The BRICS summit, to be held in New Delhi at the end of March, provides the opportunity to begin a discussion on the global governance deficit. Looking ahead to 2050, the major challenges for growth are sustainability and climate change. A strategic vision of a common future is urgently required.
The current global economic governance has resulted in unprecedented prosperity for some along with heightened inequality for others. The cheap commodities and labor of developing countries produced a surge in the economic growth of industrialized countries, which account for around 80 percent of the natural resources consumed. At the same time the developing countries providing these resources have developed rapidly and there has been a shift in economic power to the BRICS countries.
At present the BRICS countries – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – have half the world’s population and one-third of the global GDP. By 2030 their economies will be larger than the seven industrialized countries that set the global priorities in the 20th Century.
The strategic issue before the Summit is whether to tweak a failing system established by, and in the interests of, 20 percent of the world’s population, which has brought benefits to another 30 percent in poor countries, or shape new rules that will bring prosperity to the half of humanity that have yet to benefit from industrialization.
The global order – and its institutions and mechanisms – established in the 1950’s, is not able to meet the tensions resulting from the increasing interdependence between states and the intensifying competition between them for scarce natural resources.
The UN provides a framework for international dialogue, but has so far primarily been a global service provider for international coordination in specific areas such as health, agriculture and education, rather than the eradication of poverty, while the IMF and the World Bank are struggling to shed the “Washington Consensus” and become truly representative. Over 400 regional trade agreements, as preferential agreements, contradict the free trade principles of the World Trade Organization.
Similarly, the environmental treaties of the last 20 years have not been able to develop a global consensus on patterns of natural resource use. New values and norms are required to ensure the transformation from a consumerist society based on freedom of choice to a more constrained societal model that provides rewards to encourage conservation and discourage waste.
Fragmentation between the financial, trading and production system has served the interests of industrialized countries. Technological advances are essential for development, but a multilateral agreement deemed them to be private rights enforced by states under global trade rules, creating new markets and a cause of resentment.
The world’s poor expect the BRICS nations to speak for them and the upcoming summit should develop a long-term strategic vision for new rules, in at least three areas. First, by delivering growth through investing in and sharing technologies, knowledge and business models, an orderly resolution of global imbalances will be achieved to improve the conservation of resources and the productivity and augmentation of ecosystem services, thereby providing equal opportunities and prosperity for all.
Second, institutional reform should focus on ending the fragmentation within the multilateral system so that a balanced and prosperous future for all becomes the overriding priority.
Third, measuring progress in meeting global goals for modifying consumption and production patterns by a new metric that will supplement GDP will provide an incentive for long-term thinking about sustainability.
The characteristic feature of the UN system is that issues related to distribution have been kept out of the policy agenda, and the BRICS countries must reach a consensus to reinvent global governance.
The author has served in various policy positions in the Indian government and represented India as a principal negotiator at the UNCED, Agenda 21, Rio Declaration and the Climate Change Treaty.
By Mukul Sanwal
March 12, 2012 “China Daily”