Global Resource Consumption, Environmental Space and Ecological Structural Change: Implications for Sustainable Development from the Perspective of North-South Relations

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This article aims at contributing to the recent debate on structural change with ecological orientation, assuming a perspective from sustainable development in the South. It starts from reviewing the issues of national innovation systems, social learning, socioeconomic equity, political institutions and the societal transformation from Fordism to an emerging post-fordist regime, within the context of current globalization. Subsequently, the environmental dimension of the global process of uneven development, i.e. the physically unsustainable scale and socially unequal appropriation of material flows, is assessed by recurring to the concept of environmental utilization space. Based on this, some ecological features of the structural change related to post-fordist globalization and its expected main consequences for the North-South-relationships are discussed. Addressing the mentioned structural change, the analysis is focused on the strategic guideline of dematerialization as the normative orientation of an overall eco-efficiency and sufficiency in economy and environment at global and national level. This leads to the assessment of the challenges for a proactive policy of an ecological structural change (ESC) in the South by means of an agenda for future research. Finally, main conclusions are derived with the purpose to clarify some elements for the debate on sustainable development, which are considered as essentials for both development theory and ecological-economic policy of structural change.

1. Introduction

In the international debate on a comprehensive notion of economic development in the background of international trade and North-South relationships, it is well acknowledged that development requires an innovative transformation of productive and institutional forces in material, technological, socio-economic and cultural dimensions (CEPAL, 1990 for Latin America; OECD, 1992 for Europe and the industrialised North). In particular, some consensus has been reached that long-term socio-economic development is a question of social learning, historically accumulated knowledge and a particular micro-meso-macro interplay between enterprise innovation, socio-technological and cultural evolution, structural policy oriented to systemic competitiveness, and societal networks of political self-organisation/ regulation (Amsden, 1989; Lundvall, 1992; Nelson, 1993; CEPAL, 1996, 1998; Messner, 1997).

The underlying processes of technical change, productivity development, institutional transformation and societal modernisation have long historical roots -in particular from the expost perspective of current globalisation (Castells, 1996-98). Its concrete patterns of structural change during different stages are being shaped by socio-economic (self-)regulation forms of governance both globally and nationally, commonly called development models. This is exemplified by the present transition from Fordism towards Post-Fordism on global, national and local-urban levels whose concrete productive and institutional features and analytical interpretations are still subject to an ongoing controversy in social science (1). In principle, this evolutionary societal perspective can be stated as valid for industrialised countries (ICs), such as the Netherlands, as well as for developing countries (DCs), such as Costa Rica, e.g. due to tourism in this country (Furst and Hein, 2001).

It is in this context where sustainable development can and should be rethought and made more operational as a normative guide for societal transformation (Hein, 1998). Doing this, productive transformation, environmental sustainability and social equity become essentials for assessing the issue of renewed opportunities and persisting risks of the Southern societies in participating in the race towards economic globalisation, in particular in the international trade of their mostly resource-based products with the North. …