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  Tuesday, October 27 7:00pm PST

Saatchi & Saatchi
 
Ready for the 21st century?
 
 
 
Jerome Binde, Director of Analysis and Forecasting at Unesco, looks at humanity's pressing issues as we head into the new millenium
 

Are we ready for the 21st century? Four major challenges have to be met in good time if humanity wishes to survive the coming century. First challenge: will the 21st century lead to the development of growing inequality and unprecedented poverty while generating unparalleled fortunes hidden protected behind the bullet-proof glass of social apartheid and urban apartheid?

Between 1980 and the 1997-1998 crisis, some 15 or more countries experienced remarkable economic growth and most of their billion and a half inhabitants, representing over a quarter of the world population, have seen their income rise. During the same period, some 100 countries experienced economic decline or stagnation, with a consequent fall in income for 1.6 billion people, representing also more than a quarter of humanity. In Asia, a series of financial crashes has now brought about dramatic recessions in countries whose development was only recently cited as an example.

At the dawn of the 21st century, more than 1.3 billion people live in absolute poverty and their numbers are increasing constantly. Some experts even believe that the figure is closer to 2 billion people. According to the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), "the 20 per cent of poorest people on earth must now share the paltry fraction of 1.1 per cent of global income, as against 1.4 per cent in 1991 and 2.3 per cent in 1960. Today, the net wealth of the 10 largest fortunes amounts to $133 billion, which is equivalent to more than one and a half time the total national income of all the least advanced countries".

Today, over 800 million individuals are suffering from hunger or malnutrition; more than a billion do not have access to health care, basic education or drinking water, 2 billion are not connected to an electricity supply and 80 per cent of the world population, or more than 4.5 billion people, are deprived of basic telecommunications, that is to say, of access to the new information and communication technologies, which are becoming the keys to distance education.

Much is said today in praise of the Internet, but we will continue to live for a long time in a world of electronic highways and subways. The future itself seems in jeopardy. It is absent, elusive, or unpredictable in the North, where most of the rich countries now have a negligible birth rate. It is spoiled and already mortgaged in the South, where children and women are the ones who most suffer from poverty: two thirds of the world population living in absolute poverty are under 15 years of age and more than two out of three of them are women.

We can only give a future to freedom at the price of justice, sharing and solidarity. While the old social contract of 1945 - that of the welfare state, which corresponded to an earlier phase in globalization - is crumbling and disintegrating in the face of world market pressures, the new phase of globalization and the third industrial revolution which underlies it have not yet been accompanied by the new social contract that they require. It will have to be invented, and life-long education for all should be one of its foundations.

Second major challenge: sustainable development. Are not our modes of development, based on the squandering of non-renewable resources, putting a strain on the development of future generations? Three planet Earths would be necessary if the whole of the world population were to have access to the North American modes of development and consumption. As underlined by Mr Federico Mayor, Director-General of UNESCO, at the international conference on the ethics of the future which we organized in 1997 in Rio, human beings throughout the world today are assuming rights over the human beings of tomorrow, and we are beginning to realize that we are in the process of jeopardizing the exercise of their human rights by future generations. Humanity now has the capacity to destroy itself as a species. Who will teach us how to " master mastery "?

Third major challenge: the drunken boat syndrome. Admittedly, as the wisdom of mariners and philosophers has it, "there is no favorable wind for he who knows not where he goes". But nor is there a favorable wind for he who has broken his rudder. In other words: have we set ourselves a course for the 21st century? And do we have the instruments to keep ourselves on course? All too many, if not most States give the impression -whether real or illusory - of having lost their instruments of action and navigation as a result of globalization. Politics, sovereignty, democracy itself, which in many areas of the world is still but a fresh coat of paint, seem to have lost their hold on events as if history had fallen into the hands of "anonymous masters", abstractions such as financial markets, interest rates, exchange rates, commodity prices, indexes and statistical artifacts of all kinds.

What is more, most of the problems today extend beyond national borders. Water is becoming an international issue, to such an extent that the 21st century might be that of wars for water. Financial transactions, pollution, epidemics, organized crime and money laundering do not quietly stop at the customs post. They carry no passport, they are nomadic, borderless. Solutions must therefore be found which also extend beyond borders. The conclusion of a number of multilateral agreements and the holding of world conferences such as the Earth Summit in Rio, or the Kyoto Summit on the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, are a first step. Should we not, however, go much further in the next 10 or 20 years?

