship
and destitution. In this view, poverty derives from a deficit of power
rather than a lack of money. Far from being needy persons awaiting provisions,
the poor must be seen as citizens who are constrained by a lack of rights,
entitlements, salaries and political leverage. Any attempt, therefore,
to mitigate poverty will have to be centered on a reinforcement of rights
and opportunities. This is in particular true for women who are often
legally marginalized. In many places, they have no access to tenure, income
and influence, despite the fact that they carry most of the burden of
everyday life and often have to sustain families by themselves. For women
or men, a basic rights strategy, rather than a basic needs strategy, may
help to overcome the constraints to self-organization. In the countryside,
conflicts will often turn around rights to land, access to water, forests
and undestroyed habitats, confronting land owners and state administrations.
In the city, conflicts will focus on rights to housing, to unpolluted
water, to running a business or to self-administration, confronting city
officials, health departments, police or power cliques. Unless there are
shifts in power patterns, subtle ones or sweeping ones, the poor will
almost always lack the security and the resources needed for a decent
Boosting economic growth is less important than securing livelihoods for
the impoverished. Since economic growth often fails to trickle down, there
is no point in sacrificing people's lives in the present for speculative
gains in the future. Instead, it is crucial to empower them for a dignified
life here and now.
However, such a livelihood-centered perspective is at odds with the export-led
poverty-reduction strategies. There is convincing evidence that export-led
poverty reduction may help investors, agricultural companies and wealthy
farmers improve their own prosperity, yet large parts of the rural population
are likely to suffer massive displacement from small farms, loss of livelihoods
and forced migration to cities. Furthermore, a strategy of creating industrial
jobs, which under the condition of a borderless economy would have to
be competitive on the world market, is soon likely to run out of breath.
Such jobs require considerable capital investment, which makes them expand
at a much slower pace than the number of unemployed. Under a free trade
regime, agriculture and industry in most countries of the South cannot
be simultaneously competitive and job-intensive. The politics of world
market integration is therefore anything but hospitable to a quickly expanding
number of citizens. It renders many people redundant with respect to the
To avoid this impasse, it is important to promote sustainable livelihoods.
Sustainable in both senses of the word: firstly, an activity that provides
a decent income or sustenance and provides some status in society along
with a meaningful life; and secondly, an activity which conserves and,
if possible, regenerates the environment. Productive ecosystems are core
assets for sustainable livelihoods, since grasslands, forests, fields
and rivers can be valuable sources of sustenance. This is the main reason
why livelihood-centered strategies of poverty removal coincide with the
interest in environmental protection.
Ecology is thus essential for ensuring decent livelihoods in society.
Securing community rights to natural resources is therefore a hallmark
of livelihood politics. However, strengthening the rights of local communities
means weakening the claims of distant income earners and consumers. Thus
the direct or indirect demand of the global consumer for easily available
and cheap resources will have to be checked since the interest of middle
classes in expanding consumption and of corporations in proÞt expansion
often collides with the interest of communities in securing their livelihoods.
These resource conflicts will not be eased unless the economically well-off
on the globe make the transition towards resource-light patterns of production
LEAPFROG INTO THE SOLAR AGE | At the time of Rio, sustainable development
was mainly about protecting nature, but now, it is the first and foremost
about protecting people. For nobody can close his or her eyes in front
of what can be called the 21st century challenge: how best to extend hospitality
to twice the number of people on the globe in light of a rapidly deteriorating
biosphere. Indeed, the historical pattern of scarcity is outdated. While
in the old days the world appeared full of nature, but void of people,
today the world is void of nature, but full of people. The satisfaction
of needs and wants is not constrained so much by the paucity of hands
and brains, but by the scarcity of resources and living systems. Nature
is now more of a limiting factor than money, given that development is
more and more restricted not by the number of fishing boats, but by the
decreasing numbers of fish; not by the power of pumps, but by the depletion
of aquifers; not by the number of chainsaws but by the disappearance of
primary forests. In particular for Southern countries, the relevant question
will be: How many problems can be simultaneously solved or avoided? How
can both the abundance of people and the scarcity of nature be addressed
by making the right initial choices?
The answer, we suggest, is to quickly move out of an industrial economy
wasteful of both nature and population and head for a regenerative economy
mindful of resources and in need of people. An economy that is based on
the assumption that there are "free goods" in the world-pure
water, clean air, hydrocarbon combustion, virgin forests-will favor large-scale,
energy- and material-intensive production methods, and labor will remain
marginalized. In contrast, if an economy discourages profligate resource
use and privileges non-fossil resources, a decentralized and smaller-scale
production pattern requiring more labor and intelligence is likely to
prosper. In both North and South, the potential for higher resource productivity
presents business and governments with an alternative scenario: making
radical reductions in resource use, while at the same time raising rates
of employment. Rather than laying off people, greater gains can come from
laying off wasted kilowatt-hours, barrels of oil, and pulp from old-growth
forests. People will in part have to substitute for natural resources;
such an economy, evolving with a minimum input of nature, will have to
rely much more on the strength, the skill and the knowledge of people.
Indeed, it will be post-industrial in the true sense of the word: finding
new balances among hardware, biological productivity and human intelligence.
