In geography it is very common to interrelate everything that happens in our planet earth (even with the universe), from something natural as the formation of a typhoon to human situations like migration, because that’s how we can understand a system. All that we know is the outcome of interconnected systems and therefore processes that are powerfully linked to one another.
There are four principal global systems: environmental, political, economical and social which are intrinsically connected. These are the ones in charge of shaping the world, from a local scale to a global scale and yes, humans play a significant role intervening somehow in all the systems already mentioned. Nevertheless, it is important to say that no matter how much control we have over most of the systems, we have always had to adapt to the environmental system for there is nothing to be done to stop something like a volcano eruption or a big storm. What we can do is alter the system, but we’ll talk about this and the consequences of doing so later on in this article.
To have a better understanding of this topic, let’s use airplanes as an easy example. Airplanes are built out of elements produced in massive stars (universe) that happened to also be in our magnificent Earth such as aluminium, titanium (found in meteorites as well) and copper -just to mentioned a few – which go to an extensive process to have them in the desired form; the elements and the manufacture of the plane involve science, technology, industry and labour. These airplanes are used for different purposes like giving a transport service. How could this be possible? Well, airlines (companies) were created to make this happen by organising and operating the flights. But these companies are not free to do whatever they want, they must work under some political and economic regulations (laws, rules and norms). Likewise, flights have led to the creation of systems to control -in so many ways- the movement of people across the world. The funny thing of all of this is that nature oversees everything here. For example, if there’s a hurricane, airlines are forced to cancel flights and thus the in and out of people and goods, and that means the lost of a significant amount of money. Airplanes also contribute to climate change due to the emission of particles and gasses that harm the atmosphere.
As we can see, the global systems appear to be affected and benefited from each other. Hence, throughout time, leaders have had to devise a structure to find an adequate balance.
As globalisation expands, the need of having an international directive became a priority and consequently The International Monetary Fund (IMF), The World Bank, The World Trade Organization (WTO), and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) were founded. These organisations have an interesting role in the global systems.
There is history in the creation of the IMF and The World Bank. In the 1930s the well-known Great Depression shocked the US and a great number of countries afterwards; this happened because of the crash of the stock market which means that the stock prices suffered a terrible fall. People were laid off their jobs and the consumption were drastically reduced, affecting the production in industries and agriculture. As nations recovered from this situation and the world saw the ending of the WWII, the Allies gathered in the Bretton Woods Conference to sign agreements and establish the IMF and The World Bank to regulate the economic condition and prevent downturns.
The IMF seeks to guarantee financial stability and promote monetary cooperation, reduce poverty and encourage sustainable growth and employment. It also helps monitoring the trade agreements to avoid violations. Additionally, they support states with loans in certain circumstances like crisis or natural disasters. This organisation gets its funds through something called quotas paid by the member countries which will be determined by the wealth of the nation. Developing countries dislike this quota system because higher contributors have a more powerful vote in the decision making.
The World Bank is a great source for financial assistance and It is formed by five organisations:
- The International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) and The International Development Association (IDA). They offer loans and grants to poor countries.
- The International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID). Tries to appease situations such as investment disputes.
- The International Finance Corporation (IFC). Supports the private sector by means of investment, counselling and movement of capital.
- The Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA). This agency encourages foreign investment into developing countries and by doing so, offers them insurance to protect their inversion against political issues in these nations.
The WTO it is the greatest friend of globalisation for making the “free” trade a reality by negotiations and rules. This organisation gives the framework of trade agreements, so it will have the right structure for a successful implementation and, it also helps developing countries with training and assessment to facilitate them the adaptation to how the organization and the market works.
IPCC. Here is when climate change comes to the picture as promised in the beginning of the article. This Panel was created by the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) and the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) to inform the world about climate change.
Scientific investigations concerning this topic are sent to this intergovernmental body to be reviewed and assessed. This information is very useful for decision makers because the alteration of the climate system has important impacts in economics, politics and in society. The IPCC also makes reports to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC). The objective of this treaty is to “…stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system” ¹. Recently the IPCC issued a special report where explains the impacts that the increase of temperature above the 1.5 °C could have in all the systems.
As we can see, these organisations seem to have good intensions, but they clearly have downsides. For example, the trade opening hasn’t benefited all the countries especially developing ones because of unfair terms of trade. Another problem is that hardly ever the environment and labour is actually considered, and when they happen to be contemplated, nothing changes as easy as if there were an economic or political issue. Likewise, no matter how many reports the IPCC show nor how many times the leaders meet to talk about climate change, there has never been done a real change to reduce carbon emissions.
What do you think about these organisations? Are they helping the world? Do they need to change something? Are they creating inequalities?
Geographically speaking, some countries have a bigger chance to be economically successful due to its location, this has been an ancient problem to inland countries. The spatial inequality also happens in a local scale. For example, globalisation tends to centralise companies, services and so on to specific places like urban areas. This process alienates communities and leaves them out of the range of possibilities.
There are other inequalities because of the actual economic and political system. Globalisation has allowed companies to move to different countries but the problem here is that they have a preference towards developing countries because the cost of living is cheap, and the laws are less strict concerning the protection of labour and environment. This strategy is called outsourcing.
In this case, it is true that companies reduce unemployment when they move to different countries, but they also create income gaps by paying low wages. An income gap eventually generates social deteriorations because there is a constant status competition which affects social relationships, health and human capital.
India is a clear example of how globalisation works and the inequalities within the country. This nation has had an important economic growth which helped so many people out of poverty, however there are still millions of Indians in extreme poverty with no services at all. This just goes to show that something is failing in the system.
Advantages and disadvantages of globalisation
Globalisation has been strongly criticized by some and defended by others. It is good to know both perspectives to think whether something could be change in it to improve it or if we are doomed to have the same effects repeatedly.
- Trade has been the main advantage of globalisation because it’s a way to connect the world by the exchange of goods, technology and services which have improved the lives of so many people across the globe.
- The foreign investment in developing countries have helped them to reduce poverty and to promote economic growth.
- The instant communication between nations, the share of technology, information and the facility to travel, have contributed to the mix and change of societies and thus the exchange of ideas.
- Globalisation has raised levels of global wealth.
- Being interdependent one another creates vulnerabilities in all the actors and makes them susceptible to a domino effect.
- The benefits had not been equally shared.
- The patterns of production, distribution and consumption are completely unsustainable.
- We’ve facing an accelerated increase of the deterioration of the environment.
- Exploitation of labour (low wages, poor working conditions, long shifts)
- Loss of culture.
Of course, there are more advantages and disadvantages of globalisation to consider and inequalities to analyse. But the purpose of this article is to introduce you to global systems and give you the context to help you integrate and interrelate to understand the magnitude of it.