The twenty-first century: towards the identification of some main trends

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The twenty-first century: towards the identification of some main trends

Preliminary contribution of the Analysis and Forecasting Office to the work

of the Executive Board’s Task Force on UNESCO in the Twenty-First Century

Background: At its first working meeting on 29 and 30 September 1999, the Executive Board’s Task Force on UNESCO in the Twenty-First Century asked the Director of the Analysis and Forecasting Office to prepare, for the attention of the Task Force members, a document providing an overview of some of the main trends anticipated in the twenty-first century, with a view to its meeting on 21-24 February 2000. "[This document]", according to the provisional agenda, "will serve as an aide-mémoire for us throughout our work. The [main task] will be to acquaint ourselves with the document and to discuss it with its author. This item of the agenda will not require any conclusions to be drawn at this stage of the process."



Twelve possible trends 3

1. The rapid development of the third industrial revolution 3

2. The continuing progress of globalization, and its increasing effects 4

3. Poverty, inequality and exclusion: are these trends being reinforced? 5

4. The emergence of new threats to peace and security 6

5. The increasingly acute problems arising from population

growth, the demographic transition and dangers to health
(emerging and re-emerging diseases)

6. The massive urbanization of the world’s population 10

7. The rapid degradation of the world’s environment 11

8. The rise of the information society 14

9. Probable changes in democracy and systems of international
and regional governance against the backdrop of globalization
and the third industrial revolution

10. Enhancing the role of women, and fresh prospects

for gender equality

11. New cross-cultural encounters: cultural pluralism,

diversity and creativity

12. The growing influence of science and technology

and the new ethical challenges

Acting to meet the challenges of the future: some lines of action 23


According to the Medium-Term Strategy for 1996-2001, "a future-oriented outlook capable of inspiring action should be a natural attribute of an international organization committed to intellectual cooperation. Without downplaying the importance of activities responding to the most pressing needs, UNESCO must continue to be a place that looks to the future on behalf of the international community. The aim must be to foresee in order to forewarn" (28 C/4 Approved, para. 212).

Against a fast changing international background, the work of an international organization such as UNESCO, which is faced with varying complex challenges, must at all times be based on an analysis of the main trends likely to have an effect on its spheres of competence. For this reason, the Medium-Term Strategy provides for increased anticipation and forecasting activities by UNESCO [1]. The future of the institution is at stake, as well as the relevance and effectiveness of its work and its continued credibility vis-à-vis Member States and the international intellectual and scientific community.

To remain within our remit, we will limit ourselves to first briefly identifying 12 possible trends which could present a challenge for the international community and multilateral institutions and organizations, during the first decades of the new century. This preliminary document is essentially based on a summary of a number of key points in UNESCO’ report The World Ahead: Our Future in the Making [2] and on some of the lessons which can so far be drawn from the series of Twenty-First Century Talks and Twenty-First Century Dialogues [3]. It attempts to pinpoint trends which are now in their early stages but seem set to continue, and indeed intensify - at least during the first few decades of the twenty-first century. The document also attempts to draw attention to the many links and connections which appear to exist between these trends. However, the scope of this exercise must be put into perspective right away; it in no way claims to predict or foresee but simply to provide a basis for forecasting activities, in a world which is fundamentally uncertain. We have no way of knowing what the future holds, but we can at least prepare for it. This report therefore outlines - in a short, provisional conclusion - a few of the key areas for priority action which could guide UNESCO in its work, so that suitable responses can be made to the pinpointed trends which highlight the Organization’s comparative advantages.

Twelve possible trends

1. The rapid development of the third industrial revolution

The "third industrial revolution" [4] is radically changing the societies in which we live. The signs of this revolution are the spread of the revolution in information technology, the rapid development of communication and information sciences and technologies, and the progress made in biology and genetics and their applications. New points of convergence are emerging between these new sectors of research and activity, and with other more traditional sectors and disciplines. The consequences of the growth of this new scientific and technical complex are only just beginning to be seen.

For the third industrial revolution, based on the information age and the rapid introduction of new technologies into all areas of human life, is shaking the very foundations of society. Built on the cyber revolution and on systems of codes - computer codes today, followed by genetic codes tomorrow - the third industrial revolution is subjecting the material production society to a new - immaterial - force, which is based on the signs of the "programmed society" [5]. The advent of this society is being precipitated by the rapid growth of world networks [6], both public and private, which are the main instruments of globalization, the pace of which they help to accelerate. If globalization today mainly concerns computers, telecommunications, financial markets, media and networks, it is because this phenomenon is first and foremost a consequence of the third industrial revolution. The effects of this revolution - which subjects societies to a fractal logic - have now penetrated the very fabric of our society. What effect will this trend towards dissociation have on institutions or historically inherited structures such as schools, the Nation-State, employment, the family, culture and cities? Is the main risk not that of a "dissociated society", the shrinking of public space and the erosion of the social contract?

