Globalisation and Environmental Limits

Whilst many international trade and investment agreements do compel the parties to meet minimum social and environmental standards, such provisions are insufficiently bold to align trade objectives with the Sustainable Development Goals. Inequality is therefore not the only characteristic of neoliberal economics that has been globalised.

Failure to internalise environmental costs in the world economy means that globalisation and environmental limits are set on an accelerating collision course. A protectionist world economy would likely be even less diligent in pursuing goals designed for the global good.

Poorer countries will tend to be the losers when confronted with scarcity of food, water and natural resources. An unequal scramble for life’s essentials will elevate the risk of violent conflict; indeed, some observers already make connections between current global conflicts and environmental breakdown and scarcity.

Future generations will search in vain for rational explanations of why our common household goods are transported half way around the world from China, not just once but a second time, in the reverse direction for the purpose of recycling.

Shipping and aviation are engines of globalisation but have largely evaded international regulations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions such as the Paris Agreement.

International transport is also the key agency of a fault line in national accountability for global warming – countries do not take account of imported goods in their national inventories of greenhouse gas emissions. International negotiations to control emissions have so far been unable to compensate for this distortion.

Globalisation also moves “virtual water” around the world, for example in meat products, often from countries which can ill afford its loss.

Globalisation is not inherently responsible for these failures of open market economics. If we could identify an alternative and sustainable economic model, then its globalisation would become desirable.


more Globalisation briefings (updated December 2017)
Global Governance
Winners and Losers
International Development Model
Globalisation and Migrant Workers
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