This is even more true when it comes to changing the resource base altogether,
from fossil-based to solar-based energies and materials. Apart from the
obvious environmental benefits, the point here is that fossil resources
usually imply long supply chains, which in turn imply long chains of value
creation. Because there is usually so much geographical distance between
the extraction of the resource and its final use, including a variety
of intermediate steps of processing and refining, opportunities for profit
and employment are spread out as well. Most countries and localities,
finding themselves at the downstream end of the chain, are strangled by
the high cost of fuel and resources imported from abroad. They pay, but
most gains and jobs arise elsewhere. However, a change in resource base
would turn this logic around. Reliance on photo-voltaic, wind, small hydro
power and biomass of all sorts implies much shorter supply chains, not
just for the resource, but often also for the conversion technology involved.
As a result, income and jobs would largely stay at the local/regional
level, recycling money in local economies. Furthermore, as sunshine and
biomass are geographically diffused, they lend themselves to decentralized
structures of production and use, unlike fossil resources which are concentrated
in a few places, giving rise to centralized large-scale structures. The
industrial pattern of squandering nature instead of cherishing people
would be reversed; a solar economy holds the prospect of both including
people and saving resources.
Southern countries have the opportunity to leapfrog into a solar economy,
much before and much more solidly than Northern economies. In fact, it
would be self-defeating for them, in terms of livelihoods and in terms
of the environment, to go through the same stages of industrial evolution
as the Northern countries did. For instance, Southern countries face important
decisions about infrastructures such as energy, transport, sewage and
communication systems, the introduction and maintenance of which, in industrial
countries, have caused the Earth's resources to dwindle.
Today, many Southern countries are still in a position to avoid this unsustainable
course, opting without further delay for infrastructures which would allow
them to embark on a low emission and resource-light trajectory. This is
equally the case for "transition" countries, where it is often
preferable to build new infrastructure systems rather than upgrading the
aging ones. Investment in infrastructure such as light rail systems, decentralized
energy production, public transport, gray-water sewage, locally adapted
housing, regionalized food systems and transport-light urban settings
could set a country on the road toward cleaner, less costly and more equitable
development patterns. This perspective holds true in many respects; in
addition, it represents a unique chance for achieving greater economic
independence decades after political independence has been accomplished.
The politics of poverty eradication is replete with misconceptions. Popular
myths include the suggestion that the (A) poor cause environmental destruction,
that (B) economic growth removes poverty, and thus (C) economic growth
is the recipe for the elimination of both poverty and environmental degradation.
We believe that each link in this chain of arguments is flawed, making
policies that are based on it counterproductive.
Admittedly, the poor environmental refugees are often pushed to deforesting
and overgrazing land, but in general, they have proven to be careful guardians
of resources and ecosystems. Since the poor depend on soil fertility,
fish from lakes and estuaries, plants for medicine, branches from forests,
and animals for subsistence and cash, they have a very down-to-earth incentive
for conserving their resource base.
The argument about economic growth requires clarification as well. Only
growth which increases the Gross Nature Product (to use a distinction
made by the late Anil Agarwal), and not just the Gross National Product,
enhances the condition of rural communities. Otherwise, growth will produce
the opposite effect-loss of income and livelihood capacity. It is not
monetary growth as such that is important, but the structuring of economic
activities in a way that fosters the preservation of ecosystems, as well
as the cohesion of communities. Economic growth for its own sake is self-defeating,
unless it fully takes into account renewable energy, sustainable agriculture,
water conservation, biomass-based enterprises, and the prudent use of
living systems. Any degradation of the environment increases the plight
of the poor, just as any improvement will reduce their vulnerability.
BIODIVERSITY AND LIVELIHOOD | Agriculture is a way of life. Local
communities all over the world strive to live sustainably and meaningfully.
They seek survival and livelihood, as well as joy and celebration in their
surrounding nature. In fact, the lives of these communities are shaped
by the fauna and flora of the specific environment in which they live.
Food habits and house designs, clothing and music instruments, work patterns
and feasts, all reflect the community of plants and animals that surround
them. While conservation of biodiversity has been enshrined as an official
objective of international politics in treaties such as the Convention
on Biological Diversity (CBD), little attention has been paid to the role
that biodiversity plays in the productive and cultural life of rural and
coastal communities. Since these communities have been-and still are-dependent
on their specific bio-diverse environment, the need for conservation has
often become integral to their culture and daily practices. Villagers
who are generally aware that the continuing productivity of nature sustains
their lives are likely not to take more than nature can regenerate. In
particular, the use of common property resources, such as fisheries or
forests, is often governed by customary rules, which are designed in a
way to preserve carrying capacity.
Livelihood Security and Biodiversity | There is no food security
without farmer security, and that in turn is linked to the maintenance
of biodiversity. Maintenance of biodiversity and enhancement of genetic
resources have been carried out by farming communities, particularly women,
all over the world, wherever localized food production prevails. Indeed,
women play a pivotal role in both maintaining and strategically using
biodiversity. Besides being managers and providers of food in the families,
they are also carriers of local knowledge, skills for survival and cultural
Most poor people do not own any land, but rely on common property resources-forests,
lakes or even roadside areas, which are owned by the community or the
state-as vital means of survival. In a study conducted in India in 1991,
it was found that 80 percent of fuel and fodder that the poor use come
from common property land. In terms of income, it accounts for 20 percent
of their income. In Africa, rural households derive 35 percent of their
energy needs from fuel wood-most of it collected from forests and common
property lands. Free access to grassland, trees and water-courses is essential
for the sustenance of these house-holds. Obviously, any degradation of
these ecosystems, be it through pollution, overgrazing or logging, would
increase the daily workload and would eventually prove fatal.
