Although 2015 is marked largely by the strife-ridden events across most parts of the world, it is also notable for landmark events likely to impact, with significant twists and turns, the future of the globe. Profound changes -- both for the better and for the worse - are likely to shape things in the days ahead.
One of the events viewed positively is, no doubt, the Paris climate agreement. The agreement is being hailed as a determined move forward after repeated attempts in the past to reach a conclusive deal. Many tend to look at the Paris agreement as more than what has been official -- limiting the increase in global warming to the target of 2ºC. In fact, the agreement did strike the signal loud and clear that the world is moving, inexorably, towards a green economy. One day, not too far off, fossil fuels will be largely a thing of the past. So, anyone who invests in coal now, does so at his or her own peril. With more green investments coming to the fore, agencies which are financing such investments will, hopefully, counterbalance powerful lobbying by the coal industry, which is set to put the world at risk to advance its shortsighted interests. Despite the many challenges ahead, it must be agreed that the deal has paved the way for the shift from a high-carbon economy where coal, gas and oil interests often dominate. It is from this perspective that the agreement may be seen as a harbinger of the spirit and mindset needed to sustain genuine global cooperation.
While the climate deal is believed to have snuffed much of the controversies that preceded the Summit, the ministerial conference of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) held in Nairobi, Kenya has sparked, according to many, controversial geo-economic decisions concerning global trade. There are mixed reactions though to the overall outcome of the conference; and those not totally averse to the results view these as face saving in as much as the implementation of the Doha issues are concerned. There are, of course, staunch critics who say that after years of desultory talks, the Doha issues were given a quiet burial in Nairobi. The United States stand - advocating free trade but refusing to abandon subsidies on cotton and other agricultural commodities - had posed the all important obstacle to the Doha negotiations. According to them, the US and Europe have mounted a 'divide-and-conquer' strategy, based on overlapping trade blocs and agreements.
As a result, what was intended to be a harmonious global trade regime has given way to a discordant one. Trade for much of the Pacific and Atlantic regions will be governed by agreements, thousands of pages in length are replete with complex rules of origin that contradict basic principles of multilateralism and the free flow of goods. The US concluded the deal on what is being termed the most controversial trade agreement in decades, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), now faces an uphill battle for ratification as the leading Democratic presidential candidates and many of the Republicans have weighed in against it. The problem is not so much with the agreement's trade provisions, but with the 'investment' chapter, which severely constrains environmental, health and safety regulation, and even financial regulations with significant macroeconomic impacts.
More importantly, the investment chapter gives foreign investors the right to sue governments in private international tribunals when they believe government regulations contravene the TPP's terms (inscribed on more than 6,000 pages). There are a lot of debates on issues such as employment-whether the negotiating countries would be on an equal plane in generating employment. It is being termed by many a means of rewarding the powerful at the cost of punishing the weak.
In the way things are set to move, it is not appropriate to conclude that failure of multilateralism has paved the way for smooth sailing of the mighty regional blocs jeopardising all that multilateralism promised, especially in matters of trade. True, the WTO Nairobi conference failed to rise up to what it was supposed to deliver. But there were some forward movements, and demeaning those as peanut is not the right thing to do. There were few things for the poor countries with promises to obtain more from the developed countries for their capacity building and sustenance in the uneven playing field. Pursuing these as well as other issues for the developing countries in future negotiations may produce results that Nairobi failed to achieve.
So, changes are inevitable, no matter how profound these are going to be for the future. While the predominance of powerful blocs is a likely reality, their conflicting interests may pave the way for discordant regimes to stir chaos in global trade and investment. On the other hand, it remains to be seen whether multilateralism under the auspices of the WTO and the like can eke out some space for common global good.