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09.02.2000 · Research Group on the Global Future

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Research Group on the Global Future
Center for Applied Policy Research (CAP)
Munich, Germany

"Sustainable development is any development which meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs."
-- The Brundtland Report, 1987

(1) Sustainability Portal
(2) Reports from the Future
(3) Towards Completing the Mosaic of International Law
(4) Approaching Universal Service
(5) Noted in Passing



The global future must be sustainable. On the face of it, no assertion could be simpler. If we proceed down unsustainable paths, we have no future. Period.

But fewer words have produced more controversy, more debate, or more attempts to subvert a high-minded concept for partisan ends. From the Club of Rome, through the Brundtland Report and the Rio Process to today's debates on consumption and global warming, much of the debate about the future is a debate about which practices are sustainable and which are not.

The Research Group has collected and synthesized information on the web about the topic, and opened a portal on sustainability at
this website. As with our portals on digitalization, biotech, and the new economy, this entry point into the multifaceted issue of sustainability presents key thoughts concisely and links to the most important sources of ideas and facts. Sections of the portal cover environmental, social and economic aspects of sustainability, along with a collection of definition of key terms, and a brief history of the idea of sustainability. It also adds references to the major international agreements related to sustainability and suggestions for off-line reading.



From some places, the future is easier to see than others. The Research Group will bring back regular reports from unique places, events, or persons that offer unusual insight into our common future. (The navigation bar on our home page can bring you directly to the list of reports.)

In our first outing, Christina Teuthorn and Patrick Meyer visited the Millenium Dome in London. They took a deep dive into the experience of the new millenium and brought back not just an eyewitness account, but also links to the Dome's background and trials in the British press. Read "Merchandising the Future" - along with the accompanying photos and audio clips here.

Next, Ronnie C. Chan, Hong Kong businessman and wide- ranging thinker tells why, on deep reflection, December 20, 1999 may have been the most important day of the 20th century. Find out why in Asia's Future in a Globalized World.



After five years of controversial negotiations, last week over 130 governments finalized in Montreal a legally binding agreement, the Biosafety Protocol, on reducing potential risks from the transboundary movement of lifeforms that have been genetically modified. This is the first international agreement which establishes international rules to prevent environmental problems before they begin.

The use of modern biotechnology in agriculture has grown with an enormous speed over the last years, but its rate of adaptation still differs widely in countries around the globe. The market of genetically modified agricultural products grew from $75 million in 1995 to more than $2 billion last year. The commercial cultivation of genetically altered plants reached 40 million hectares last year compared to 1.7 million in 1996. In 1999, 98% of the genetic altered seeds for commercial use were planted in the United States, Argentinia and Canada. While these three countries and a few others are very open to the promises of this new technology, like lower production costs, higher yields and less use of herbicides, most countries in Europe and some in Asia take a more cautious view of ist possible risks for human health and the environment. The developing countries, which owns around 80 % of the world wide biodiversity, fear unaccepted damages to their environment. Beyond that they are concerned about access issues, fearing that its domestic agriculture might be left out.

In the view of the U.S. government genetic modified plants and its commodities are safe, and so far-reaching international provisions only hamper the trade in agricultural goods and could lead to a new type of protectionism. While in the United States, authorities neither request segregation between genetically modified and conventional crops, nor prescribe explicit labeling, the Europeans insist on a precautionary approach, which allows countries to deny approval for genetic modified crops, even if there is still no scientific proof that they are harmful. In the EU, approved products which contain genetically modified organisms must be explicitly labeled. Japan, the biggest importer of agricultural products, Korea, Australia and some African countries have also initialized laws for labeling and/or stricter approval procedures.

The different regulations have led to new conflicts in the traditionally contentious global market for agricultural products. After the Uruguay Round, which included for the first time a significant reduction of agricultural subsidies in the world trading regime, and after the transatlantic disputes about bananas and hormone-treated meat, genetic altered food is the current cause of annoyance. US officials say that the European Union's strict regulation of genetically modified food caused a loss of $200 billion for American farmers just in corn sales over the last two years.

While governments were disputing the right way to manage the risks of modern microbiology, consumers made their choices. Forced by many NGOs, widespread consumer concerns in Europe, Asia and lately also in the United States, food product companies and supermarket chains, farmers will, according to the predictions of the US Corn Growers Association American, reduce their acreage planted in genetically-engineered crops this year.by 25%.

The new Biosafety Protocol, in addition to the UN Convention on Biodiversity, emphazises the right of countries to make use of the precautinary principle. The protocol establishes a Biosafety Clearing House for countries to share information about genetically modified organisms. For initial shipments of genetically modified organisms intended for release in the environment, like seeds and fishes, exporters are required to obtain advance and explicit approval from the importing country. For genetically modified organisms intended for food, feed and processing, the protocol provides minimum standards for labeling in international trade. A general labeling standard shall be negotiated two years after the Protocol gets into force.

But in many aspects the new Biosafety protocol documents the status quo of the opposing positions. The question about the relationship between the protocol and the more trade-oriented rules of the WTO is left very vague. The WTO rules require scientific certainty to justify any trade restrictions. Therefore much depends of the implementation of the Biosafety Protocol by the signatory states and its integration into the global architecture of international law. The new protocol is available under http://www.biodiv.org/



One of the theses of the Research Group on the Global Future is that internet usage is headed toward ubiquity. It will be available in at least as many places as running water, telephones, and electricity. Many paths will take us in that direction, and two of the key limits are the availability of two other utilities of the twentieth century: phones and electrical power. In places that possess both of them in abundance, net access will be as self-evident as indoor plumbing. Below are four signposts on the road to ubiquity, from the US, Belgium, Korea and China.

