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... gradually go astray

'China becomes a major world importer and exporter, eventually growing to rival the United States as the world's largest economy.'

While systems of governance and longer term planning remain poorly developed, the regional shifts described above modify relationships between regions and the concerted management of common resources. These resources are increasingly incorporated into the global economic system but authorities in charge of their management persist in putting economic potential first. In polar regions multinationals negotiate agreements, either with nations or, in the case of the Arctic, directly with indigenous populations. More areas and more resources (such as freshwater) are laid open to commercial exploitation.

Developments in international security look still less promising. The United States falls back on a more unilateralist stance, involving only a limited number of partners. This encourages other nations and regions to continue development of their military forces. Thus opportunities for broad-based international cooperation are not pursued. Acts of terrorism are followed by periods of retaliation involving short-lived coalitions. This keeps the level of the problem fairly low in the short term, but does little to address the root causes of discontent in the long term.

Influenced by large national and multinational corporations based inside their borders, many countries adopt a fairly narrow approach to global negotiations, in which the paramount concern is the protection of their respective national interests rather than shared or common resources. Efforts to ratify a treaty to address climate issues drag on without fruition and are set aside part way through the first decade. There is more success in other arenas, such as dealing with selected persistent organic pollutants, but even here the scope of the agreements is limited and difficulties with enforcement mechanisms lead to disappointing results.

Actions continue to address social and environmental issues, but are mainly taken at local level. Europe drafts regional conventions which deal primarily with transboundary pollutants and the burdensome environmental legacy of the former Soviet Bloc. Similar efforts arise in other regions, though not always resulting in formal conventions and even then many of the signed conventions are not effectively implemented. There are attempts to crosslink these instruments to trade and other economic agreements. When conflicts arise, however, it is the economic imperative that usually takes precedence. Most notably, the agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) of the WTO tends to override competing pacts reflected in the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and other multilateral environmental agreements. In Europe, the policy change that arguably has the greatest impact on the environment, the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy at the end of the first decade of the century, is pursued for primarily economic reasons.

'Most advances in social and environmental arenas are by-products of efforts to improve economic development.'

The United Nations, other international bodies, NGOs and some businesses persist in their efforts to make advances on the goals set out in Agenda 21, at the WSSD and in other high-profile arenas. Nevertheless, without full commitment from its member nations and without fundamental reform, the United Nations continues to struggle to play the role many expect of it. It makes slow progress in international coordination on environmental and social issues. It scores moderate successes in peacekeeping and disaster relief efforts, which are called on more and more frequently as the years pass. However, the organization finds itself operating in a primarily reactive, as distinct from a proactive, mode. NGOs also find their efforts hindered by more powerful forces, including the steady ascendancy of individualistic over altruistic values in civil society and public life. When NGOs urge others to work for the common good, their appeals tend to be met with complacent apathy. NGOs that prosper tend to be those that adopt a more market-oriented approach or form partnerships directly with businesses, industry or both.

Overall, most advances in social and environmental arenas are by-products of efforts to improve economic development.