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Environmentally and socially-just globalization is possible

By Bruce Moore      

Last month, at the UN Financing for Development Forum, G20 leaders and other governments, concluded that 'the current global trajectory will not deliver the goal of eradicating poverty in all its forms and dimensions by 2030.'

For globalization to be good for food security and agriculture, it needs to be based on the knowledge that smallholder farmers feed the vast majority of the world’s population, writes the author. Photograph courtesy of the United Nations by Harandane Dicko
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Any sober assessment of globalization shows that it is not headed in the right direction. Long before the gap between the rich and the poor reached today’s crisis level, the term “jobless growth”—coined by the economist Nick Perna in the early 1990s—was a warning that not all growth is good growth. Civil society organizations, being on the front line with communities, are acutely aware that growth is indiscriminate in determining who benefits.

As G20 leaders prepare to meet in Hamburg, Germany from July 7-8, they are once again being advised by the Civil20 (the formal civil society link to the G20) that if, but only if, globalization targets the systemic causes of inequality, will Agenda 2030, the UN Sustainable Development Goals, be achieved.

Last month, at the UN Financing for Development Forum, G20 leaders and other governments, concluded that “the current global trajectory will not deliver the goal of eradicating poverty in all its forms and dimensions by 2030.”

Rethinking globalization is now on civil society and government agendas.

Contrary to those who seek to discredit civil society as being anti-growth and anti-globalization, including some business leaders, the C20 considers international cooperation, not nationalism, to be the way forward.

The 300 citizen-based organizations that gathered in Hamburg June 18-19 presented recommendations on how to build an environmentally and socially fair globalization to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, this year’s G20 presidency.

Among key concerns are the indications that the G20 is primarily looking to “for-profit” investors to provide the bulk of the finance. While large-scale investments are needed, civil society is fearful that the investor terms may limit the capacity of governments to protect the public good. A “business as usual” paradigm will only deepen the rapidly declining levels of trust in politicians and the institutions of government, in most democratic countries.

Civil society recognizes that overcoming the negative impacts of the present neoliberal economic system is complex. Changes denied earlier by powerful vested interests makes the required changes seem more radical than when more time was available. Change is not easy to advance within the G20 since all proposals for action require unanimous agreement. Just as climate change is being put at risk by one outlier, the C20 fears that its recommendations are exposed to denial by one.

Making globalization environmentally and socially-just begins by considering food security; the nexus of the environment and economics; reforming the international financial architecture and protecting the spaces for civil society to participate.

For globalization to be good for food security and agriculture it needs to be based on the knowledge that smallholder farmers feed the vast majority of the world’s population. G20 countries must act on the evidence that there is an inverse relationship between farm size and productivity in many agro ecological conditions. Family farms can produce more food per unit of land, if provided with supportive infrastructure and services similar to that already provided to agri-businesses. Rethinking globalization does not mean an end to large farms. It means enabling and protecting family farming systems. Lacking land tenure security and the rule of property law, smallholders are losing their land at alarming rates. Their livelihoods and global food security are at heightened risk.

For globalization to be good for the environment and economics there must be an end to water grabbing. Investment funds are seeking to profit from the monetization of water and turning freshwater into an economic asset gaining in scarcity value. Water is embedded in the extraction, production, processing and trading of natural resources and commodities including the energy used in all of these process. Its real cost, like other externalities, needs to be priced and taxed according to the value it adds to corporate profits and investor returns. While water needs to be protected as a common right, where it is used to support economic growth, its cost must incorporate the protection and restoration of the environment and be managed under the polluter-pays principle.

For globalization to be socially-just, it must be based on sustainable financial systems. The G20 should promote the establishment of a UN intergovernmental tax body to establish, enable, and monitor country compliance with international norms on taxation and foster tax cooperation to avoid abuses through cross border transactions. There are numerous injustices that will occur if G20 governments do not combat tax havens; establish public registries of beneficial owners; fairly tax corporations in the countries where their activities take place and where they gain value; prevent price shifting; oversee those who may enable illicit financial flows, and require impact-benefit agreements to protect community interests in all locations where a company registered in Canada operates domestically or internationally.

For globalization to help overcome today’s extreme levels of inequality G20 countries need to foster collaboration between states, civil society and international organizations to counter the growing restrictions on the spaces in which civic organizations can operate. Canada is well-positioned to promote that the G20 countries protect and enable the spaces in which civil society operates. Protecting the rights of peaceful assembly and of association is protecting fundamental human rights and freedoms. Chancellor Merkel, in accepting the communique from the C20, noted that civil society is an essential feature of a well-functioning democracy — that peaceful dissent often represented marginalized interests and identifies where and how inclusive change can be achieved.

For globalization’s naysayers, their concerns are, in large measure, economic, social, environmental and political exclusion. The C20 can foresee an inclusive globalization that begins by examining the ways and means to make it socially-just.

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