1963-2013 - 50 years of Research for Social Change

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Back | Programme Area: Special Events (2000 - 2009)

The Political Economy of Sustainable Development: Environmental Conflict, Participation and Movements

Date: 30 Aug 2002



The ongoing deterioration in the world’s social and environmental conditions since the Earth Summit in 1992 raises questions regarding both the analysis and proposals associated with Agenda 21 and other mainstream policy documents. What went wrong? Part of the problem has to do with the weakness of political economy analysis. There is a tendency for such documents to emphasize complementarities between economic, social and environmental aspects of development, win-win scenarios, relatively harmonious social relations and bargaining processes, and to gloss over contradictions, conflicts of interest, and the fact that development interventions produce winners and losers. Mainstream approaches have also failed to adequately address the political dimensions of change: forms of social mobilization that are necessary to influence government policy, shifts required in the balance of social forces, and patterns of resistance to and co-optation of agendas that promote reform. The Rio documents call for “participation” of various disadvantaged social groups and of civil society organizations but fail to address the difficulties and obstacles that block effective participation and social mobilization. UNRISD and the University of Witwatersrand co-hosted a one-day conference to discuss these issues in an event held in parallel to the World Summit on Sustainable Development.