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Governing globalization through sustainable development [Sustainable Rio]

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The premise of this European Commission Research project are the indisputable elements of crisis in global governance, testifying to the difficulty in governing globalization by means of concerted standards and rules. Disappointing achievements in multilateral negotiations on climate change, biodiversity or trade liberalization underscore the paradox of our time: “the collective issues we must grapple with are of growing extensiveness and intensity and, yet, the means for addressing these are weak and incomplete” (Held, 2007: 240).

Our overall objective is to disentangle the components of this paradox and to derive conceptual insights for the definition of sustainable development (EU) policies in a globalised world.

Our first specific objective is to identify and clarify the conceptual challenges raised by sustainable development in a globalised world from a policy making perspective. We focus on
• Deliberative politics, democracy and sovereignty
• Distributive justice
• Uncertainty, controversies and precaution
• Globalisation as an interlinking process – collective preferences in a globalised world

Our second specific objective is to identify and document the reasons why decision makers do not manage to create an appropriate structure of rules, policy and measures to make national economies switch to effective sustainable production and consumption patterns.

Our third specific objective is to make the case for the operational character of the conceptual insights developed under the first specific objective of the project. We will make the case for sustainable development as an internal and coherence tool for EU policies. Further, on the basis of our analysis of the margins for change surveyed under the second specific objective, we intend to explore ways for sustainable development to craft a new social contract in democratic societies, and for EU citizens in particular. As a test case, we will use the governance of climate change and the bottom billion as interlinked issues. These “ultimate test cases for collective action” (according to a recent statement by Nick Stern), will be used as an application case study throughout the project.

Our fourth specific objective is to tackle the institutional implications of our conceptual and policy-oriented analysis on sustainable development global governance. This will be done through a high level conference convened at the end of the project.

>> Le blog du projet SustainableRIO


Work performed and main results

Hypothetical answers to the question 'Why did Rio (1992) not fully deliver?' abound. The most widespread is probably the definition of sustainable development itself, successively vague, malleable, contradictory and inapplicable, the critic goes. Our starting point is that whatever the flaws built up in the concept, these may not suffice to explain societies' inertia in shifting their current development paths toward genuine sustainability.

In the first stage of our research, we have retained the hypothesis that a serious reason why sustainable development did not deliver lies in its doctrinal anchoring to globalisation. In a concept paper, we have narrated how the sustainable development - globalisation mutual supportiveness assumption did frame the Rio (1992) project and actually conditioned the latter's success to globalisation progress. This assumption eventually wrecked under the test case of globalisation effects, the concept paper argues. What is left is a decisive - and so far strategically masked - component of sustainability, which is conflict. Conflict across pillars within one country. Conflict in how globalisation fits in every country preferences and choices over sustainability. These two sets of conflicts have been magnified by globalisation.

In the second stage of our work, spanning until the end of the second year of the project, we provide details on the conflicts at work and on their underpinnings, detailing the context of their emergence, their precise components and interference with the globalisation process.

Without conflict elicitation and management mechanism integrated into the current web of sustainable development governance, sustainable development conflicts will be transferred to the World Trade Organization (WTO) - either into the negotiation process which hence will be blocked, or into the dispute settlement body (DSB) -, work-package (WP) 2-WP6 argue.

In the third stage (third and last year of the project), policy and institutional implications will be derived, dealing with ways to manage and solve the conflicts aforementioned. We will explore in particular what could be the new pattern of sustainable development governance - what we call the 'post Rio' governance - on the basis of our understanding of what is emerging in the climate change and bottom billion governance regimes. Both highlight the need to experiment policies and arrangements in a bottom up approach, then learn from other countries and actors before scaling up so as to reach and possibly revise the global objective.

We develop a new narrative of climate change and bottom billion wherein sustainable development is redefined as an experiment, and sustainable development governance as a learning and scaling up process. At EU level (WP7), insights will be provided on key EU sustainable development policy reforms - EU climate policy and EU official development assistance (ODA) policy - from this particular perspective of learning and scaling up. At global level (WP8), a high-level conference will be organised to identify conditions and avenues for this 'learning and scaling up' process to perform at global level.

Expected final result and potential impact

The main output of the project is to give a new vision on the linkages between globalisation and sustainable development. It aims at demonstrating that sustainable development can be a new paradigm to build global governance processes and institutions, and give more international efficiency to European efforts to build a rule-based international order.

To that end, fourth specific outputs will be provided. First, conceptual insights on why sustainable development changes our thinking of policy design and policy making; second, survey tools drafted to convey more precisely opinions on globalisation and sustainable development as well as motives for inertia and/or reform among decision makers when confronted to specific sustainable development issues; third, political narratives of climate change and the bottom billion from a EU perspective to better delineate the implications of globalisation on EU social contracts and policy making process ; fourth, building blocks for a renewed dialogue on global governance within and outside the EU. All these outputs will provide the basis of a concluding high-level conference on 'conflicts and conflict resolution in sustainable development governance'.

The project outputs can help focusing on the long-term results and on changing attitudes within EU member states from a burden sharing vision to a transformational vision where the transition to a low carbon economy is perceived as an opportunity for welfare state reforming, job creations and sustained growth, and a better distributed development across Europe. Specifically, what the project can bring to the integration of sustainable development in EU policies like energy and climate policies is to help understand, at each stage, if deliberations and decisions are on a real transformational pathway or are mainly path dependent and why. At global level, new thinking in the issue of justice, democracy at global level or collective preferences will allow Europe to have a better understanding of future development models from other major players, particularly emerging countries. Conditions of collective action at global level will not depend in the future on the organising capacity of an hegemonic player but on a consensus building process based on a shared vision of global issues and inter-linkages with national and local institutions. The capacity of Europe to understand the local dimension of global change and the local implementation of global transformation will determine its efficiency in leading the way. The project will help the strengthening of European soft power policies in different contexts:

It will enhance European reflexion on the new mandate of global institutions like the WTO that needs to be redefined or on the structure of international architecture. Sustainable development, by giving new foundation of principles of governance such as the redefinition of sovereignty, integration of global justice as well as introducing deliberative politics in the decision making process, offers a capacity for Europe to elaborate new messages. The impact of the project on these policy developments is to strengthen European understanding of coalition building and advancing sustainable development as an Europeanisation of globalisation.