As the world confronts the ever-destructive impact of climate change, which has generated a higher frequency of extreme weather conditions in recent years, the world has increasingly shifted its attention to varying mechanisms to reduce the concentration of greenhouse gasses -- predominantly from the consumption of hydrocarbon energy resources -- in the atmosphere.
Ongoing efforts over establishing robust climate mitigation and adaptation regimes, however, have been undermined by the reluctance of the world’s largest economies, both in the Industrialized West as well as among the biggest emerging markets in Asia, to subject their existing development paradigm to any form of external scrutiny and legally-binding constraints. Nonetheless, the European Union (EU) has vociferously pushed for a new global climate consensus to expedite the transition of the world economy towards a renewable future -- precipitating the retrenchment of hydrocarbon-intensive models of growth, which have become increasingly unsustainable and climate-disruptive.
For decades, neo-liberal capitalism has been anchored by a dangerous myth: Any transition to a Renewable Energy-based (RE) economic model will be too costly, disruptive, and unaffordable. And despite the growing alarm over the reliability and affordability of conventional sources of energy (think of continued geopolitical crisis in the Middle East), it is precisely this myth that has encouraged many rapidly-developing economies to resist any decisive reform and transformation of their hydrocarbon-driven economic expansion in recent decades. But thanks to the experience of countries such as Germany -- among the world’s leading industrial powers – this myth is rapidly falling apart. In the past four decades, growing safety, environmental, and fiscal concerns over nuclear technology -- coupled with lingering anxieties over excessive reliance on hydrocarbon resources, mostly imported from unstable regions -- has encouraged the European powerhouse to gradually shift towards RE to feed its industrial expansion, ensure the safety of its citizens, and protect its environment.
There is almost a universal consensus among experts, civil society organizations, governments and global institutions with respect to Education’s crucial role in fostering individual empowerment collective cohesion, and national as well as regional development. Also, throughout the long history of the emergence and development of social democrats and progressive movements, from labor unions, to civil society groups, and reform-minded intellectuals, Education has remained as a central advocacy. Education is a primary mechanism for empowering members and the broader citizenry, enabling organizational consolidation and coalition-building, fostering vibrant and informed debates around pressing issues in the society, and advancing socio-political consciousness against ignorance and political passivity. Despite the rapid changes in the fortunes and circumstances of progressive movements and workers groups, with many social democratic parties enmeshed in direct day-to-day governance issues, Education still continues to serve as a pillar of public advocacy and outreach -- inspiring new generations of leaders with cutting-edge ideas, guiding political mobilizations, and shaping a socially-conscious citizenry.
The 21st century -- marked by the advent of information technology, simultaneous political integration-fragmentation, and intense competition -- has further underlined the significance of achieving universal literacy, promoting functional education, and pushing for cutting-edge research and innovation to not only ensure social mobility and consciousness among citizens and individuals, but also facilitate sustainable national development and international cooperation. With the Asia-Pacific region emerging as a new center of global economic activity and social dynamism, the issue of Education is of paramount importance, especially vis-à-vis sustaining a strong momentum for growth, tackling poverty, fighting corruption, and harnessing civic engagement and democratic practices. Along health and income, education is one of the key pillars of human development and security – and a pivotal element of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) under the United Nations.
With an increasing proportion of Asia-Pacific nations embracing elections as an arbiter of political competition, and a mechanism for selection of political leaders, there is a palpable sense that the march towards democracy is very much alive and kicking.
In an era where China and India are seeking to regain their historical position (prior to the 18th century) as the world’s largest economies, with other smaller Asian countries such as Vietnam and Philippines featuring among the fastest growing markets for decades to come, there is a glimmer of hope that prosperity and democratization could move hand in hand as we enter the so-called “Asian Century”. After all, history tells us that massive economic transformation could serve as a powerful precursor for political change, as a burgeoning middle class together with new centers of power demand for greater accountability and effective governance from the traditional center.
As Diamond and Morlino (2004: 3) argue, democracy, at the minimum, has four basic elements: “(1) universal, adult suffrage, (2) recurring, free, competitive and fair elections, (3) more than one serious political party; and (4) alternative sources of information.” And there are some reasons for optimism. By any measure, Northeast Asian countries such as South Korea, Taiwan, and Japan bear relevant characteristics of modern, minimalist democracies, having managed to hold popular, free and fair elections in recent decades.
In Southeast Asia, countries such as the Philippines and Indonesia have shelved their autocratic past in favor of a new political future, notwithstanding the occasional outbursts of “autocratic nostalgia” among certain circles, while the Indochinese states of Thailand, Myanmar, and even Cambodia have tilted in the direction of political liberalization --flirting with democratic opening under the watchful gaze of the ancien regime.