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For your attention
by threehegemons
22 August 2002 03:25 UTC
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Steven Sherman spotted this on the Guardian Unlimited site and thought you 
should see it.

Note from Steven Sherman:

Who says the rich countries need to change their ways to prevent ecological and 
social disaster?  The world bank.

Given that the average income in the richest 20 countries in the world is 37 
times that in the poorest 20, the Bank feels that the rich west is in a 
position to make concessions. "It seems to me there is a certain hypocrisy 
about rich countries telling poor countries to undertake radical reform. The 
kind of changes we have got to make in the west are much smaller than the kinds 
of reforms rich countries are asking poor countries to make all the time," Mr 
Stern told the Guardian

To see this story with its related links on the Guardian Unlimited site, go to 

A vision of dystopia
This is for real, not the sequel to a sci-fi thriller. The World Bank paints a 
picture of a catastrophic global future if we do not change the way we live
Larry Elliott, economics editor
Wednesday August 21 2002
The Guardian

New York City in 2022. Half the 40 million people in the swarming metropolis 
are unemployed, the air is thick with pollution, food and water are as precious 
as jewels. This was the world of the future as envisaged in the sci-fi 
thriller, Soylent Green, in 1973. Now, according to the World Bank, it could 
come true unless there are dramatic and immediate changes to the way we live. 

Unlike the Charlton Heston movie, the Bank does not suggest that we will be 
making food from dead bodies in 20 years' time. But its warning of an 
increasingly dysfunctional global society, with enormous pressure on basic 
resources such as water, energy and health, is remarkably similar.  

Looking into its crystal ball, the Bank sees a world of nine billion people by 
mid-century generating a global GDP of $140 trillion a year. This staggering 
fourfold increase in the size of the world economy would be enough to guarantee 
a large-scale reduction in the 1.2 billion people living on less than a dollar 
a day, but the Bank argues that the price will be environmental catastrophe, 
social breakdown and lower living standards for everyone if policies remain 

Released to coincide with next week's summit on sustainable development in 
Johannesburg, the Washington-based institution's annual world development 
report sounds the alarm bell for global leaders as they prepare for 10 days of 
talks, providing a nightmarish prophecy of what could happen if they fail to 
turn rhetoric into action.  

It's not all bad news. The Bank says that economic growth is vital for tackling 
poverty, with a 3.6% a year increase in per capita incomes needed in developing 
countries if the world is to achieve the 2015 targets set by the United Nations 
of halving the number of people living on less than a dollar a day, reducing 
infant mortality by two thirds and giving every child a primary school 
education. It adds, however, that coordinating globally and acting locally will 
be critical to ensuring that gains in social indicators - such as incomes, 
literacy rates, or access to sanitation - of the past 20 years are not reversed 
by population growth pressures and unsustainable economic expansion.    

"This growth must be achieved in a manner that preserves our future," said Ian 
Johnson, vice-president of the Bank's environmentally and socially sustainable 
development network. "It would be reckless of us to reach successfully the 
millennium development goals in 2015, only to be confronted by dysfunctional 
cities, dwindling water supplies, more inequality and conflict and even less 
crop land to sustain us than we have now."  

The report contains a litany of potential ecological and social problems, from 
slum-ridden urban dystopias to an increase to the 1.3 billion people who 
already live on fragile lands which cannot sustain them. Already, it says, the 
"biosphere's capacity to absorb carbon dioxide without altering temperatures 
has been compromised because of heavy reliance on fossil fuels for energy. 
Greenhouse gas emissions will continue to grow unless a concerted effort is 
made to increase energy efficiency and reduce dependency on fossil fuels."  

Nearly two million hectares of land worldwide (23% of all crop land, pasture, 
forest and woodland) have been degraded since the 1950s, a fifth of all 
tropical forests have been cleared since 1960 and one third of terrestial 
biodiversity is squeezed into vulnerable habitats making up just 1.4% of the 
earth's surface.  

Unsurprisingly, the Bank concludes that these trends cannot continue. "The $140 
trillion world of five decades' time simply cannot be sustained on current 
production and consumption patterns," said Nick Stern, the Bank's chief 
economist. "A major transformation, beginning in the rich countries, will be 
needed to ensure that poor people have an opportunity to participate, and that 
the environment is not damaged in a way that undermines their opportunities for 
the future."  

So what is the Bank's blueprint for sustainable development? It says:  

&#183; developing countries should act to clean up their governments, promoting 
participation and democracy, inclusiveness and transparency as they build the 
institutions needed to manage their resources;  

&#183; rich countries need to be less selfish by increasing aid, offering more 
generous debt relief, opening their markets to developing country exporters and 
helping transfer technologies needed to prevent diseases, increase energy 
efficiency and bolster agricultural productivity;  

&#183; civil society organisations should be encouraged to serve as a voice for 
the weak and powerless, and to provide independent verification of public, 
private and non-governmental performance;  

&#183; private firms should be more focused on sustainability in their day to 
day activities, and have incentives to pursue profit while advancing 
environmental and social objectives.   

"The world must act to help its poorest people manage their own resources and 
build their productivity and incomes now, to empower these communities and help 
them prepare for the demands of the decades ahead," said Mr Stern. "Rich 
countries can take such a step by opening their markets to developing world 
exports and by abandoning agricultural subsidies and other barriers to trade 
that depress prices and limit market opportunities for the very goods that poor 
people produce most competitively."  

Given that the average income in the richest 20 countries in the world is 37 
times that in the poorest 20, the Bank feels that the rich west is in a 
position to make concessions. "It seems to me there is a certain hypocrisy 
about rich countries telling poor countries to undertake radical reform. The 
kind of changes we have got to make in the west are much smaller than the kinds 
of reforms rich countries are asking poor countries to make all the time," Mr 
Stern told the Guardian.    

So far, the willingness of the developed west to abandon protectonist policies 
has not been much in evidence and, as the Bank recognises in four open 
questions posed in the conclusion to the report, there are potential pitfalls 

The first is the issue of when consumption is overconsumption. Telling 
consumers in the west that they have to cut back is not relished by 
politicians. But the Bank wonders whether consumption will become the modern 
equivalent of the Cold War arms race; will people in the developing world see 
the norm as patterns of consumption in the west?  

The second vexed issue highlighted by the report is the future of agriculture 
and of genetically modified organisms. The United States is eager to export GM 
foods to developing countries, often in the teeth of ferocious local 
opposition. Should this be encouraged? The Bank is not sure. "Applying the 
precautionary principle - balancing risks to food safety and the environment 
against prospects for development and poverty alleviation - will be a difficult 
task, requiring a broader debate on credible information."  

Third, the Bank is concerned about the system of intellectual property rights 
presided over by the World Trade Organisation. How can the interests of patent 
holders be balanced against those of the users of products? The system in place 
has strengthened the hand of western corporations at the expense of poor 
countries. The potential for unequal outcomes is "worrisome", the Bank says.  

Finally, what are the prospects for global migration? The report says that 
global inequality, combined with demographic trends, will create ever more 
pressure for migration. "Dealing with this pressure is a challenge worldwide."  

The report concludes that the planet will face predictable challenges which 
will increase in intensity over the coming decades. But the fact that the Bank 
has no pat answers to its four questions suggests that they will take years, if 
not decades, to resolve. If the Bank is right, the most precious resource of 
all over the next half century could be time.  

Sustainable Development in a Dynamic World. This report is available on 

Copyright Guardian Newspapers Limited

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