It is particularly important in this context that the sustainable livelihoods
of many rural families are dependent not just on cultivated crops, but
on food harvested from uncultivated sources. For instance, in early morning
hours, it is a common sight in the rural parts of Asia and Africa to see
people collecting leaves, spinach, small Þsh or fruits from the
area around the homestead. These people go to the roadsides, the paddy
fields owned by others, the ponds, near the canals and other common land
of the village. They also know that children who have gone for a swim
in the pond, the canal or the river will come back with their hands full
of uncultivated green vegetables, tubers, edible forest fruits, and most
importantly, fish, which will be immediately turned into food for the
family. The fish they like and eat most often are uncultivated fish, collected
from water bodies. At least 40 percent of the food by weight, and most
of the nutritional requirement for the rural population of Bangladesh,
is met by terrestrial or aquatic sources of food that are not cultivated.
Furthermore, the livelihood of the poor, especially of women, depends
on the integration of farming, livestock, poultry and fisheries. In a
way, rural families comprise not only the extended human family, but also
include domestic animals, such as cows, goats, sheep, chicken, ducks and
pigeons. Mixed-crop fields provide much of the partner plants, which are
sources of nutrition for chicken and cows. Roadside plants provide feed
for goats. Children gather snails and other aquatic species for feeding
the ducks raised by women. A large majority of rural poor women survive
on raising cows, goats, sheep, ducks, chicken and pigs, whose feed is
not purchased, but taken from surrounding fields and common property.
While these animals get their feed from the diverse species available
on the land, the animals and birds in turn reciprocate, sustaining the
environment and enhancing biodiversity.
A single-crop mentality, which is often reflected in industrial agriculture,
fails to appreciate the numerous interconnections among people, plants
and animals. Adamant on optimizing the yield of one particular crop, agronomists
tend to overlook the importance for people's livelihood, of the wide range
of subsidiary cultivated or uncultivated crops. This is one of the reasons
why increased yields from monocultures do not necessarily translate into
more food for peasants. On the contrary, they might have less food, as
subsidiary crops are eliminated. Moreover, the side effects of chemical
agriculture often affect the diversity of crops and animals. If land and
water are polluted, they become like poison for people who gather food,
or animals and birds that feed on them. Frequently, chemical residues
contaminate fresh-water springs, fish and aquatic resources or uncultivated
biomass. Therefore, the claim that modern agriculture has produced more
food is fallacious since it is based on the calculation of single plant
harvests, for instance rice, systematically ignoring its negative effect
on the entire food system.
Women and Seed Preservation | Women are the guardians of biodiversity,
as they are often in charge of the selection and preservation of seeds.
As they choose, save, sort out, and sow the seeds of vegetables, fruits
and many other crops, they play a role, which is crucial to the enhancement
of genetic resources and biodiversity. Additionally, the general practice
of sharing seeds among neighbors and relatives enhances biodiversity and
genetic variety. The varieties of vegetables ensure food security in terms
of availability in different areas and in different seasons of the year.
In the Nayakrishi Seed Wealth Center in Bangladesh farming women deposit
their collection of seeds. The center collects local seeds with a view
to adopting and improving production techniques suitable for farmers'
seed. Thus, hundreds of local varieties of rice, vegetables, fruit and
timber crops have been reintroduced within a short period of time. For
example, farmers in the Nayakrishi area cultivate at least 1,027 varieties
of rice, a number that is steadily increasing. In a country where over
15,000 rice varieties had been reduced in two decades to about 8 or 10,
this represents a reversal in the trend of genetic erosion. As farmers
exchange seeds among themselves, they help to increase the genetic resource
base of their community.
Peasant women in Nayakrishi have started to build their "veez-sampad"
or "seed-wealth." This notion is deliberately opposed to concepts
like seed-banks or gene-banks. These women claim the right of control
over seeds; therefore, they resent any centralization of seed wealth in
the form of a "bank." Control over seeds, on the household and
community level, is an important underpinning of the economic independence
of farmers. It gives security, shields against money expenses and provides
a heritage around which social relations are interwoven. Farmers become
more vulnerable, when they lose control over seeds. For this reason, the
right of farmers to their seeds, including the right to use seeds for
breeding new varieties, has to be protected against the attempt of corporations
to turn the vital need of sowing into a solvent demand for their products.
LAND, WATER AND LIVELIHOOD | Land degradation, just as limited access
to land, is a key factor of rural poverty. As the soil fertility declines,
so does agricultural productivity, which must in turn be compensated for
by costly fertilizers. This decline is often compounded by a lack of water,
which then causes soil salinization or soil erosion. For these reasons,
the degradation of land and water resources undermines the livelihood
of small farmers. Affected farmers are often caught in a downward spiral
of declining agricultural productivity, less subsistence and flight from
the villages. Indeed, the rising phenomenon of environmental refugees
is often closely linked to the deterioration of land. In West Africa,
those children who demonstrated growth abnormalities associated with poor
nutrition were most frequently found in areas of high soil degradation.