Above all, what will be the pace - in terms of both temporal and spatial factors - of this industrial revolution, based as it is on capital-intensive activities which require major investment in education? Will the revolution concern all parts of the world or - as R&D investment suggests - only some regions? And within these regions, will some areas, or even megalopolises (the "global cities" described by Saskia Sassen [7]) be favoured at the expense of the rest of the world’s population? What can be done to offset this trend towards dissociation, which is bound up in the dynamics of the third industrial revolution? How can we ensure that globalization becomes a powerful force for emancipation and international solidarity, instead of one that generates exclusion and inward-looking attitudes?

2. The continuing progress of globalization, and its increasing effect on practices, behaviour, and social, economic, political, legal, ethical and institutional frameworks

It is true that globalization offers the potential benefit of improved means of information and communication, as well as the transport of this information, which would seem to provide nations and individuals with the tools for meeting one of UNESCO’s objectives: "the free flow of ideas by word and image" (Article I, Constitution). It would also seem to pave the way for the deepening of international cooperation in all areas, and for the growth of a new economy, based to a greater extent on intelligence and relationships. The new information and communication technologies provide fresh opportunities in the area of distance learning; access to entire libraries; the merging of various means of communicating knowledge. They hint at the promise of a society of networks - one which is decentralized, more democratic and less hierarchical. Globalization could contribute not just to the fragmentation of societies but also to the spread of an international consciousness; in other words an abiding feeling that planet Earth is our motherland (Terre Patrie in the words of the sociologist Edgar Morin). This globalization is both destructive and constructive, breaking down as it does the process of mediation by institutions while at the same time helping to rebuild the human world.

Globalization - or rather the different forms of globalization - also constitutes an unprecedented and manifold challenge, however. As an economic and financial phenomenon, it is redefining the boundaries of world production and commerce. As the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) pointed out in its recent report [8], we are witnessing the rapid emergence of an international production system, the central element of which is foreign direct investment (FDI) by transnational companies (TNCs) [9]. But the benefits of this kind of globalization continue to be restricted to certain areas: despite the overall increase in FDI, the share of the developing countries in the total world flow of FDI is decreasing (26% in 1998 compared to 37% in 1997), while Japan, North America and Western Europe together account for 63% of this type of investment (compared to 61% in 1988). The African continent and a great many developing countries elsewhere are excluded from this investment. Moreover, this kind of globalization has had very little positive effect on long-term investment in social areas such as education and health, concentrating instead on investments considered to be more profitable in the short term.

This being so, what can be done to ensure that globalization is first and foremost a vector of cooperation, dialogue, creativity and universality rather than of discontent? Will it reinforce in the twenty-first century the imbalances in development and the concentration of economic and decision-making power [10]? Will it, as is suggested in the latest World Bank Report [11], lead to the development of "localization" - in other words, an increase in the economic and political power of cities, provinces and other local authorities? Will the international community and the main actors of the emerging worldwide civil society be able to bring about globalization for the benefit of all, in line with the wish expressed by the G7 Member States (Lyon, 1996)? Will it be possible to make globalization more "civilized" and meaningful? Does this type of globalization not call for rules to be laid down which build on the achievements of recent decades and enable the ethical aspects of the development of this phenomenon to be controlled?

3. Poverty, inequality and exclusion: are these trends being reinforced?

It is true that considerable progress has been made over recent decades. In its 1997 Human Development Report, UNDP stressed that poverty has decreased more in the last 50 years than in the last five centuries. In the last 36 years, life expectancy at birth has increased in the developing countries by 16 years - from 46 to 62 years [12]; the infant mortality rate in the developing countries has decreased by over 50% since 1960 [13]; between 1970 and 1995, the adult literacy rate in the developing countries has increased by almost 50%, from 48% to 70%; and literacy rates for women have increased by more than two thirds over the last 20 years [14]; over the last three decades the number of people living in countries with a high level of human development has increased from 429 million to 1.2 billion, while those living in countries with a low level of human development has decreased from 1.9 billion to 1.7 billion [15].

However, over 3 billion individuals - over half the human race - are trying to survive, living in poverty on less than $2 a day [16]; 1.5 billion individuals have no drinking water and over 2 billion do not get basic health care. Seventy per cent of poor people are women, and two thirds of poor people are under 15.

According to the World Bank, on the basis of current projections the number of people living in absolute poverty looks set to rise. By 2015, 1.9 billion people could be living below the absolute poverty threshold, which is equivalent to $1 a day (compared to 1.5 billion people at the dawn of the new millennium and 1.2 billion in 1987) [17]. In the next 25 years, the world population could increase by approximately 1.8 billion people, from 6 billion to 7.8 billion (although there is increasing doubt as to how quickly this growth will really come about; see trend 5). Ninety-seven per cent of these 1.8 billion people will be born in the developing world: in 25 years, at least 85% of the total world population will probably live in developing or transitional economies [18], which will have to bear the brunt of this demographic growth - unless there are new waves of South-North migration. Over the next 25 years, the countries of the South will have to integrate at least a further billion people in the labour market; merely to integrate the newcomers in the market for the first time, and to maintain the standard of living of those on the current threshold, they will have to sustain economic growth of 70% - in other words over 2% a year [19]. And the concentration of resources in the hands of a few could continue, or even intensify, which would make the situation worse. The ratio of income of the richest 20% to the poorest 20% increased from 30 to 1 in 1960; 61 to 1 in 1991; and a staggering 74 to 1 in 1997 [20]. In addition, the rise in poverty can be measured not only in economic terms but also in terms of education, technology, culture, environment and health.

