Globalization allows the creation of additional value and increase efficiencies for national economies. In essence, this model aims at promoting productivity, connectivity, and specialization. However, global trade focuses on the economic wellbeing of nations in isolation of the environments they operate in. This stems from the fact that globalization rests on the views of capitalism; a system that calls for free market trade. This view of development is becoming increasingly criticized, where some view it as an unsustainable mean of development and growth. Changing our traditional system of beliefs, as well as providing more coercive laws can push economies towards growth that promotes economic, social, and environmental welling – sustainable development. Following World War II, numerous barriers to liberalized trade were removed. Trade agreements such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the World Trade Organization (WTO) allowed an increased connectivity between economies (Shujiro, 2002). This period witnessed an unprecedented global economic growth that focused solely on trade and finance.
Today, the world’s economies are identified by globalization; a process that entails rapid transnational movement of goods, people, information, and technology. The continuation of this dominant globalization paradigm is greatly driven by neoclassical economics, namely in capitalist societies. The system suggests that the free market will ensure that people will not deplete resources as long as technological progression and alternatives are present (Chasek et al., 2009). When as certain resource becomes scarce, it signals the consumer through an increase in price which will consequently act as an incentive to conserve – absolute scarcity will not be reached. This belief system will continue to prevail in its current structure as long as the economy is taken in isolation of the environment’s wellbeing – exclusionist paradigm. Vast economic power witnessed in countries such as the United States and China is dominated by big corporations, governmental institutions working with trade and finance, political parties with certain agendas, and many other multilateral institutions (Chasek et al., 2009). The aforementioned entities are strongly oriented towards commerce and industrialization, and view development as economic growth that is sustained through the expansion of trade, technological development and communication.
As long as these bodies continue to rule the global economy, then the paradigm of globalization will continue as well. For the globalization paradigm to be sustained, gap in wealth between the rich and the poor nations has to continue; this provides the states’ interdependency. Today, the giant economies such as the US, Japan, China, and most recently Brazil and India are capable of taking decisions to pursue a certain global agenda and countries surrounding them will tend to comply due to their dependence on those big economies. For instance, if China refuses (i.e. veto) to sign an agreement that binds its industries to limit their pollution levels – this might negatively affect its economic growth –, it can drag and persuade other nations who are economically dependent on it to vote against the decision as well. Therefore, growing disparities between nations will ensure that those who are wealthy and strong will be capable of perusing the agenda that complies with their interest.
It is essential to acknowledge that public policy and regimes are not merely shaped by technological advancements and economic wellbeing. Nations are often caught up in achieving development, but more recently new systems have emerged, suggesting that in order to achieve long-term growth, the wellbeing of both the people and the environment has to be taken into account. The notion of sustainability emerged in the late 1960s giving development a new definition. It suggested that “economic growth cannot continue at the expense of the earth’s natural capital” (Chasek et al., 2009), but should aim at meeting our current needs while preserving the environment, to ensure that the needs of future generations will also be met.
For the sustainable development paradigm to supersede the globalization paradigm, serious efforts towards global collaboration and coercive agreements are needed. At the 1992 Earth Summit, a soft law (i.e. nonbinding agreement) was introduced under Agenda 21 calling for global sustainable development (Chasek et al., 2009) Nonbinding agreements are often ineffective, because they do not entail coercive regulations. More recently however, nations are growing more environmental consciousness and are calling for legally binding agreements that require all signatories to abide by them. For instance, the US and Canada withdrew from the Kyoto Protocol because it was causing more harm to their economies than it is benefiting the environment. Providing more forceful laws and regulations in such agreements will pressure such states and ensure that they abide by the agreement. Moreover, sustainable development can become more appealing if the way economic growth is perceived changes. Traditionally, the globalization paradigm measures macroeconomic growth in terms of Gross National Product (GNP). GNP fails to reflect the real physical capability of an economy, to provide material wealth in the future or to take into account the wellbeing of the environment and society.
Introducing new measures of growth, ones that take social welfare and environmental preservation into account can aid in shifting towards sustainability. The UNDP Human Development Report provides ‘human indicators’ which assess numerous aspects such literacy, quality of life, CO2 emissions per capita and GDP per capita, among many others. Revolutionizing the way in which growth and development is assessed alongside the public debate can push nations with powerful economies to shift towards more sustainable living. According to Paul Raskin (2002), the new sustainability paradigm is achievable; however, it will happen “only if key sectors of world society come to understand the nature and the gravity of the challenge, and seize the opportunity to revise their agendas”. To accomplish the aforesaid statement, it is essential to educate people and support intergovernmental and nongovernmental organizations, which will encourage public debate.
Chasek, Pamela, David Downie, and Janet Brown. Global Environmental Politics. 5th ed. Colorado: Westview Press, (2009). Raskin, Paul, et al. Great Transition: The Promise and Lure of the Times Ahead. Boston: Stockholm Environment Institute (2002). Shujiro, Urata. Globalization and the Growth in Free Trade Agreements. Asia-Pacific Review 9.1 (2002): 20-32.