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Fair Future

Begrenzte Ressourcen und Globale Gerechtigkeit

Wuppertal Institute for Climate, Environment and Energy  (Eds.): Fair Future - Scarce Resources and Global Justice. A Report. 268 pages, Paperback, C.H. Beck Publishers, Munich 2005. ISBN 3-406-52788-4.

Reviewed by Florian Bergmann

Translated by Angelika Stieglbauer


09.11.2005 · Reviewed by Florian Bergmann


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There is a general consensus on the fact that ecological damage and climatic change can be traced back to the hunger for natural resources in a globalized world economy. In turn, ecological catastrophes and the shortage of raw materials can cause economic disruptions and give rise to conflicts over the distribution of resources.

After three years of research, the Wuppertal Institute for Climate, Environment and Energy has produced a kind of manifesto that applies to this topic. The report deals with scarce resources and their worldwide distribution.

In seven chapters, the authors appeal on a scientific basis for a fair distribution of resources – for the sake of the future of our planet. Therefore, the title "Fair Future" has to be seen in a programmatic way.

The report focuses on five problems and objectives and then proposes solutions:

  1. "Justice for realists" – Globalization creates new challenges, the finiteness of resources creates pressures, and warning signs of overuse emerge. Global justice must differ from national justice. A question arises: Must ecology be sacrificed in favor of justice or justice in favor of ecology?
  2. "Inequality in the environmental space" – Who dominates the global environmental space, and to what extent? In brief: Resources are allocated unequally and are often not used in the land of origin. But a trend can be noticed: emerging Southern countries are pressing for a greater share.
  3. "Arenas of appropriation"  - There is an essential difference between equality and justice. The report illustrates how the asymmetric distribution of resources is manifested via geopolitics, trade distortions, investment power, and legal systems.
  4. "Guiding ideas for the fair distribution of resources" – human rights, participation, fair trade and compensation must be the ideas that guide policy, if one views justice from a global rather than national perspective. 
  5. "Prosperity that is compatible with justice" – this is the first contribution to a fairer allocation of resources. The most important precondition would be a lifestyle that would preserve the wealth in developed countries with a lower consumption of resources. This requires both a shift in energy, transport and agricultural policy toward a solar economy as well as a change in consumption patterns.
    It is possible that developing nations in Asia will soon reach the emission levels of harmful substances that exist in developed countries. This would be fatal. The report argues that the necessary unity of ecology and justice can be preserved if rich states reform their wealth model, i.e. if the reduction of consumption in wealthy nations exceeds the rise in consumption in developing countries.
  6. "Contracts for fairness and ecology" – How can economic growth be made compatible with human rights and environmental sustainability? An "architecture of global cooperation" is necessary, because sustainable globalization requires a political structuring of transnational markets; otherwise market-directed globalization will continue to spread. Necessary innovations include environmental contracts (e.g. climate trust funds based on per capita rights of all world citizens to the atmosphere), a reorganization of world trade (e.g. fair trade instead of free trade) and a legal framework for the activities of transnational companies. Only in this way can human rights and environmental sustainability be treated as priorities equal to the economic growth principle.
  7. "What can Europe do?" – If it wants to, Europe can play the role of a political heavyweight that contributes to a sustainable future. Europe can even be the foundation for a global society ("Europe has a cosmopolitan vocation – or none"). Instead of "preemptive wars," it should implement a "policy of preemptive justice": Because of its positive recent history, Europe should stand up for law, cooperation, and the common good – in alliance with other countries, particularly developing countries.

The book is a strong manifesto for a "policy of global justice". "Fair Future" points out "ideal ways", but by comparing alternatives and posing critical questions does not sacrifice authenticity, like some other recent works. Twelve authors plus twenty assistants contributed to the report. Nevertheless, the text is understandable and relatively uniform, and employs numerous concrete examples to make the complex material accessible to readers.

While the reader might criticize the report for offering merely noble wishes and seemingly impracticable policy recommendations, it must be emphasized that there is still too little awareness and acceptance of the fact that a change in our thinking is unavoidable. This book can contribute to an extended debate on this theme.


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