For example, some 800 million people in the developing world - more than the populations of Europe and North America put together - suffer from chronic malnutrition [21]. Over the period 1990/1992 to 1995/1997, the number of those suffering from malnutrition decreased by 40 million, from 830 million to 790 million. This decrease was brought about by the considerable progress achieved in 37 countries which managed to reduce by 100 million the number of undernourished people. However, in the rest of the developing world, the number of people suffering from chronic malnutrition has increased by nearly 60 million, according to the report [22], and some 200 million children are seriously affected by malnutrition in the developing world [23]. The current decrease (an average of 8 million people a year) is insufficient to fulfil the pledge taken at the World Food Summit in November 1996 by 186 countries: to cut by half the number of people suffering from malnutrition by 2015. This objective could only be met if this figure decreased by 20 million people a year.

Will the twenty-first century see an increase in new types of poverty, new inequalities, new kinds of exclusion, new forms of apartheid - urban, technological, and cultural? Will these new types of poverty accumulate and add to the imbalances which already exist with regard to development? Will the coming century be marked by the domination of a nomadic "hyper-class" (Jacques Attali); the supremacy of "symbolic analysts" (Robert Reich), connected to the best networks; and a fractured society - the logical result of "selective matching" (Daniel Cohen) [24]? Can democracy and peace, but also the historically inherited structures of citizenship and sociability - schools, the Nation-State, and cities - survive an extreme, unprecedented polarization of wealth? Are UNESCO’s fields of competence not the keys to resolving these problems, providing there is national and international commitment to ensuring access for all to education, knowledge and information, throughout life?

4. The emergence of new threats to peace and security

According to Pierre Hassner, the world that came into being following the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 is marked by a new paradox, which replaces that proposed by Raymond Aron to describe the Cold War: "peace impossible, war improbable". Nowadays, while peace appears to be less impossible, war often seems to be that much less improbable since a number of States continue to devote considerable sums to defence, which are then not available when it comes to dealing with the non-military threats to their future, and facing up to the challenges of human development. In addition, new forms of violence and conflicts tend to spread "below or beyond the State level" [25] and we have seen a rise in the number of infra-State confrontations and inter-ethnic or inter-communal conflicts, which now represent the type of conflict par excellence at the dawn of the twenty-first century. Thus, out of the 82 armed conflicts recorded between 1989 and 1992, only three were between States [26]. According to SIPRI, in 1997 the number of major conflicts (those involving the deaths of over 1,000 people) was 25, and only one of them was a conflict between States [27]. If we include lower-intensity confrontations, the records show a constant increase in infra-State conflicts since the end of the Second World War. Such conflicts often take place against a background of the breakdown of the rule of law and of the powerlessness of national institutions. In such circumstances, are we to fear the growth, in the coming decades, of the phenomenon of "failed States" [28] and an increasing number of conflicts that take place without any respect whatsoever for international legal norms, making any attempt at mediation on the part of international institutions extremely difficult?

At the same time, there has been an increase in terrorism and organized crime, which, while maintaining their local roots, are rapidly becoming global phenomena. Civilians have become the main targets of aggression and violence, massacres, massive violations of human rights and rape, which is used as a weapon of war to terrorize people and destroy the bodily image of the Other. War itself, planned by soldiers and politicians, is often carried out on the ground by civilians, including young people and children. It hardly seems necessary to point out too that 90% of the victims of conflicts are now civilians, in largely infra-State conflicts, whereas at the beginning of the twentieth century 90% of the victims of conflicts were soldiers in largely inter-State conflicts. In the search for huge, illegal profits, mafia clans and gangs play an increasingly active role in such conflicts. The illegal economy of war and the growing trend for local conflicts to become an instrument of major economic interests, which are supported at the local level by corrupt war lords, tend to make such conflicts a mortal danger for the rule of law, institutions, democracy and development.

By transforming themselves, violence and war have assumed new forms, involving new kinds of weapons and participants, and have claimed new victims. The use of force is being de-institutionalized, privatized and professionalized; private armies are prospering, and a "virtual" climate of war or violence is even gradually gaining ground in cyberspace. In some countries, the logic of force and violence, whether collective or individual, is already present in the schools, where it is not arms that should speak, but peace and wisdom. At the dawn of the twenty-first century, we cannot but raise questions about the morbid influence exercised by a brutal culture on young people. Should we not also take account of the forms of violence that are developing in specific contexts (urban violence), which use new channels (the Internet, the media) or which affect particularly vulnerable groups of people (sexual exploitation and the exploitation of children)?