It is estimated that up to one billion people are affected by soil erosion
and land degradation due to deforestation, over-grazing and agriculture.
Any attempt to overcome rural misery and to ensure livelihood rights,
will have to focus on the restoration of soil fertility and water resources.
Soil Fertility through Organic Agriculture | Over thousands of
years of history, farming communities have learned various biological
and physical methods for coping with decreasing productivity of agro-ecosystems
like terracing or fallowing. Perhaps the most significant are those that
make conscious use of species to counter the slow natural decline of any
agro-ecological system. For example, mixed farming that combines crop
and animal production, provides for manure, which makes nutrients optimally
available at the start of the growing season. Moreover, it makes it possible
to put nutrients exactly where they are most needed.
Deep-rooted crops are planted to bring leached nutrients up to the surface
soil, in order to become available for the next generation crop. In Africa,
for instance, sorghum and similar crop species are rooted deep in the
earth, bringing nutrients up to the surface. They also withstand dry spells
in the weather cycle, which are often exacerbated by deforesting the land.
These and similar species slow down growth to survive waterlogging, while
rice grows plentiful under waterlogged conditions. Such methods keep the
humus content of the soil high and provide for stable fertility.
Strategies like mixed cropping, animal raising, terracing, and afforestation
are widely employed to halt degradation of soils and to restore the productive
power of the land. Various forms of low-input, ecological agriculture
are practiced, not only because they require less capital, but because
they conserve the soil-along with water, the basis of all livelihood.
However, quite a number of these initiatives are not grounded in a "production"
paradigm that aims to optimize the production of crop yield for economic
gain. They are rather efforts by communities to generate and regenerate
their ecological "relations" to plants, water and animals for
food, livelihood and also spiritual connection. Such communities are not
interested in competing with urban centers to acquire more cars, refrigerators,
or high-rise buildings. They derive their dignity from stable livelihoods
and good relations with their fellow beings in community and nature.
Water through Ecological Restoration | Water is the essential element
not only for growing crops and raising animals, but also for people's
sustenance. Yet water scarcity is widespread. In many rural areas, water
tables are receding, wells are contaminated and ever less runoff is kept
available. Competing claims on water resources by irrigation and industry
often favor the more powerful, leaving the less powerful thirsty. In addition,
time-honored technologies such as village tanks or canals have been abandoned,
just as community water regimes have eroded. Expanding water supplies
often aggravates the problem. Therefore, water conservation and the restoration
of grazing, farming and forestry to increase water collection are today
the priority for livelihood politics around the globe. Initiatives for
the prudent use of water abound. They range from the revival of water-harvesting
techniques, to small storage dams and comprehensive watershed programs.
Efforts to increase collection, however, usually imply the long-term regeneration
of living systems through which the water cycle can pass. Healthy grasslands,
farm lands, wetlands and woodlands are the best insurance against water
scarcity. Therefore, ecological restoration for the sake of water security
is essential to ensuring one of the most basic livelihood rights-the right
Erosion of Livelihoods through Industrial Agriculture | Industrial
agriculture tries to produce a homogenous environment irrespective of
the distinct nature of the pre-existing ecosystem. Therefore, it uses
irrigation extensively. It thus creates a captive market for pumping and
irrigation equipment. It also creates contracts for building dams and
irrigation and drainage canals. In this way, it geographically extends
the age-old problems associated with irrigation whereby water is diverted
from the weaker to the stronger. Furthermore, it divorces animal production
from crop production. It plants single-variety mono-cultures as a continuum
over very extensive areas. Ecosystem disruption thus becomes inevitable.
Increased vulnerability of crops to diseases and pests ensues. One indicator
of such a disruption is the regular and quick collapse of the crop varieties,
owing to emerging vulnerabilities to diseases and pests.
During the Green Revolution, for instance, fertile land was flooded with
chemicals and poisons, which included insecticides, fungicides and herbicides.
As a result, poisonous residues entered the environment, at both the surface
and in groundwaters. Both the breeders and the suppliers of agrochemicals
are increasingly the same North-based transnational corporations. Combining
both sectors facilitates the breeding of varieties which require agrochemicals.
And to enable corporations to dictate how farmers use seed and agrochemicals,
they patent both. By so doing, they marginalize community breeders, who
maximize diversity and have thus enriched humanity with the various crops
and thousands of varieties of each crop, as well as the ecological methods
of using diversity to forestall diseases and pests. This is the way globalization
affects farming community agriculture. The proven sustainable land use
practices by local communities has to be restored and promoted. Local
communities and in particular farmers, have to be protected from the privatization
of their knowledge, technologies, practices and biodiversity, and in particular
seeds, and from the pressures to accept the use of agrochemicals.
ENERGY AND LIVELIHOODS | Over the last 50 years, economic policies
in many Southern countries have been based on the premise that the rural
economy will grow by piggybacking on the growth of the urban/industrial
economy. In other words, it will automatically benefit from the "trickling
down" effect that results from overall national progress. The main
thrust has been to invest primarily in industry-both heavy and light,
but always big-and urban infrastructure, i.e. those sectors which are
assumed to provide higher returns than investments in small, decentralized
initiatives. At every step, more energy is consumed, and more entropy
For creating sustainable livelihoods, massive decentralized private and
non-proÞt sector initiatives are required instead. The objective
is to produce goods and services for the local, low-purchasing power market.
