Social Affairs

Questioning the logic of “international agendas”!

A just world takes more than a mere change of “economic design” and “paradigm shift” on how to do economic business

 Taye Negussie (Phd)

The recently released report by the United Nations Secretary-General’s High Level Panel on Global Sustainability titled ‘Resilient People, Resilient Planet: A Future Worth Choosing’ has set forth a vision of a “sustainable planet, just society, and growing economy”. In the view of the Panel’s Report, the road to attain a genuine sustainable global development – an initiative of its predecessor, the 1987 Brundtland Report, now largely deemed a failure – comes through working out a “radical redesign” of the global economy and promoting a “paradigm shift” on economic views.

In its present form, the main premise of the report appears to be the stipulation of a more viable solution to the problem of “sustainable development”. But why, in the first place, its predecessor,  the 1987 Brundtland initiative on “sustainable development” failed? Was it due to mere technical error in “economic design” and “old-fashioned” economic view? Was there a reasonable consensus among the international community on the initiative? What lessons were learnt from its failure? But above all, what is the logic behind setting up “International agendas”?

The Brundtland Report on “sustainable development” had been severely criticized on different grounds. The gist of the criticisms can be summed up in the allegations that it was conceived to advance primarily the concerns and interests of the dominant global powers; its program components failed to incorporate the needs and interests of the people of the developing nations; subsequently, it was an imposition of the agenda of the rich and more powerful nations on the rest of the world.

These indictments all illustrate the fact that the 1987 Brundtland “sustainable development” initiative, to begin with, was not an all-out undertaking of the larger international community.  Unsurprisingly, it was shrouded with deep discontents and disagreements. Discontent on the initiative was not limited only to the developing world. The countless in-fighting and walkouts observed on subsequent conventions even by advanced countries, as seen in the 1997 Kyoto Protocol convention on reduction of Co2 emissions, well testify that the initiative was not at all an all-embracing and truly unifying “international agenda”.

Thus, the idea that the Brundtland Report on “sustainable development” failed due to an alleged “deficiency” in economic understanding and error in “economic design” seems to be an argument quite on shaky ground.

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Unfortunately the recent UN report on sustainability that has promised to address the problem of its predecessor appears to have stood not on a much different ground of agreement either. Still the international community has not come to a point of common understanding when it comes to the nature and the magnitude of the problem and the corresponding measures of solutions.

So what is the guarantee that it will be spared from the risk of failure any differently from its predecessor?

The conception of a grand global vision such as this sort had better be on the comprehensive and thorough analysis of both the strengths and weaknesses of the preceding scheme. The most important lesson that could be drawn from the Brudtland Report is the success or failure of any plan that demands a definite international action, first and foremost, must seek to establish an all-out consensus that could possibly be achieved.

Of course, attaining such type of consensus is not a simple task. Above all, it requires the will and determination to employ the most noble and valuable human qualities of sympathetic understanding, compassion and the ability to compromise individual interests for the good of the whole.

Unfortunately, the records of past experiences in this matter quite vividly show an utter negligence in mobilizing this indispensable human asset. Rather, most hitherto set up so-called “international agendas” have been the unfortunate outcomes of a rather intense competition, struggle and infighting to register as much as possible the narrow and selfish interests of a few nation states.

For almost every other nation in the world acting solely to maximize one’s selfish parochial and national interest is often regarded as a received wisdom and unquestionable norm of actions. For some countries it is unhesitatingly, and quite explicitly, declared foreign policy.

In the classic “Hobbesian-world” of insistent rivalry and competition, the rule of the game is mainly guided by the Darwinian motto of “survival of the fittest”. As things stand now, nation-states differ from each other quite significantly in their respective endowment of relative power and influences on the world stage. Therefore, what counts most is the ability of the state to force its needs and interests into the seemingly prospective “international agenda”.

Unsurprisingly, at the end of the day it is the interest and concern of the relatively more powerful states that ultimately prevails. The formula in operation is framed not in a win-win, but in a win-lose scenario. No wonder that issues of justice, fairness and equality are just afterthoughts in the agendas of not too few international initiatives.

I feel such taken-for-granted conventional wisdom has to be questioned and critically examined. Given the fact that we are now living in a much more complex world with extremely divergent human needs, concerns and environmental challenges, relying on the “global vision” of a handful of scientists with limited information, narrow specialist knowledge and questionable neutrality will be a fatal mistake. It would be much more prudent if we are to undertake a comprehensive and wide-ranging discussions and deliberations across a spectrum of societies and nations while forging an international mechanism of actions on matters that puts at stake the collective wellbeing of humanity and the sustenance of life in our planet.

The stumbling block in this state of affairs is mainly a confused and weakened sense of human consciousness which fails to recognize the wholeness of life. Our present view is characterized mainly by limited state of thinking rooted in fear, scarcity, pessimism, hate and competition which has resulted in isolationist and inward-directed behavior. In the face of such negative state of consciousness, a truly cooperative endeavor for the advancement of mutual concern and interest will be merely a wishful thinking.

The more promising way out of the quagmire of self-defeating attitude and mentality and the more realistic means for the realization of the latest report by the UN of  a “…resilient people and resilient planet… apparently doesn’t seem to lie in a mere change of “economic design” and “paradigm shift” on how to do economic business; but rather in a more meaningful transformation of human consciousness in a way that it fully recognizes the wholeness, interconnectedness and the indispensable ultimate unity of life in our planet; and that eventually enhances our will and capacity of cooperation for initiating and undertaking an “international agenda” in its most true sense.

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