The end of the Cold War aroused great hopes: at long last, it would be possible to substantially reduce defence budgets and invest more in human development, in particular education. However, it has to be said that the famous "peace dividends" have yet to arrive. Admittedly, judging only from the figures, the "disarmament race", which began in 1989 after the fall of the Berlin Wall, seems to have borne fruit [29]. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) estimates that defence expenditure worldwide fell by a third from 1989 to 1998, representing an annual rate of 4.5% in real terms. However, this fall has since slowed down and 1999 is expected to show a rise in real terms [30]. Defence expenditure continues to be considerable at the global level and three years ago the industrialized countries still accounted for 75% of defence expenditure worldwide [31]. Moreover, the effect of disarmament has frequently been an increase in arms exports to the developing countries which are the theatres of most of the conflicts now taking place [32]. The situation is particularly disastrous in the case of small arms, which sustain internal conflicts [33].

In addition, as UNDP has pointed out, the "peace dividends" (over $900 billion worldwide towards the middle of the 1990s) have mostly been used "to reduce budgetary deficits and expenditure unrelated to development" [34]. Expenditure on arms absorbs resources that could have been allocated to education, scientific and technical development, the key infrastructures of development such as communication, environmental protection and cultural development [35]. In the developing countries "the risk of death due to the inadequacies of welfare policies (malnutrition or the lack of health care), according to a United Nations report, is 33 times greater than the risk of dying during a war of aggression launched by a foreign State [36]. Is it not vital for the appropriate international and regional institutions to give new impetus to the mechanisms for the prevention and settlement of disputes not only between States but also within the countries themselves? How can we ensure that the peace dividends are used for the construction of peace in the twenty-first century?

However, the threats to peace and security are no longer solely of a military nature. In recent decades there has been an increase in awareness, at both the national and international level, of the many different dimensions of peace and security. The United Nations conferences held during the 1990s on topics as diverse as the environment, human rights, population, women, social development and cities have contributed towards this change, by emphasizing the complex nature of the challenges posed to human peace and security. Should not security therefore embrace in the future - in addition to the traditional area which consists of the protection of the State - economic, social, cultural and human security and global security? Should we not invest in the struggle against the many threats that now span frontiers and require coordinated action at the global level (climatic and biological threats; corruption and organized crime; financial crime; trafficking in drugs, arms, human beings, organs and cultural goods)? As Olof Palme stated 13 years ago in the introduction to a famous report: "Our alternative is common security ... international security must rest on a commitment to joint survival rather than on a threat of mutual destruction" [37].

In view of the increasing interdependence of political, economic, financial, social and environmental phenomena, will the United Nations Security Council not feel impelled to include on a more systematic basis, among its fields of competence, other threats which endanger human security: the degradation of the environment and living conditions; population problems; cultural and ethnic rivalries; and all forms of violations of human rights [38]?

The building of peace and security will henceforth require recognition of all the new dimensions of human security; the introduction of policies and mechanisms for prevention and mediation (building bridges rather than barriers); the long-term investment in peace-building and, thus, in sustainable human development (rather than emergency therapy); and the promotion of awareness of a planetary citizenship and of an "Earth identity" (Edgar Morin). Is not the best guarantee of common survival the construction of societies in which we could learn to live together? UNESCO’s fields of competence provide so many focuses for concerted action and for efforts to raise the awareness of young people, the media and decision-makers.

5. The increasingly acute problems arising from population growth (development, poverty, food security, disputes), the demographic transition (training of the younger generations, ageing, social welfare systems, employment), and dangers to health (emerging and re-emerging diseases)

World population passed the mark of 1 billion people in 1804, 2 billion in 1927, 4 billion in 1974 and 6 billion in October 1999. According to the intermediate projections of the United Nations it could reach 8 billion in 2028 and 9 billion in 2054, when it will then stabilize at about that figure. Thus, there would not be any demographic bomb, but, rather a strong increase followed by a levelling off; according to some demographers there could even be, in a few decades’ time, an implosion: the low projections by the United Nations predict that world population will reach a ceiling around 2050 of about 7.3 billion, and then begin to fall. Since in recent years the increase has, in fact, been between the intermediate projection and the low projection - though closer to the former than the latter - and since the demographic transition has accelerated during the last decade, it can no longer be excluded that the world’s population will scarcely exceed 8 billion people by about 2050. However, we also know that, if fertility remained unchanged - a theoretical possibility which is clearly highly improbable - the world’s population would reach 14 billion by 2050, 52 billion by 2100 and - if the human species ever reached that point - 255 billion by 2150, a wholly incredible figure.

Moreover, on account of the very fact of the demographic transition, the world’s population is ageing: the under 15s would go from 31% to 19% of the world’s population from 1995 to 2050, according to the United Nations’ intermediate scenario, and the over 60s would increase proportionately during the same period from 10% to 22%. China provides a good illustration of this trend: now slightly less than 10%, the percentage of persons aged over 65 could rise to about 22% in 50 years, which would represent a jump from 50 million to 280 million people between 1980 and 2050. A pyramid representing the ages of the world’s population would then look less and less like a pyramid: the base, which represents the younger generations, would become narrower and the point, which represents the older generations, would rise higher and higher.