From the Washington Post, February 3, 2000:

"Ford Motor Co. said yesterday that it will provide every one of its 350,000 employees worldwide with home computers, color printers and unlimited access to the Internet for as little as $5 a month.

"Leapfrogging across the "digital divide" that some fear separates wealthy computer users from people unable to afford them, Ford is the first major company to offer every employee, from the loading dock to the boardroom, the tools to participate in the Information Age. "

"... There are no strings attached to the computer deal for individual employees and no requirement that the PCs be used for work. Both Ford and United Auto Workers [an American trade union] officials said there will be no monitoring of how employees use their computers or Internet access. "

If you work for Ford, you're on the net. It's that simple. It's both a move toward universal service and a standard for other employers and unions to match.

From www.insites.be and www.nua.ie:

"There are now more than 2 million Belgians with access to the Internet, according to the latest survey from Belgian Internet Mapping and InSites. The availability of free Internet subscriptions has considerably boosted the number of Internet users in the last six months and transformed it into a more democratic medium.

"Free access has enabled more women, teenagers, senior citizens and French-speaking Belgians to go online. Users from middle and lower-income brackets are also more likely than before to be connected to the Net."

In the last six months, internet penetration in Belgium has basically doubled. Half of those newcomers are using free net programs of one form or another, and this speeding up the usual progression of which groups within a society have net access. Women, poorer people and members of ethnic minorities tend to take up the net after educated, wealthy men who belong to the ethnic majority. Making service free brings more people on the net faster. Reducing telephone costs in countries where per-minute charges are the standard would likely have a similarly dramatic effect.


South Korea now has over 10 million net users, with men outnumbering women by 2 to 1. This is roughly a quarter of the adult Korean population. Roughly 40 percent of Korean users had access from home, while just over 20 percent logged on from work. This is different from the usual pattern of greater access from work, and may point to a slightly different culture of net usage in Korea. Otherwise, the report shows net usage strongest among better-educated, wealthier men in the capital or larger cities.

On this analysis, Korea is poised for several years of spectacular internet growth, particularly within companies, while extra efforts will probably have to be made to encourage rural access.

(Data from the Korea Herald, www.koreaherald.co.kr)


"Use of the Internet in China increased by a phenomenal 324 percent in 1999, according to figures released by the China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC, http://www.cnnic.net.cn/). In 1998, there were 2.1 million users and by the end of 1999, that
figure surged to 8.9 million.

"Of those, over three quarters, 75.6 percent are aged 30 or younger. 42.8 percent are aged between 18 and 24 while 32.8 percent are aged between 25 and 30. The majority are male, 79 percent, and single, 64 percent. 45 percent of users have obtained bachelors degrees. Users log on for an average of 17 hours per week."

China is also following the classic pattern. Here, usage continues to be constrained by telephones and, to a lesser extent, electricity. More detailed figures from CNNIC show that Beijing and Shanghai are far and away the most wired provinces, emphasizing the role that urbanization plays in internet connectivity.

China is also on the road to ubiquity, but the question is whether or not phones and power will reach the outlying regions fast enough, or whether people will continue to prefer to move to the city.



1. The Research Group on the Global Future continues to post key statistics about world developments on our web site. The latest is on ageing and can be found on this website.

More book reviews -- including two new ones from January -- are also available on the site.

2. Davos is done. The annual meeting of the World Economic Forum has come and gone, leaving behind excellent documentation and reports on the Forum's web site. If you weren't invited either, get the next best thing on http://www.weforum.org. In German, Die Zeit also has terrific coverage on http://www.zeit.de/davos.

3. How many people are on the net? Estimating the number of users is still as much an art as a science, but the Irish firm Nua has established a reasonably good record of aggregating local statistics into a global picture. Here, the latest numbers from Nua Internet Surveys:

World Total 248.6 million
Canada & USA 131.1 million
Europe 64.23 million
Asia/Pacific 42.6 million
South America 7.10 million
Africa 2.36 million
Middle East 1.29 million

4. How many pages are on the net? Inktomi says more than a billion.

From www.inktomi.com:
Inktomi has been crawling the Web over the past 4 months using a 100 MB/sec ethernet connection to build the WebMap database. All URL's in this database have the host names canonicalized. We also analyze certain properties of each page: for example rich media files, pornographic content, and search-engine spoofing.

Number of documents in Inktomi Database: over 1 billion

Number of servers discovered: 6,409,521
Number of mirrors in servers discovered: 1,457,946
Number of sites (total servers minus mirrors): 4,951,247
Number of good sites (reachable over 10 day period): 4,217,324
Number of bad sites (unreachable): 733,923

5. Incidentally, the gender gap of net usage is disappearing in the United States.

Reuters: Gender Gap has Almost Disappeared in US

Jan 25 2000: Women constituted 50 percent of the US Internet audience for the first time during the holiday shopping season, according to a Nielsen NetRatings report.

The number of US women online grew 32 percent in 1999, while the number of male Internet users only grew 20 percent. There are now 119.2 million Internet users in the US.

The report shows that men and women still differ in their use of the Internet as men tend to visit news sites which are deep and rich in information, while women prefer health and lifestyle sites.



global_futures also offers an interactive forum. Recommendations,letters, and tips are welcomed by the editors, particularly on the topics of the digital future, biotechnology, sustainability and the new economy. Send all feedback to mailto:fgz@lrz.uni-muenchen.de.



Sascha Meinert, Douglas Merrill, Patrick Meyer, Juergen Turek

Research Group on the Global Future
Center for Applied Policy Research
Geschwister Scholl Institute
Ludwig-Maximilian University of Munich
Maria-Theresia-Strasse 21
D-81675 Munich, Germany
Tel: +49 89 2180 1300