In small-scale sustainable enterprises, the capital cost of creating one
workplace is much lower than in the industrial sector, just as returns
on investment can be higher. Such sustainable enterprises will have to
be more decentralized, efficient and responsive to social and natural
constraints than industry is today. Otherwise, they are not able to do
what is necessary, namely to create work places at a fraction of the cost
of those created in the globalized economy and to increase the productivity
of energy and material resource use by at least 10 times compared to today's
Sustainable enterprises are decentralized. They are technology-based mini-businesses
that are environmentally sound and produce for the local market. Their
primary problem is their need of certain kinds of support tools such as
technology, managerial skill, marketing methods and access to credit and
financing to be profitable and sustainable. Availability of these is today
highly facilitated by the Internet. An appropriate portal can provide
rural consultancy and monitoring, an exchange service, and a range of
information sources. This, of course, is not limited to enterprises. Villagers
would also be able to get information about commodity prices or land records.
They can shop for inputs such as seeds, machinery, spare parts and household
items. Such an information network can give a boost to the dissemination
of renewable energy technologies by giving a powerful tool to small enterprises
and villagers alike.
Jobs and Nature Protection through Renewables | Energy policies are
usually conceptualized and designed by those who control the "modern"
sector-the elites for whom commercial fuels are the only acceptable, legitimate
source of energy. In their view, it is taken for granted that development
means growth, that growth means rising energy use, and that rising energy
use means increasing energy supplies. In this view, energy is identified
with electricity, electricity with centralized grid systems, and national
grids with petroleum- or coal-based energy production. Energy decisions,
in the "modern" sector, are made primarily by economists and
engineers who rarely take into account the needs of the marginalized majority.
The installed capacity for generating electricity usually serves energy-hungry
industries and towns, along with large farming interests.
The poor, however, have to be satisfied with what are euphemistically
called "non-commercial" energy sources, such as wood, cow-dung,
twigs and agricultural wastes. In fact, non-commercial energy in many
Southern countries constitutes nearly 50 percent of the total energy used.
This is a trend that has continued over the decades and, given the present
growth rates of different energy sources, can be expected to continue
into the future. Yet, non-commercial energy use puts heavy pressure on
bushlands and forests since people who are short of cash take advantage
of freely available branches and trees. The lack of commercial or affordable
energy often leads to the degradation of the natural heritage. This spells
gradual and silent disaster, given the fact that more than two billion
people in the world are without access to electricity or basic energy
services. For both social reasons-job creation and better living conditions-and
environmental reasons-protection of the climate globally, protection of
living systems locally-renewable energy will have to be part and parcel
of any strategy to ensure long-term livelihoods.
Despite sizable investments made by governments, international agencies
and even some corporations, the diffusion of commercial sources of renewable
energy has a long way to go. A few isolated successes have been reported
with solar photo-voltaic systems for use in pumping, lighting, community
TV and other special applications, primarily in remote locations, which
are too expensive to wire up to the national grid. Since many bulk applications
of energy (such as cooking, water heating and space warming) need only
a low-grade energy source, it makes good sense to make solar thermal devices
available to households on a large scale. Some countries have had some
success with improved cooking stoves, solar water heaters and similar
devices, but the usual experience is that demand dries up the moment that
subsidies for popularizing them are withdrawn.
Next to power production and transport, construction is the sector that
consumes the highest amount of energy. A great deal of energy is embodied
in building materials, such as cement, steel and bricks. Energy is also
needed during operating time for lighting, heating and cooling. Since
current manufacturing practices in most countries are quite inefficient,
there is a lot of room for improving energy efficiency in the manufacture
and delivery of building materials. For example, constructing houses in
a village with unfired mud blocks instead of bricks can save several hectares
of forests that would otherwise be used as fuel. In addition, major energy
savings can be achieved through the use of solar passive systems for heating
and cooling buildings. Apart from a few isolated architectural experiments,
though, not much has been achieved in this area so far.
Biomass is another form of solar energy conversion and the most common
in Southern countries. Large quantities of biomass are burnt for cooking
and heating, while a small amount is converted to methane gas by an anaerobic
digestion or to producer gas by pyrolysis. This area offers great benefits;
it constitutes a decentralized, low-cash, but huge market, which could
become an arena for small-scale sustainable enterprises. Furthermore,
many countries and regions have meteorological conditions that favor the
use of wind energy and mini-hydro, two technologies of great promise.
Initiating the Energy Transition | The first step in initiating
the energy transition is to introduce technologies and systems that are
less wasteful of energy. Many such solutions already exist and are technically
and economically quite simple and straightforward to introduce. Measures
to conserve energy range from technical interventions to reduce frictional
losses, all the way to matching the quality of energy to the types of
use to which it is put. Much of the technology needed to achieve this
step is already available.