The geographical distribution of the world’s population is also changing. Examples of this are provided by Africa (12% of the world’s population in 1995, 20% in 2050 according to the intermediate projections), and by Europe and North America (18% in 1995, 11% in 2050). In the absence of strong migratory flows, the populations of Europe and Japan should decline over the next 50 years. According to a preliminary report of the United Nations entitled "Replacement Migration: Is it a Solution to Declining and Ageing Populations?", there would be no other solution than immigration to offset the drastic decrease in the balance between the working and non-working populations. Thus, Europe would need 159 million immigrants between now and 2025 in order to maintain the balance unchanged between the working and non-working populations. But isn’t the equation between immigration and the halting of demographic decline too simple [39]?

The causes of mortality are also changing. In its 1996 report, the World Health Organization (WHO) uttered a warning: "We stand on the brink of a global crisis in infectious diseases. No country is safe from them. No country can any longer afford to ignore their threat". Admittedly, considerable progress has been achieved in the struggle against infectious diseases: smallpox has been eradicated; the year 2000 could also see the end of poliomyelitis and dracunculosis. However, a third of all deaths worldwide are still attributable to infectious diseases caused by bacteria and viruses: some are new, others are in constant mutation, while others still have learnt to resist the treatments that have protected us up to the present, and they all have a worrying tendency to travel. One disease departs and another arrives: in 1980 WHO announced the worldwide eradication of smallpox; in the following year, 1981, AIDS was identified for the first time. Meanwhile, major diseases like tuberculosis are re-emerging, new agents of infection such as the prion have been identified, several known diseases have developed resistance to the traditional antibiotics [40], and vaccine research is on the decline [41]. In Botswana, the country most affected by the AIDS epidemic, a quarter of the adult population is infected by the AIDS virus. Life expectancy at birth has fallen from 61 years to 47 years over the last decade, while, without the AIDS epidemic, it would now be 67 years. Life expectancy has also fallen in the Russian Federation and in several countries of the former USSR [42].

There is a link between the education of girls and issues of population and development. According to several studies by the World Bank in Kenya, bringing women to the same level of education as men would increase crop yields from 9% to 22%, and providing primary schooling for all girls would increase them by a quarter. In addition, there are plenty of case studies on the impact of the education of women on social development: in Brazil, mothers who have never attended school have on average 6.5 children, instead of 2.5 in the case of those who have had a secondary education. In the Indian state of Kerala, in which by far the majority of the population has been taught to read and write, the infantile mortality rate is the lowest in the whole of the developing world and the fertility rate is the lowest in India. In the South, but also in the North, women are, therefore - as Edgar Morin nicely put it 30 years ago about the Breton women of Plozévet - the "secret agents of modernity". Is not the best form of contraception education for all throughout life?

6. The massive urbanization of the world’s population, which is bringing about a change of scale in the cities and is accompanied by unprecedented phenomena and challenges (poverty and urban exclusion; urban secession; environmental challenges; access to natural and cultural resources; the right to housing; new problems of urban citizenship and the contraction of public space)

Seventy-five per cent of the population of the industrialized countries (i.e. 0.9 billion people) now live in cities, while in the developing countries the percentage is estimated to be 45%. By 2025, if current trends continue unchanged, the proportions should rise in the North to 84% (1 billion people) and in the South to 57% (i.e. about 4 billion people: 85% in Latin America, 54% in Africa and 55% in Asia) [43]. The world’s urban population is currently growing two or three times faster that its rural population.

If these trends are confirmed, it has been estimated that the equivalent of a thousand cities of 3 million inhabitants would have to be built over the next 40 years, i.e. almost as many cities as exist today! Such an urban revolution, which is first and foremost quantitative, would especially affect the developing countries. According to the World Bank, the cities in the developing countries alone will grow at the current rate by 65 million inhabitants a year - which is equivalent to adding to the planet a "suburb" with the population of Turkey every year [44]. Urban expansion on a gigantic scale is moving towards the South: two thirds of the world’s population living in megalopolises are concentrated in the least developed regions: in the year 2000, six of the world’s ten largest cities are already located in Asia, two in North America and two in Latin America. In 2015, only one of the ten most inhabited cities is expected to be situated in the North (Tokyo) and none in the West.

Admittedly, this trend in the growth of megalopolises is not inexorable: the growth of large cities is already slowing down in many countries, particularly in India and in Egypt, where the populations are now hardly increasing at more than the "natural growth rate". However, it is nonetheless the case that the problems of the city will henceforth need to be solved in a context that will not only be very different from that of the past, but also, at the same time, very diverse. Urban expansion is now strongest in the poorest regions - where it is then unaccompanied by real development - but also in those regions which are experiencing the most rapid economic growth. In the latter case, a "boom" often produces a chaotic explosion which gives rise to considerable problems relating to the provision of drinking water, energy and food security, and to violence, marginalization and exclusion. Consequently, many countries have experienced a growth of "gated communities" surrounded by walls, protected by barriers or isolated by distance. In the United States, between 4 million and 8 million people, according to some assessments, live like this in very highly protected residential areas. According to an OECD report published in 1996, 35 million Americans live in 150,000 communities managed by private associations [45].

Attracted by the "city lights", millions of people leave the poverty of rural areas to go and live in the wretched "accompanied loneliness" of large cities, where they often find themselves lacking the most elementary amenities, such as schools, sanitation or basic infrastructures, in a situation of poverty and exclusion that often provides fertile ground for violence and extremism. In such situations, how are cities to be humanized? How are habits of urban behaviour and civility to be re-created? How are the excluded to be assimilated?

