Prof. Dr. F. J. Radermacher
Forschungsinstitut für anwendungsorientierte
(Research Institute for Applied Knowledge Processing/n) (FAW/n), Ulm, Germany
In the face of global challenges, the key to a better future lies in the right combination of innovations in technology and in governance
Global challenges are enormous and are turning out to be more pressing each day. Given the population explosion, limitations of available technologies and the ecological footprint which is already far beyond any acceptable level, humankind is on a dangerous track. We are operating far beyond the carrying capacity of the Earth.
A considerable increase in the demand for a better standard of living across the globe is as much a need from a sociocultural point of view as it is an irritating scenario under the present ecological conditions.
Is there a chance for a peaceful future, a chance for avoiding an ecological collapse or a neofeudalisation (global two-class society) of the world population? And how is that related to technology? The key to a better future lies in the right combination of innovations in technology and innovations in governance. Innovations in technology have historically always opened up opportunities for a better world. In particular, they have reduced the specific use of resources to create value in the form of products and services. This effect was usually counteracted, however, by the so-called rebound or boomerang effect.
We create more and more environmental burdens with superior technology because the number of units of value created increases faster than the environmental burden per unit can be reduced. In particular, this is true in the fields of information and communication technology (ICT) and electronics, which are quite resource intensive, e.g. they need considerable amounts of electrical power for their operation.
INNOVATIONS IN GLOBAL GOVERNANCE
Innovation in governance, particularly global governance, is urgently needed to cope with this situation. This is probably the hardest issue to deal with, given the diverging interests and the differences in power of actors in a world comprised of 193 sovereign nation states. At the very least, global governance must limit resource use and environmental burdens to an acceptable level and must address climate change and poverty alleviation.
The latter aspect must include a higher level of global cross-financing than is established today and a higher compliance in the use of such financing. A Global Marshall Plan in the sense of a planetary contract or a manifestation of a “world interior politics” would constitute an important step in this direction. Nobel Prize winners Al Gore and Muhammad Yunus are arguing in this direction. Social businesses akin to that propagated by Muhammad Yunus and a global afforestation programme on an area of 5 million sq km could be contributions of the required nature.
The climate issue is of highest importance. It is closely related to the energy sector but is characterised by the fact that there are no property rights associated with greenhouse gas emissions as of today, i.e. the atmosphere is up to now an unregulated and overused global commons. What makes things difficult is the lack of an easily available, low-cost technological substitute for fossil energy and also that up to now greenhouse gases are closely related to economic activities and wealth creation. “Climate justice” could be the formula for a global solution in governance in this area, which urgently requires international regulation.
The situation after the Copenhagen Summit offers new chances in this respect, with China and India willing to voluntarily limit their carbon dioxide emissions. However, the world community has hardly given credit for the generosity of this offer and the potential it contains.
ROLE OF ICT
ICT is an important player in this game. It can contribute significantly in connecting people, making education easier across the world, alleviating poverty and having a better environment – if the governance conditions are conducive.
Against this background, ICT has to go greener. With the right kind of governance, ICT can counterbalance rebound effects much more than the present output. It is a major field shaping our future. Given its many potentials, the future trends in the ICT sector are closely connected with action for a better world. Even though the ICT sector is conventionally associated with physical goods, it holds relevance for all kinds of services.
Geospatial science and technology, indeed the entire geospatial arena has a crucial role to play in addressing global issues. Closely related to modern ICT developments, geospatial science and technology shape our common understanding of the world as a wonderful but fragile entity in an almost infinite outerspace. They create a kind of digital world.
They make us better understand what we possess, what we may lose and which processes are under way at what time. It is only when we understand these issues that we have a chance to act in time. We must understand and act soon, because time is running out. Cooperation in this process is a must. If we do not succeed, the consequences will be painful.
AIMING FOR A BETTER WORLD
Let’s aim for a better world. Let’s establish global rules of cooperation and governance that bring out our full potential in shaping a sustainable future for all humans that is in harmony with the environment.
Therefore, let’s stop a naive belief in free markets and go for markets and sustainability – go ecosocial.