Currently, humanity is facing three major global challenges: the Global Financial Crisis, the Food Crisis and the Climate Crisis. The challenges are inter-related and need to be jointly addressed. However, international cooperation is lacking and global leaders and decision-makers have yet to adopt clear and focused practical measures for implementing sustainable development on a global scale.
The Global Financial Crisis
The global economic prospects are marked by uncertainties and vulnerabilities. The fiscal crisis in Europe has intensified and its growth is slow. The effects have spread to developing as well as high-income countries with a decline of capital flows to developing countries by almost half in comparison to the previous year. Growth in major developing countries has slowed down. These developments might reinforce each other and lead to more instability. High deficits and debts in Japan, Europe and the United States represent major challenges that could lead to adverse shocks. According to the World Bank, in the event of another global crisis similar to the one in 2008/09, countries would not be able to recover as quickly as they possess fewer fiscal resources today than in 2008.
Measures: With regard to the European crisis, the World Bank and the IMF are currently discussing the creation of an emergency rescue mechanism in case the European economies need further financial support. The major emerging economies Brazil, China, India and the Gulf oil exporters have been asked to provide the necessary resources. They have agreed if they are granted more influential power at the IMF. Those that have been driving global economic growth are the emerging and developing countries. They have replaced the industrialized countries as the global leaders with regard to GDP growth.
The greatest difficulty that Europe is facing is finding the right balance between reducing debt and stimulating growth. Currently, European policymakers are disagreeing on the measures that should be taken. Angela Merkel, the German chancelor, is advocating for austerity while the newly elected François Hollande would like to see stimulating growth measures being implemented. It is clear that investments and employment need to be boosted but growth should not be reliant on growing public debts.
The Food Crisis
Almost 1 billion people on Earth are starving and most of them are children. Due to the economic slowdown, an additional 115 million people were pushed into poverty and hunger. Food prices continue to be volatile in many developing countries but there has been a general trend of soaring commodity prices since 2005. The prices of oil, coak, copper, gold, wheat, maize and iron ore, amongst others, have risen substantially and even doubled and tripled. The increase of food prices is intensified through the effects of climate change such as strong storms and droughts, for which humans are believed to be partly responsible for. The World’s poorest people spend 60-80% of their small income on food, with little being left for medical care and housing, not to mention schooling. The worldwide demand for primary commodities is rising and the provision of food has become a global challenge in view of the rising world population and limited resources.
Measures: Farmers need to be provided with high-performing seeds and crop protection products, fertilizers and tools as well as technical equipment and training. The infrastructure of rural areas needs to be improved and food and water resources need to be managed more effectively. Public spending and private investments need to be increased to fight against hunger, malnutrition and poverty.
The Climate Crisis
Climate change and the destruction of ecosystems are leading to serious consequences for the global economy. The provision of food and water supplies is at risk and changes in precipitation patterns, higher temperatures, rising sea levels and natural disasters have deteriorating effects on agriculture. These effects lead to resource constraints due to poor harvests and crop failures which result in price shocks and ecological instability. Land areas with low altitudes and islands are threatened due to increasing ocean temperatures and consequently rising sea levels. The temperature is changing too fast on a global level. While some regions are becoming drier and are subject to droughts and fires, others are becoming wetter and are subject to floods. Water resources are at risk due to climate change. This leads to consequences for human health, the economy and wildlife. Floods, droughts, crop failures, extreme weather conditions and fires lead to property and infrastructure damage for which the society and the economy have to bear the costs. Industries that are dependent on specific temperatures and precipitation levels are agriculture, forestry, energy and tourism and will be heavily affected. Our economy depends on all of these sectors which is why each and every one of us is concerned. Animal species are not able to adapt quickly enough to the changing conditions of their habitats while other species can reproduce too quickly which can lead to plagues.
Measures: The use of sustainable energy sources such as water, wind, solar and geothermal energy is indispensable to control rising temperatures that could lead to global disasters. Economic development needs to run parallel along sustainable development. Sustainable agricultural and industrial technologies and lifestyles need to be adopted and promoted to reduce the perilous pressures on the Earth’s ecosystems.
The IMF/World Bank has voiced a troubling truth: “Our highly interconnected and crowded world has become a highly complicated vessel. If we are to move forward, we must start pulling in the same direction, even without a single captain at the helm." That is to say we need to cooperate on a global scale, beyond borders, nations and ideologies. It has become evident that the major global challenges we are facing are interdependent and need to be jointly addressed. We are facing a global financial crisis, a food crisis and a climate crisis. We are subject to unstable oil prices and depleting resources as well as continuing destruction of ecosystems and extreme weather events. Global governments and citizens are required to act in order to ensure peace and stability on our planet.
One of the upcoming major global events focused on development and sustainability is the RIO+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development. It is an Earth Summit where the world’s top leaders will come together in the city of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil. The conference will take place from June 20th to June 22nd 2012 and is an important historic event as it marks the 20th anniversary of the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) and the 10th anniversary of the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) In Johannesburg. The conference’s objective is to promote the creation of decent jobs, the promotion of sustainability and the promotion of effective disaster management across the globe. Two main issues are being focused on: a green economy within the framework of sustainable development and poverty eradication and the enhancement of international cooperation in the field of sustainable development. At the conference, thousands of government officials, NGOs, private companies and further stakeholders will come together to discuss the movement towards a strong sustainable development on a global level. Governments will be encouraged to adopt practical measures to implement sustainable development in various sectors and industries. Side events, exhibitions, presentations and fairs will take place between the official events.
What you can do
- Help our planet by signing the pledge of theZoological Society of London (ZSL), which is a charity devoted to the worldwide conservation of animals and their habitats. ZSL will be taking the pledge to the Rio+20 Earth Summit in June.
- Use no single-use plastic such as plastic straws, caps, cups, utensils, plates and water bottles. Use glass instead!
- Millions of children around the globe are at risk from severe malnutrition, suffer from hunger, a lack of clean water or are at risk due to natural disasters. If you are from the UK, you can sign Nick Clegg’s Speak up for Children petition. He will speak up for children at the Rio Earth Summit to stop food crises like West Africa happening in the future.