7. The rapid degradation of the world’s environment caused by climatic warming, non-sustainable modes of consumption, old and new forms of pollution (air, water, soil, ocean, chemical and invisible pollution) and to the unprecedented reduction in the biodiversity of the world’s ecosystems

We now know that failing widespread measures, taken promptly and prolonged by coordinated and long-term policies, the impact of human activity on the global environment threatens the survival of the biosphere and of future generations:

  1. Global climatic warming largely results, according to the vast majority of scientists, from gas emission with a greenhouse effect caused by human activity and modern modes of consumption, primarily those which are bound up with urbanization (thermal power plants, industrial pollution, motor traffic, etc.). This warming is persistent. Since the beginning of the twentieth century, the mean temperature has risen by 1º on the continents and by 0.6º in the oceans [46]; yet, it has been shown that variations of a mere 2° or 3º can considerably modify the world environment [47]. In November 1999, scientists showed the icecap covering the Arctic Ocean to be 40% thinner today than it was 20 to 40 years ago [48]; and the thawing of the Earth’s glaciers would lead to a veritable ecological disaster. Global warming also seems to be accompanied by greater variability and considerable regional or local disturbances. These could be the cause of radical climatic changes in some regions of the world and of a growing number of increasingly serious "natural" disasters whose precursory signs are already to be observed. It is nevertheless clear that, where control of gas emissions with a greenhouse effect is concerned, the progress made since the Rio Conference in 1992 has had a limited impact. The sheer scale of these challenges calls for a revolution in energy efficiency. Today, some of the largest transnational oil companies are wagering on rapid developments in renewable energies (solar, wind energy, etc.). For its part, the motor industry has designed new car models based on the concept of "hyper-cars" or hydrogen-propelled vehicles. The future belongs to energy efficiency. But policy-making and the market seem to be way behind these needed technical changes.

  2. Water is not evenly distributed: it is abundant, it is "running", but not everywhere and for everyone. Almost a quarter of humanity, i.e. one billion four hundred million people, does not have access to clean and drinking water and over half the world’s population lacks proper sanitation. Accelerated urbanization, particularly in the developing countries, results in a growing number of people living in peri-urban areas or in shantytowns, where it is extremely difficult to provide a clean water supply. WHO estimates that 30 million people die each year because of epidemics and infectious diseases caused by water pollution, whether cholera, hepatitis, dengue, malaria or other parasitic infections, whose effects are particularly devastating in the developing countries. Given the water shortages affecting a number of regions of the world, intensified by excessive irrigation and urban growth, are we headed for water wars in the twenty-first century? Twenty-six countries are exposed to "water stress". Six more could be as from 2010. In some regions, geopolitical tensions to do with water use may mount as and when competition for this "blue gold" intensifies. True, the world’s demands for water, in most regions, will cease to rise faster than the populations in the twenty-first century - contrary to the increase generally observed during the second half of the twentieth century. Future water crises will therefore be due less to increased demand as such than to the high rates of utilization per inhabitant, even stabilized, of natural waters and to the economic inability to cover demand, even not on the rise.

  3. To meet the challenges of water will require above all policies on the judicious use of water resources so as to put an end to the excessive consumption of water in agriculture, which at present uses up worldwide close to two thirds of all the water taken from rivers, lakes, streams and the phreatic layers. But behaviour patterns must also be altered: while an American consumes 425 litres of water per day for private and domestic purposes, a French person uses 150 and a Malagasy living in a rural area makes do with 10. The problem is not that of a scarcity of water worldwide but rather an inequitable distribution. This necessitates a new "water ethics" and a new "water culture", together with coordinated action and collective research, akin to that being conducted by UNESCO’s International Hydrological Programme.

  4. The depletion of the ozone layer, protector of life on Earth, has never been so great: the hole in the ozone layer above the Antarctic represented, in September 1998, an area two and a half times the size of Europe [49]. Of course, there are some encouraging signs: thus, thanks to steps already taken, experts predict that the restrictions on the use of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) will begin to bear fruit as from 2004, and that, if the provisions of international protocols are complied with, the ozone layer could be completely reconstituted by 2050 [50].

  5. Desertification is spreading: since 1977 (date of the first United Nations conference on desertification), close to 105 million hectares of once fertile land have been degraded. This is equivalent to nearly twice the area of France. In the 1990s, soil degradation exceeded that of the preceding 20 years. Today, desertification directly affects 250 million people and is threatening close to 1 billion human beings living on arid lands in approximately 110 countries [51]. This figure could double by 2050: desertification would then affect 2 billion people, or even more, if desert areas continue to expand at the present rate.

  6. All natural environments are directly affected. While forests still cover a quarter of the planet’s emerged lands, the net loss of forest cover in the world is estimated at some 11.3 million hectares per year, even if an ever-increasing number of countries are endeavouring to manage forests more effectively and to take greater account of environmental factors in this domain [52]. The oceans are also affected: continental fishery resources, constituting one of the main sources of food and protein for millions of people, are threatened by environmental damage and need immediate protective measures. In addition, changes in ocean circulation worldwide, accelerated by human activities, are directly endangering the present dynamics of the Earth’s climate and ecosystems.