The second step is to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and nuclear
energy. These are major threats to sustainability, both because of limited
resources and limited sinks for waste products. It is fairly obvious that
a switch to more accessible, more benign and more sustainable forms of
energy must be elevated high on the political agenda. While renewable
energy is not without its environmental problems, it does offer numerous
advantages over fossil fuels. But there will be no greater use of renewable
energy, unless quite fundamental changes in fiscal and technological policies,
pricing systems, subsidies and procurement procedures occur. More so,
it will also require significant investments in R&D, marketing systems
and infrastructure, involving actors in government, corporations and the
The third step is to redesign production systems, transport networks,
various infrastructures and houses that optimize energy savings. These
measures will invariably present more significant societal impacts and
will be more difficult to retrofit into existing production systems. Huge
increases in energy efficiency and resource productivity are possible
by transforming industrial processes, redesigning cities and transportation
systems and by substituting physical movement with electronic transmission.
The fourth step, with the deepest and longest lasting impact, has to do
with changes in lifestyles, in the concepts of consumption and production
and in the understanding of individual and social purpose. Given the market
and other forces at work, such a transition will not be easy to achieve
and will involve all actors in society from the individual to the community,
through the institutions of learning and faith to the machineries of global
Urban Livelihoods | Nowhere is the wealth gap greater than in the
cities of the world. The well-off and the destitute, the mobile jet-setter
and the immobile slum dweller, the super-consumer and the zero-consumer,
all reside in one and the same urban habitat of a size rarely larger than
a hundred square miles. Yet they live worlds apart. Both the affluent
and the dispossessed are growing in numbers, but they have little in common.
Golf courses stretch out not far from factories, business districts thrive
next to street markets, and affluent neighborhoods coexist with slums.
Disparity reigns, and more and more urban centers exhibit the traits of
a divided city. Invisible barriers separate the rich from the poor; and
it is entirely possible for well-to-do residents to spend years without
ever coming into visual contact with the less palatable sections of their
In many Southern countries, it is primarily the absence of modern agrarian
reform that has led to constant migration processes from the countryside
to the cities. Concentration of land tenure in rural areas is an important
motive for migration to urban centers. However, urban infrastructure and
settlement policies have been incapable of dealing satisfactorily with
the requirements for shelter, water supply, appropriate sewage system
or environmentally sound transport systems. This has been compounded by
the fact that, thanks to the forces of economic globalization, corporations
have gained greater freedom to choose where to locate their activities.
As local governments compete with industry, socially and environmentally
destructive tendencies have been enhanced in many cities, increasing urban
poverty, social segregation, political violence and unequal risk distribution.
Often facilities producing toxic waste have been located in areas inhabited
by concentrations of poor people and ethnic minorities.
Urban poverty, however, is different from rural poverty in one important
respect. Non-monetary assets, such as clean air, water, shelter or security
are less available in urban than in rural areas. For over and above their
poverty in money, the urban poor have to deal with contaminated water,
dangerous housing, infected air, criminality and long distances. Their
private poverty is thus compounded by the absence of natural (and in part
As in rural areas, the marginalized majorities in the cities suffer from
environmental deprivation. However, while the rural poor are often deprived
of access to natural resources, which could serve as their livelihood
means, the urban dispossessed are threatened in their physical integrity
by the degradation of their living space. Water may carry pollutants,
air may affect the respiratory system, body excrements may lead to infections,
or land may be unstable.
Environmental problems in cities of the South derive mainly from shortage
of water, from pathogens or pollutants in air, water or food and from
housing at unsuitable sites. About 220 million urban dwellers, 13 percent
of the world's urban population, do not have access to safe drinking water.
About twice this number lack even the simplest of latrines. Sanitation
for the removal of waste water is largely absent, as is the disposal of
rubbish. Overcrowding in dense settlements facilitates the transmission
of diseases. Air pollution is widespread in Southern cities. Water, even
if available, may not be potable since contamination from human waste
or from industrial sources is a frequent problem. And finally, even the
land underneath one's feet is not secure. Informal settlements, often
built on steep hills, are exposed to mudslides or floods. By and large,
environmental problems in cities pose risks to the physical well-being
of citizens. They threaten not only people's livelihoods, but people's
health. Mediated through the environment, urban poverty is therefore closely
linked to the wide spread of preventable diseases, such as diarrhea or
infections. It goes without saying that the disabling effects of illness
exacerbate the condition of poverty, most notably for women, children
To a certain degree, of course, the well-to-do are also affected by pollution.
But in most urban areas of Asia, Africa and Latin America, it is low-income
groups that bear most of the ill-health, injury or premature death, and
other costs of degradation. They stand very little chance of obtaining
healthy and legally secure living quarters with sufficient space, security
of tenure, reliable services and facilities, and in areas that are not
prone to flooding or landslides. More often than not, they are also forced
by their tight economic situation into making sacrifices with regard to
environmental quality. It is not surprising, therefore, that there is
generally a strong correlation between income level and exposure to environmental
risks. On the other side, however, the marginalized majority contributes
little to environmental degradation. Their per capita use of fossil fuel,
water, land, and their production of waste as well as of greenhouse gases
is far inferior to the levels maintained by middle- and high-income groups.
The causes of pollution and land scarcity are rather to be found in the
consumption patterns of the well-off, along with urban-based production
and distribution systems that serve them. They win out over the economically
weak in the competition over shares of the limited urban environmental
space. The urban poor are not only marginalized economically, but also
environmentally since they claim little of the resources, but have to
bear the bulk of the waste.
