Can neoliberalism and sustainability coexist?

  • October 10, 2013
Can neoliberalism and sustainability coexist?

Gates Cambridge Scholar Albert Arhin calls for a new focus on economic policies which favour the poor in a co-authored journal article.

Neoliberal policies which focus largely on economic growth often run counter to sustainable development and a new focus on economic policies which favour the poor is needed, according to a journal article co-authored by a Gates Cambridge Scholar.

In the article, Can post-2015 sustainable development goals survive neoliberalism? A critical examination of the sustainable development–neoliberalism nexus in developing countries,  Gates Cambridge Scholar Albert Arhin and colleagues Emmanuel Kumi from the University of Reading and Thomas Yeboah from the Univerity of Cambridge’s Centre for Development Studies examine neoliberal policies of privatisation, trade liberalisation and government spending cuts and how they affect the attainment of sustainable development ideals and goals.

The article is published in the Journal of Environment, Development and Sustainability.

World leaders are working on a successor of the Millennium Development Goals which are due to expire by 2015 and are focusing on sustainable development. These will become the overarching framework for international cooperation and actions on the major problems that confront the world, including poverty, access to education and improved health.

The writers note that, in developing countries, the Millennium Development Goals have become “increasingly dominated by neoliberal orientation driven by market reforms, commodification of natural resources and a move towards enhancing the economic competitiveness of the supply side of the economy”.

They contend that relying solely on market mechanisms for governing and allocating environmental and economic resources “is necessarily insufficient and problematic”. They call for a new approach which shifts the focus from “pro-growth for poor towards pro-poor growth”, addresses equity issues and gives the poor greater power to influence policy.

Albert Arhin, who is doing a PhD in Geography [2012], says: “The paper has shown that the tenets of neoliberal economic agenda such as commodification, deregulation, privatisation and cuts in government expenditure may in some context undermine the attainment of sustainable development by increasing poverty and inequality. This in turn increases the exploitation of environmental resources, such as forests, as a result of poverty-induced constraints. Additionally, the regulatory capacity of environmental management provided by the state has been reduced mainly due to budgetary constraints imposed by the adoption of neoliberalism…

“This paper concludes that progress made in advancing sustainable development as an ideal goal of development over the past years remains threatened by the rise and expansion of neoliberal regimes in developing countries. We are therefore of the view that the economic thinking on neoliberalism will have implications on the ongoing sustainable development goals being prepared to succeed the Millennium Development Goals after 2015. This paper therefore suggests that relying solely on the mechanisms of the market in governing and allocating environmental resources is necessarily insufficient and problematic and therefore calls for a new approach which goes beyond just recognising the interdependency among social, environmental and economic goals and places issues of equity and addressing unfavourable power relations at the centre of interventions aimed at achieving the ideals of sustainable development.”

Picture credit: africa and www.freedigitalphotos.net.

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