  7. Chemical pollution and invisible pollution are on the increase [53]. According to some estimates, industry markets in all about a thousand new chemical manufactures per year; there are thought to exist in the world several million synthetic chemicals and 72,000 chemical compounds used commercially. Out of this number, only 1,600 compounds have reportedly been tested for their teratogenic potential, i.e. their ability to cause congenital malformation. This is a recent phenomenon due in particular to the emergence in the past 50 years of new modes of consumption and production, primarily in agriculture-based industry. World fertilizer production trebled between 1966 and 1996. These chemicals are present in countless consumer and maintenance products throughout the world, in cardboard and plastic packaging, in the waters of all the oceans and in the air, houses, schools and work-places. They pass through the food chain and cross the barriers of the species. As emphasized by Theo Colborn, author of a book on this subject with a revealing title, Our Stolen Future, the medical and scientific community sees a growing number of correlations between the presence of such chemicals and the emergence of alarming trends affecting health and the environment. Scientists are just beginning to look more closely at these links, already attested to in a number of animal species, between certain types of toxic chemical and a wide range of health problems (progression of cancers, asthma, disorders of the central nervous system, sensitivity to chemicals; increased number of genital defects in male children, breast cancer in women; decline in male fertility and aggravation of reproduction problems; the possible link between the use of persistent organic chemicals and aggressive behaviour in young people). A number of pesticides or dangerous chemicals have been prohibited or strictly controlled in some countries. And yet these very same chemicals can be exported to poor countries, where they are used without many precautions and give rise to frequent cases of poisoning. Is there not a need in this sphere to harmonize policies and legislative controls, develop research centres and exchange information and instruction on the dangers of invisible pollutants and on the utilization of potentially toxic products?

  8. Biodiversity is also likely to diminish considerably in the coming decades. Many of the species described to date (between 1.5 million and 1.8 million, including 360,000 plants and micro-organisms, 990,000 invertebrates and 45,000 vertebrates) are now being depleted or even dying out at a speed 1,000 to 10,000 times greater than in the major geological periods of extinction. According to the experts, if we continue destroying at the present rate the humid tropical forest, which contains 50% of the known species and the vast majority of the unknown species, up to 25% of animal species could vanish from the face of the Earth by 2025 [54]. We must, as the biologist Jean Rostand said, "protect the unknown for unknown reasons". Should not understanding of the role of biological diversity be improved in society by means of education? Should we not promote the environmental sciences and the mechanisms for the observation, study and scientific preservation of biodiversity?

We have known, since the submission of the conclusions of the Brundtland Report (Our Common Future, 1987) and the first Earth Summit in Rio (1992), that we have to move towards sustainable development, meaning a type of development allowing present generations to meet their basic needs without jeopardizing satisfaction of the basic needs of future generations. Unlike our predecessors, who acted in ignorance of the consequences of their action, we are now aware that we are endangering the survival of the biosphere and of future generations. The relative inertia of present policies is therefore particularly disappointing since there is no longer the excuse of ignorance or doubt. Environmental challenges can only be taken up at the cost of extensive and long-term political, scientific, technological and industrial mobilization, primarily in the field of the life and environmental sciences.

In addition to the environmental issues, is there not a moral issue involved? Does not a solution to these global problems also presuppose the rise of a worldwide ethical awareness, and the drawing up of what the philosopher Michel Serre calls the "natural contract", i.e. a contract of symbiosis and reciprocity, where our relationship with things would trade in control and possession for reciprocity and respect, and where knowledge would no longer imply ownership nor action dominance?" [55]. Do not the complexity, the globality and the potential irreversibility of the phenomena that are affecting the global environment require UNESCO to undertake concrete and specific tasks in its various fields of competence in order to help meet international commitments, specifically those of the Earth Summit and the Kyoto Summit. Fostering advancement of the sciences and knowledge essential to devising suitable and universally accepted solutions, helping to build an ethics of the future and promoting environmental education could in this respect be treated as priorities.

8. The rise of the information society

The emergence, at greatly differing paces in the various parts of the world, of an information society is raising great hopes regarding access to knowledge, communication and culture. But it will need to take up a major challenge: that posed by the inequitable distribution of access between developed and developing countries, and even within countries. The number of Internet servers - computers with a direct link to the Internet - rose from 100,000 in 1988 to over 36 million in 1998. The informatics revolution is causing and will continue to cause unprecedented economic, social and cultural upheavals, which we have already briefly mentioned above (see trend 1).

Many experts consider the informatics, telecommunications and broadcasting industries to be converging. Information, sound and image can nowadays be transmitted at high speed with the same digital coding processes. Can that convergence - in an order of codes, information, communication and informatics - be said to be the cultural event par excellence of the end of the twentieth century? The communication and information revolution is marked in the first place by the development of a universal language: that of digital technology. Digital representation has decisive advantages over other systems of representation: the universality of coding, infinite replication at virtually nil marginal cost of almost nothing, ubiquity and instantaneity. All texts, images and sounds can now be represented in the same universal number series form.

