State of the World 2005 - Story Ideas

State of the World 2005 State of the World 2005: Redefining Global Security is an indispensible guide for anyone looking to keep abreast of the major issues affecting our world today. To assist reporters in identifying stories, Worldwatch has created a list of story ideas, linking the issues covered in State of the World 2005 with current news items.

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Natural Disasters and Peacemaking: The Tsunami in Sri Lanka and Aceh

For Sri Lanka and Indonesia’s Aceh province, the two areas hardest hit by the December 26 earthquake and tsunami, the disaster may entail a small silver lining. Both areas have been home to long-running civil wars: Sri Lanka since 1983, with 64,000 people killed; Aceh since 1975, with 13,000 dead. Now, the opposing sides are grieving together. In Aceh, hostilities were put on hold. Sri Lanka has observed an uneasy truce since November 2002, but stalled negotiations fed rising fears that fighting might resume; now the government and the rebels are cooperating in planning humanitarian relief, and there are many calls for national unity.

While it is far too early to hazard the longer-term outcome, the shared grief and the need to cooperate in the face of enormous destruction and hardship provide an unprecedented opportunity for overcoming deep divides in both countries. Such cooperation could lay the basis for creating greater mutual trust and establishing pragmatic, working-level contacts across the civil wars’ divides. Over time, a new dynamic may arise that sustains peacemaking efforts. (But the parties must also avoid many pitfalls, such as taking military advantage from the calamity, or pursuing rivaling relief efforts that ignore or disadvantage communities on the opposite side.)

There is some precedent for using shared concerns and vulnerabilities to advance peacemaking efforts. A growing array of initiatives around the world—including peace parks, shared river basin management plans, regional seas agreements, and joint environmental monitoring programs—seek to build peace through cooperative responses to shared environmental challenges. The environment offers unique qualities for overcoming human divides: environmental challenges ignore political boundaries, require a long-term perspective, and encourage broad participation.

See State of the World 2005, Chapter 8: Building Peace Through Environmental Cooperation, for more information on a growing number of initiatives that blend ecology and politics in the service of peace.

Changing the Oil Economy – Is the End of the Road Near?

The dramatic rise in oil prices from $24 per barrel in 2002 to between $40 and $55 in late 2004 stems in part from a sharp increase in consumption in China and the United States. But it also reflects the fact that for the first time in more than two decades, there is virtually no spare oil production capacity left—with far-reaching implications for national security, economic stability, and all of our pocketbooks. Although oil prices declined from their peak levels in late 2004, this is likely to prove a brief respite. Any significant disruption in oil supplies due to additional chaos in Iraq or instability in Saudi Arabia or Russia could send oil prices soaring—which would be most damaging in the poorest countries where it could fuel additional political instability.

Already, oil production is falling in 33 of the world’s 48 largest oil producing countries, including 6 of the 11 members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). Among the countries where oil production is declining are Great Britain and Indonesia. In the continental United States, oil production peaked at 8 million barrels per day in 1970, and has fallen to just 2.9 million barrels per day in 2004. In this year of soaring prices, only Russia and the Persian Gulf countries have been able to significantly increase production—and they are now pressing against their current limits.

The world is in urgent need of a new commitment to reduce dependence on oil. Options to achieve this include: stronger fuel economy standards; incentives for new technologies such as hybrids; support for conversion to bio-fuels; and higher transportation fuel taxes.

See State of the World 2005, Chapter 6: Changing the Oil Economy, for more information on how the world’s dependence on oil threatens global security

The Bugs That Cross Borders – Infectious Disease in a Globalized World

The biggest threat to human security, when measured by premature deaths and associated physical suffering, is infectious disease. Wars of the twentieth century are estimated to have resulted in the deaths of an average of 1.1 million combatants and civilians per year. But at present, communicable diseases are killing fourteen times that number of people annually.

Advances in medical research have led health officials to repeatedly claim victory in the campaign against infectious disease; yet over the last three decades, old maladies such as tuberculosis, malaria, and cholera have spread geographically, and more than thirty previously unrecognized diseases such as Ebola, HIV, Hantavirus, and SARS have emerged as new threats to human well-being.

The race continues between the growing ability of new and resurgent diseases to spread more rapidly and the ability of an increasingly sophisticated network of health official and laboratories worldwide to respond quickly to new disease threats. The good news is that HIV/AIDS, SARS, and the threat of bioterrorism have alerted policymakers to the serious human security issues posed by infectious diseases.

See State of the World 2005, Chapter 3: Containing Infectious Disease, for more information on the evolving challenges that scientists, physicians, and health officials face from the microbial world.

Global Security and the Future of the United Nations

The international divide over the wisdom of the Iraq war and recent controversies about possible corruption in the U.N. Oil for Food Program in pre-war Iraq have plunged the United Nations into an identity crisis. Recent controversies over the role of the U.N., however, could offer a moment of opportunity to lay the foundations for peace by redesigning the United Nations for the security challenges of today and tomorrow.

Over the last few years, the UN Secretary-General has been vocal in his belief that the world must look past military tactics to ensure world peace—while “hard threats, such as terrorism and weapons of mass destruction, are real, and cannot be ignored,” he said in 2003, we cannot lose site of "the persistence of extreme poverty, the disparity of income between and within societies, and the spread of infectious diseases, or climate change and environmental degradation."

In 2004, a High-Level Panel appointed by the UN Secretary-General delivered a report on threats, challenges, and change; setting a new vision for security in the 21st Century; and the role of the United Nations within that. In September 2005, this issue will be further addressed by world leaders at a Summit meeting to be held alongside the U.N. General Assembly.

See State of the World 2005, Chapter 9: Laying the Foundations for Peace, for more information on the UN and its role in ensuring world peace and security

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