Policy reform

Policy reform

Policy reform, in addition to its more general meanings, has been used to refer to a future scenario which relies on government action to correct economic market failures and to stimulate the technological investment necessary for sustainable development and the creation of a truly sustainable planetary society.


Policy Reform is one of six possible future scenarios put forth by the Global Scenario Group (GSG), which was convened in 1995 by Paul Raskin, president of the Stockholm Environmental Institute and Tellus Institute. These scenarios are summarized in GSG’s 2002 report entitled [http://www.GTInitiative.org Great Transition: The Promise and Lure of the Times Ahead] . It is categorized within this report as one of two ‘conventional worlds’ because it does not require a societal shift in fundamental values, power structure, or transformation of human consciousness. Put simply, conventional worlds scenarios correspond to the dominant world views of global leaders pursuing business-as-usual.

Rather than positing a dramatic shift in society (either towards devastating collapse (Barbarization) or complete harmony with nature (Great Transition)), Policy Reform posits incremental changes to economic, industrial, technological, and environmental forces. The goal of these changes is to create a sustainable world while maintaining current consumption and lifestyle practices.

A contrasting scenario, that is also part of business-as-usual, is Market Forces. This scenario assumes that the invisible hand of the market will foster development, as a “rising tide lifts all boats.” It stands on the idea that the market is a self regulating entity, and that human progress and innovation (i.e., new technologies and business practices spurred by competition) will always overcome challenges.

Both of these are possible bridges between environmental concern and economic growth. Such bridges constitute the field of sustainable development, as opposed to such movements as Eco-Communalism, which calls for a reduction in consumption and de-industrialization to achieve environmental sustainability. While Market Forces relies heavily on technology to achieve sustainable development; “Policy Reform depends on government action to seek a sustainable future” ( [http://www.gtinitiative.org/documents/Great_Transitions.pdf Great Transitions] , Pg. 16).

Libertarian free-market capitalists and defenders of the Washington Consensus correspond to a Market Forces scenario, arguing this should be the official perspective on international development. Keyensian economists, public figures like Al Gore or Kofi Annan, and the many organizations working for sustainable development correspond to a Policy Reform scenario, and see inherent flaws in the unregulated forces of the market; most notably “tendencies towards economic crisis, social conflict and environmental degradation” ( [http://www.gtinitiative.org/documents/Great_Transitions.pdf Great Transitions] , Pg. 17).

New Sustainability Paradigm

The Policy Reform and Market Forces scenario are optimistic in their assumptions that business-as-usual is sufficient to meet the mounting challenges facing humanity. One unanswered question among those who’d support a Policy Reform scenario, is where would the political will for change come from? In contrast, the New Sustainability Paradigm (NSP), which is put forth as the ideal future scenario in [http://www.gtinitiative.org/documents/Great_Transitions.pdf Great Transition: The Promise and Lure of the Times Ahead] , posits a radical shift in the consciousness and the engagement of civil society. Whereas, Policy Reform relies on strong leaders to be the stewards of the future, NSP asks what might happen if the citizens of the world where to find a voice in the ongoing debates about the emerging planetary phase of civilization?

To illustrate the contrasting perspectives, one can look at the differences between the World Economic Forum and the World Social Forum. World Economic Forum is a yearly meeting in Davos, Switzerland, that has the stated purpose of “improving the state of the world by engaging leaders in partnerships to shape global, regional and industry agendas” (WEF). This represents a belief that increased coordination among powerful global actors is sufficient to create a sustainable world. Contrasting this is the World Social Forum. This forum grew as a response to the WEF by the anti-globalization movement. It is made up of civil society groups and NGO’s from around the globe. This example shows a burgeoning latency of citizen desire to shape the global future and is in line with the NSP but highly irregular to Policy Reform.

Another concept important to understanding policy reform is ‘proximate drivers’. These include population, economy, technology and governance. Proximate Drivers are responsive to changes in policy: through mechanisms such as tariffs, taxes, and environmental regulations.

Below the surface of proximate drivers are ultimate drivers. These are the underlying causes that shape society: human values and needs, culture, power structures and systems for organizing knowledge and understanding. Contrasting Policy Reform, the New Sustainability Paradigm scenario assumes transformational shifts in these “root causes that shape society and the human experience” ( [http://www.gtinitiative.org/documents/Great_Transitions.pdf Great Transition] , p.49).

A real world example of this contrast might include the Global Reporting Initiative, which seeks to create voluntary reporting mechanisms for corporations to report on their impact on sustainable development goals. This focus on proximate drivers contrasts with efforts like [http://www.corporation2020.org/ Corporation 2020] which seek to alter the underlying principals of corporate form and governance. The [http://www.earthcharter.org/ Earth Charter Initiative] is another example of an attempt to address ultimate drivers, in this case by shifting underlying values.


This specific usage of the phrase Policy Reform is heavily influenced by the ideas of John Maynard Keynes, an economist who saw firsthand the failures of the free market during the great depression. It was his belief that capitalism must be monitored and corralled in order to prevent periodic economic tantrums (Keynes, 1936). This idea of capitalism being guided by political decision-making is at the heart of Policy Reform.

While government intervention in economic affairs is nothing new, there have been recent milestones towards a more global recognition of policy reform. The UN World Summit on Sustainability in 2002 marked one of these milestones. It rallied nations together to work cohesively towards policy change. Other examples include the UN’s Global Compact which challenges businesses to adhere to social and environmental standards.


*(UNEP) http://www.unep.org/civil_society/major_groups/index.asp
*(WEF) http://www.weforum.org/en/about/index.htm
* [http://www.gtinitiative.org Great Transition] - Raskin, Paul et al. 2002 Stockholm Environmental Institute, Boston

External links

* [http://www.un.org/esa/sustdev/index.html United Nations Division for Sustainable Development]
* [http://www.un.org/events/wssd/ UN World Summit on Sustainable Development]
* [http://www.clintonglobalinitiative.org/NETCOMMUNITY/Page.aspx?&pid=346&srcid=-2 Clinton Global Initiative]
* [http://www.gsg.org/ GSG ]
* [http://www.gtinitiative.org/ GTI ]
* [http://www.tellus.org/ Tellus ]
* [http://www.sei.se/ SEI ]
* [http://www.unep.org UNEP ]
* [http://www.globalreporting.org/Home GRI ]
* [http://www.corporation2020.org/ Corp2020 ]

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