By 2032, many of the same questions that were being posed at the turn
of the century remain unanswered. The world has achieved much in terms
of modernization and economic growth, presenting new opportunities for
millions of people. Yet fundamental questions are still being raised about
the sustainability and desirability of this pattern of development. Environmental
standards continue to fall and pressures on resources remain severe, raising
again the spectres of economic uncertainty and conflict. Social stresses
threaten socio-economic sustainability as persistent poverty and growing
inequality, exacerbated by environmental degradation, undermine social
cohesion, spur migration and weaken international security.
|Decisive initiatives are taken by governments in an
attempt to reach specific social and environmental goals. A coordinated
pro-environment and anti-poverty drive balances the momentum for economic
development at any cost. Environmental and social costs and gains
are factored into policy measures, regulatory frameworks and planning
processes. All these are reinforced by fiscal levers or incentives
such as carbon taxes and tax breaks. International 'soft law' treaties
and binding instruments affecting environment and development are
integrated into unified blueprints and their status in law is upgraded,
though fresh provision is made for open consultation processes to
allow for regional and local variants.
Opinions differ as to where the world is heading. Depending on which
indicators the observer chooses to focus upon, arguments can be made for
either side. Many argue that the cases of breakdown already seen in some
social, environmental and ecological systems portend even more fundamental
and widespread collapses in the future. These same groups express particular
concern that efforts have not been made to develop the institutions that
will be needed to handle these predicaments. Others point out that we
have been able to handle most of the crises we have faced and that there
is no reason to assume we will not do likewise in the future.
Most people stick to their daily routines, leaving the big questions
to others. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose; the more things
change, the more they stay the same.
In the early years of the century, there are signs of a great desire
and demand for coordinated leadership from the local to the global level,
not only among governments, but also in industry and among NGOs and other
citizens' groups. The terrorist attacks on the United States and the subsequent
retaliation lend immediacy to the calls for policy reform to come to terms
with economic, social and environmental concerns that many see as the
root causes of these actions.