There are those who reply: sorry, we can't afford it. Yet the Cold War is over, and we still invest massively in insecurity instead of investing preventively in the construction of peace. Defense expenditures worldwide represent $800 to $920 billion annually. According to former Secretary General of the Summit on Cities Mr Wally N'Dow, "resources are now available to provide a roof, drinking water and basic sanitary facilities at a cost of less than $100 per person, for every man, woman and child on this planet". This effort would amount to $130 billion for those 1.3 billion poor registered in international statistics.

The key issues of regulation, governance and aptitude for government on an international scale will lie at the center of the world debate in the next two decades. Given the scale of the three challenges I have referred to, can we or not assume that we are moving, towards a planetary democracy? Without going into the vexed issue of world sovereignty, can we imagine a mode of international integration similar to that of European construction or the Mercosur, or is it merely a dream? In the face of the development of a worldwide market economy, do we need to devise, as Jacques Attali suggests, a democracy "which, like the market, is not confined to a specific territory, but rather a democracy without frontiers in both space and time"?

Fourth major challenge: peace. As Boutros Boutros-Ghali recalled at the 21st Century Talks, which we organize periodically, peace is the precondition for solving the first three challenges. Unfortunately, scores of wars have taken place since the end of the Cold War, and some 30 conflicts are going on at present, mostly within States. The euphoric illusion according to which the collapse of the Berlin Wall was going to lead instantaneously to perpetual peace and usher in a new era of development has vanished. In several parts of the world, a fourth category of countries has emerged alongside the developed countries, the developing countries and the countries in transition: the countries at war, or recovering from a conflict; we are witnessing an unprecedented phenomenon - the collapse and disappearance of States in bloodshed and tragedy.

Faced with the risk of contagion from policies of ethnic cleansing and genocide, it is vital that we promote, as emphasized by UNESCO, a culture of peace through education, effective implementation of human rights, promotion of tolerance and cultural pluralism and a dialogue between all the components of society. Peace is not merely the absence of war, or order imposed by hegemony. Authentic peace is the positive peace which, according to the philosopher Spinoza, "is born out of the strength of the soul, concord and justice". It is based on genuine values and principles and not merely on the policies of laissez-faire or on the agreements of Real-politik.

The General Assembly of the United Nations subscribed to this vision by proclaiming the year 2000 International Year for the Culture of Peace. If we truly want tomorrow not to be always already too late, anticipation must take precedence over adaptation, the ethics of the future must overcome the tyranny of emergency, and the notion of sharing - in space as regards our contemporaries but also in time as regards future generations - must override the blind selfishness which is the principle source of new forms of apartheid. It is with this prospect in mind that UNESCO has organized the Dialogues of the 21st century from 16 to 19 September, in order to light up the paths of the future through encounters between leading experts, and that Mr Federico Mayor will publish a White Paper on the 21st Century in 1999.

Is it normal that investment should flow from South to North? Is it fair, as is the case today, that poor countries should finance rich ones through the refunding of their debt? Is it acceptable that the gap between them should widen and that new barriers be erected within each nation as between nations? The issue is clear enough. Ethan Kapstein, member of the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, referred to it in the following terms: "The world may be moving inexorably toward one of those tragic moments that will lead future historians to ask, why was nothing done in time? Were the economic and policy elites unaware of the profound disruptions that economic and technological change were causing? What prevented them from taking the steps necessary to prevent a global social crisis?"

Let us nevertheless lend an ear to what the prophets and poets have to say: "Where danger grows, so grows the path to safety", Hölderlin wrote. Solutions do exist: the awareness of problems has become more acute; what is really missing today is political will, which is now a prisoner of short-term interests. Globalization cannot be confined to the worldwide expansion of telecommunications, computers, the mediasphere and markets. It must be founded on greater international democracy and on an anticipatory conception of democracy, the main pillars of which are: a new social contract for the 21st century; sustainable development, that is to say a "natural contract"; a new international contract encouraging world-wide regulation and integration; a culture of peace and ethics for the future; and life-long education for all.

© UNESCO

 
 
 
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