Against this backdrop, it is clear that a minimum of environmental health
is part and parcel of urban citizenship, since the already precarious
situation for citizens' rights in many cities is aggravated by the environmental
handicaps they have to live with. Freedom from physical threats and safe
living conditions are the foundations of a dignified existence just as
much as civic and human rights. For this reason, both dimensions of the
environmental struggle, the struggle to bring down the resource use of
the affluent and the struggle to protect people against pollution, are
essential for improving lives and livelihoods of the urban poor. Environmental
policy is thus part of the larger attempt to widen the political and economic
space available to marginalized citizen. Essentially, it raises the same
question which is at the core of urban conflicts: Whose city is it?
Poverty is the siamese twin of wealth. Both develop jointly and neither
can be fully understood without reference to the other. Usually, the poor
are conditioned by wealth, and the rich thrive on benefits drawn from
the poor. Hence, no calls for poverty eradication are credible unless
they are accompanied by calls for the reform of wealth. Conventional development
experts implicitly define equity as a problem of the poor. They highlight
a lack of income, technologies or market access and advocate remedies
for raising the living standard of the poor. In short, they work at lifting
the threshold-rather than lowering or modifying the roof. With the emergence
of bio-physical constraints to economic growth, however, this approach
turns out to be one-sided. The quest for fairness in a finite world means
changing the rich in the first place, not the poor. Poverty alleviation,
in other words, cannot be separated from wealth alleviation.
The concept of environmental space can help to illustrate the relationship
between ecology and equity. With regard to ecology, human beings, along
with other living beings, use the global heritage of nature for extracting
resources, dumping wastes and domesticating living systems. This globally
available environmental space, however, is not infinite; it has (flexible)
boundaries. These boundaries constitute constraints for human activities,
crossing beyond may provoke biospherical turbulence. Ecology, therefore,
requires keeping the overall level of resource flows within the boundaries
of the available environmental space.
With regard to equity, the environmental space concept reveals the enormous
inequality in resource use on a global scale. Not every country occupies
an equal share of the environmental space; on the contrary, the shares
are of very disparate size. In the mid-1990s, for example, the average
Japanese required about 45 tons of fuels, minerals, and metals annually,
the average German 80 tons, and the average American 82 tons, while the
average Chinese settled with 34 tons.
Clearly, the well-off on this globe occupy an excessive part of the environmental
space. However, the more the boundaries of this space are put under stress,
the more the distribution of the environmental space takes on a dramatic
note, because a larger share on the one side implies a smaller share on
the other. As a consequence, the well-off, by having cornered a disproportionately
large part of the global environmental space to the advantage of just
a minority of the world population, deprive the world's majority of the
basis for greater prosperity. Bringing down the resource demands of the
consumer world in North and South is therefore crucial in advancing both
ecology and equity.
In the long run, no other principle holds for sharing the global environmental
space among the world's inhabitants than the egalitarian principle. It
suggests that every inhabitant of the Earth basically enjoys an equal
right to the natural heritage of the Earth. May it be in accordance to
the present lifestyles or in accordance to economic achievements, any
other way of conceptualizing the distribution of natural resources would
only codify an excessive appropriation of sources and sinks by the global
North. Indeed, the affirmation of the egalitarian principle is primarily
directed against the frivolous inequality which has come to dominate the
relations among people with respect to nature. Although it circumscribes
the presumption of the rich primarily it still does not equally imply
an entitlement to maximize the use of nature on part of the less consuming
world citizens. As with any right, the right to natural resources is also
limited by the rights of everybody else. Given that the right to enjoy
nature's essential services is everybody else's (including future generations
and non-human beings), the boundaries of the available environmental space
constrain the use of this right. While the over-consumers are not entitled
to excessive appropriation, the under-consumers are not entitled to catch
up with the over-consumers. They may only move towards fair and ecologically
harmless levels, keeping within the guardrails of bio-physical sustainability.
Just as equity is a condition of sustainability, ecology is a condition
Very rough calculations suggest that the global North will need to bring
down its overall use of the environmental space by a factor of 10, that
is by 80-90 percent, during the coming 50 years. Otherwise it is difficult
to see how global sustainability as well as fairness can be attained.
From this angle, the key question of global sustainability can be rephrased:
Will the consumer classes be capable and willing to live without the surplus
of environmental space they occupy today?
The question also underscores the specific character of transnational
environmental justice. Acting in the spirit of justice does not require
dealing with the other but with oneself. Sustainability calls for fairness
rather than for self-sacrifice. It is a reincarnation of the time-honored
golden rule of Kantian ethics that no action and/or institution should
be based on principles that cannot be shared universally. Transnational
environmental justice requires transforming (post-)industrial production
and consumption patterns in a way that could be universalized because
overshooting the environmental space cannot be universalized across the
globe. At its core, transnational environmental justice is not about redistribution
but about restraint.
There will be no equity unless the consumer classes in North and South
becomes capable of living well at a drastically reduced level of resource
demand. Such a transformation of wealth is the central challenge of sustainability.
It means bringing production and consumption patterns up to the age of
ecological constraints and equity aspirations. There are several avenues
for moving into this direction.