However, digitization and mathematization of the real are not without their drawbacks: a certain ontological link with reality slackens, opening the way to many abuses, of which image manipulation and electronic tricks are a foretaste. But above all, the generalization of digital representations encourages a certain confusion between truth and fiction, between nature and artifice, between reality and the representation of what we believe to be reality. It encourages the manipulation of codes, images and symbols.

The rapid development of new technologies raises great expectations since it creates a new generation of instruments which will be capable of assisting development, education and the transmission of knowledge, democracy and pluralism; some see in the Internet the outline of a new social architecture that is self-organized, horizontal and anti-hierarchical, open and interactive. But the ongoing revolution also raises some essential questions about the consequences of this form of "globalization", which is marked, according to José Joaquín Brunner, by "a reorganization of time and space" [56]. Apart from to the industrial innovation that the new information and communication technologies introduce, societal options can be discerned. What impact will the Internet have not only on commercial and financial markets, fiduciary forms of exchange (by the creation of a "cyber-money"), work, trade and consumption, but also on the information and creation media, education and the transmission of knowledge and know-how? What portion will be reserved in the world information society for the public Internet, and what portion for the private Internets? How can we help "maintain, increase and diffuse knowledge" [57] in this radically new context? Some are already speaking indiscriminately of the "information society" and of the "knowledge society". Should we not stop confusing "information" and "knowledge"? Is the oversupply of information not condemning knowledge, which requires control over information through knowledge and critical reflection, hence through education?

Most of all, participation in the "civilization of the immaterial" is extremely patchy in different parts of the world. For the 600,000 towns or villages and their 2 billion inhabitants still without electricity, what can "information highways" really mean? In the opinion of Paul Kennedy, "we are entering the twenty-first century in the midst of a technology revolution that threatens not to fill the gap between rich and poor countries, but to widen the gap even further" [58]. In fact, 80% of the world’s population do not have access to basic telecommunication facilities, and only 2.4% have access to the Internet (26.3% in the United States, 6.9% in the other OECD countries, 0.1% in sub-Saharan Africa, 0.04% in South Asia). How can we fight against "techno-apartheid" when, as we know, the new technologies are one of the keys to the twenty-first century, to the accessing of information and to the setting up of distance education networks? Is it not the case that a system where fewer than 3 individuals out of 100 have access to new information sources is, as Paul Kennedy suggests, "undemocratic and structurally unsound" [59]?

Cyberspace is not something out of this world, but very much a part of it: sovereign democratic institutions must encourage the use of this medium, which brings people closer together rather than putting them at loggerheads and distancing them from one another. The development of cyberculture must be coupled with the invention of a cyberethics. Each Member State has the duty to negotiate the principles of cyberethics in democratic fashion, in consultation and cooperation with all concerned partners, both governmental and non-governmental, at the international level [60]. Surely it is time to reflect on the whole field of telematics - equipment, infrastructure, the cost of telecommunications - on which development is now largely contingent. Surely we must act to reduce inequalities by focusing on the notion of "universal access" and education for all throughout life.

9. Probable changes in democracy and systems of international and regional governance against the backdrop of continuing globalization and the onset of the third industrial revolution

The "globalization" of most of the challenges that we have mentioned will surely make it a matter of increasing urgency to strengthen systems of international and regional governance. According to Boutros Boutros-Ghali, "the international community will be increasingly confronted with global problems which can be solved only at the global level. For the time being, the only institution that exists, and which has the means for solving such global problems, is the United Nations" [61].

We must recognize that the challenges of the future all have a global dimension, and that now more than ever, our world needs international monitoring bodies and watchtowers in order that, by means of dialogue and multilateral cooperation, the ideals set forth in the United Nations Charter may prevail. In a world which is interdependent and increasingly aware of its common destiny, the solution of problems requires coordinated action at the global level. This is patently obvious in the areas of the environment and public health. To give two other examples, corruption knows no frontiers [62], and crime has also become globalized: it is estimated that organized crime has a gross income of $1.5 trillion per year [63], and according to the United Nations, profits from drugs trafficking amount to $400 billion per year, the equivalent of 8% of world trade [64]. As stressed by the Secretary-General of the United Nations, "We - the United Nations and all the institutions and members of civil society - also confront the threats posed by the forces of ‘uncivil society’: narco-traffickers, criminals, terrorists and others who capitalize on the new openness of borders, markets and communications, and who thrive where laws and institutions are weak. These and many other issues transcend national borders. They are beyond the power of any single nation to address on its own. Progress in the years ahead will require unprecedented levels of cooperation and collaboration among peoples of different cultures, religions and values. Thus the need for a common instrument of global service has never been greater"[65].

In order to meet all these challenges for the future, which are complex, global and interlinked, there is no task quite so difficult or so pressing as learning to live together, as urged by the Delors Commission [66]. Faced with an increasingly globalized market, will we move towards more developed forms of international and regional democracy? Will democratization - defined as "a process which leads to a more open, more participatory, less authoritarian society" [67]

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