Sustainable Development and Governing the Global Commons
By Felix Dodds for the Global Democracy 2005 Conference
Executive Director, Stakeholder Forum for a Sustainable Future
Paper developed for the Global Democracy 2005 Conference and published as part of the WHAT Governance Programme of Stakeholder Forum
"Governance is the framework of social and economic systems and legal and political structures through which humanity manages itself"
World Humanity Action Trust (WHAT), 2000
In my presentation I want to give an overview of the world as I see it and to then address the three areas we have been asked to address.
It is striking just how much our map of the world has changed in the fifteen years since the end of the Cold War. In 1990, the United Nations (UN) had as members 159 states; now, in 2005, it has 191, roughly a 20 per cent increase. So many new nations have come into existence and even the older ones have undergone significant changes. Indeed, according to the Hoover Digest, in 1890 there was no country that would qualify as a democracy by today’s standards. As of January 2000, there were 120 democracies – the largest number in history (Diamond, 2000).
During the same period, two seemingly competing agendas have come into tension with one another – that of enriching society through sustainable human development and that of the security agenda – in exposing the very different nature of the threats and challenges the world now faces as compared to those prevalent at the time the UN was founded. Among these is the need for states to come to grips with the emergence and continuing dominance of the United States as the sole super power. The US accounts for something like 40 per cent of the world’s total military spending and currently displays a distressing ambivalence toward multilateralism in its international relations. But this is by no means the only or over-riding challenge, as the report of the Panel of Eminent Persons on UN-Civil Society Relations (hereafter the Cardoso Report) makes clear:
This changing geo-political landscape of the world coincided with the impacts of globalization, bringing with it new information technologies, low cost forms of communication, and an inevitable interconnection of global affairs. An obvious by-product of this development has been the rapid growth of global civil society, which has had a profound impact on the mechanisms of global governance and democratic practices. This point was recently emphasized by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan: "The UN once dealt only with governments. But now we know that peace and prosperity cannot be achieved without partnerships involving governments, international organizations, the business community and civil society. In today’s world, we depend on each other" (Annan, 1999).
Despite the increasing acceptance of democracy on a state level and the recognition of a multitude of actors on the international scene, the role of civil society – encompassing trade unions, professional associations, social movements, indigenous people’s organizations, religious, ethical and spiritual organizations, academe and non-governmental organizations – remains somewhat ill-defined. The reality is that the combination of factors outlined above have ensured that we are living in an uncertain world in which our embryonic participatory, stakeholder democracy faces numerous challenges. The precise nature of these challenges, and the state of our democracy in the first decade of the 21st century, is the topic of this conference. (Dodds 2005)
I went to an excellent talk a couple of years ago by John Elkington of SustainAbility who had an interesting slide which I have developed and I want to share with you now.As I believe that it puts a little perspective into where we are and what might be the challenge ahead for us.
This slide shows the upturns and downturns for the past thirty to forty years:
- Created on .