First, the search for radically increased resource productivity, the art
of producing wealth with ever less resources, is the cornerstone for sustainable
production and consumption patterns. Using resources more effectively
has three significant benefits. It slows resource depletion at one end
of the value chain, lowers pollution at the other end and provides a basis
to increase worldwide employment with meaningful jobs. A mix of technological
and social innovations across all sectors can render even a comfortable
style of living. More resource-light solar architecture, regional food
markets, hydrogen engines, low-speed cars, recyclable appliances, low-meat
gastronomy are, in fact, various other cases in point.
Second, as a change in resource base is central to a transition, the material
quality of things will change as well. Bio-mimicry aims at changing the
material quality of processes and products by redesigning production systems
on biological lines, enabling the constant reuse of materials in continuous
closed cycles, and often the elimination of toxicity. Examples like bio-plastic
or wind power abound.
Third, living systems can be restored. But it takes deliberate investment
in forests, rivers, gardens, hill slopes, soils for restoring, sustaining
and expanding the natural capital, so that the biosphere can produce more
abundant ecosystem services and natural resources. River restoration,
afforestation and low-input agriculture are all attempts in this direction.
Fourth, an emphasis on real wealth can diminish the importance of goods
for both the producer and the consumer. By shifting business strategies
from the sale of hardware to the sale of services, companies can learn
to make money without adding ever more objects to the world; they will
sell results rather than things, satisfaction rather than engines, fans
or plastic. And last but not least, people can revalue those forms of
wealth which cannot be bought with a credit card: the enjoyment of quality,
friendship, beauty. In short, to cherish well-being rather than well-having.
There is not just one way to build the world society, as there has not
been just one way to build nations. National societies that have once
been formed reconfiguring smaller social units, such as cities, counties
or tribes, have taken the form of dictatorships, kingdoms and democracies.
Likewise, the creation of the global society, which will reconfigure smaller
units, such as nation states, civil society organizations and private
enterprises will no doubt take different forms. However, the precise shape
of the global society, its prevailing ideals, its winners and losers will
evolve from innumerable debates, competing imaginations and protracted
power struggles. Today, the battle is on. Names of places, such as Seattle,
Port Alegre or Davos, have become symbols for the trial of strength between
sections of the global society with conflicting interests, visions and
backgrounds. What kind of globalization is desirable? This is the key
question which has moved to center stage at the threshold of the 21st
The globalization process is driven by two mainsprings. The first is technology
that has increased the connectivity of people across large distances.
Airplanes take people to far away places, television brings home distant
events, the Internet pulls people into a worldwide but distance-less space,
satellites convey pictures of the Earth from outer space. For better or
for worse, present generations experience the world in real time and at
zero distance. This historical shift in both infrastructure and consciousness
cannot be reversed. It will remain part of the human condition in the
century to come.
The second mainspring is the twenty-year wave of deregulation, privatization,
liberalization of capital flows and global trade, and the export-led growth
policies that followed the collapse of the Bretton Woods fixed currency-exchange
regime in the early 1970s. The IMF and WTO are the pivotal drivers of
this process. These two phenomena must be dealt with separately. Worldwide
connectivity does not necessarily imply the imperative of neo-liberal
rule. Quite to the contrary, the unfolding transnational space has to
be shaped by the values of justice and sustainability, which take priority
over the value of economic efficiency.
Broadly speaking, there are presently two concepts of globalization, which
have gained prominence in recent controversies. Corporate globalization,
which aims at transforming the world into a single economic arena, allows
corporations to compete freed from constraints in order to increase global
wealth and welfare. This particular concept can be traced to the rise
of the free trade idea in 18th century Britain and has come, after many
permutations, to dominate world politics in the 21st century.
Democratic globalization, on the other hand, envisages a world that is
home to a flourishing plurality of cultures and that recognizes the fundamental
rights for every world citizen. The roots of this concept extend back
to late ancient Greek philosophy and the European Enlightenment with their
perception of the world in a cosmopolitan spirit. The cause of justice
and sustainability would be caught in quicksand unless it is elaborated
in the framework of democratic globalization.
A Johannesburg Deal
In light of the overall goal of sustainability, the North, the South and
so-called transition countries certainly have different but not unequal
points of departure. The North is most unsustainable in resource consumption,
and the South is most unsustainable with regard to poverty and misery.
The former must reduce its ecological footprint, while the latter must
ensure livelihood rights for the marginalized majority. The first challenge
implies a major restructuring of production and consumption patterns,
while the second challenge implies a change in the inequality of power
within and between countries. However, the South does not owe anything
to the North, while the North owes something to the South. The responsibility
of present Southern governments for the fate of their people notwithstanding,
during the long history of colonization the North has accumulated a debt
toward the South, in both ecological and economic terms. Given this debt,
the North should offer reparations in the form of support to the South.
This support would facilitate a transition to sustainability in both senses,
by improving people's quality of life and by moving toward a resource-light
Finally, the transition to sustainability requires a framework of rights
and, to a lesser degree, funds and expertise. Community rights and citizen
rights are essential for empowerment, while the common public values of
ecology and equity must prevail over the value of individual economic
efficiency in trade relations. To put it in a nutshell, restraint (in
resource use and the exercise of power), reparation (from North to South)
and rights (for citizens, communities and national societies) are the
coordinates for framing a global deal.
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