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Survey: Majority agrees that binding global decision-making is needed

From the cover of the report "Global Catastrophic Risks and International Collaboration" (2020) by Novus and Global Challenges Foundation

According to the Stockholm-based Global Challenges Foundation, an international average of 67 percent of people polled in a new ten-country global survey agrees that “a new global supranational organisation should be created to make binding global decisions on how to manage global risks”.

In addition, a majority of 77 percent across countries agrees that the UN needs to be reformed in order “to better manage global risks”.

The Novus survey, released earlier this month, tracked public attitudes to global risks and cooperation in Australia, Brazil, China, Germany, India, Russia, South Africa, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States.

“This survey indicates that citizens around the world have confidence in multilateral action but urgently want political leaders to find new and improved ways to solve the most pressing global risks together”, said Jens Orback, the foundation’s Executive Director.

A clear majority of respondents in all countries was favorable of binding global decision-making, the most far-reaching idea covered by the survey. The largest share was found in India (89%), China (80%), South Africa (79%) and Brazil (73%) and the lowest in Sweden (51%). 

Country-based breakdown of responses on a new supranational organisation and binding global decisions. Source: Global Challenges Foundation, p. 65

The poll qualified that the proposed new organization would “not replace national governments” but place “global interests above the interests of nation states” on certain “defined issues”.

On this question, the results only differed slightly compared to previous polls commissioned by the Global Challenges Foundation in 2017 and 2018 (see our reports here and here). In 2017, an average of 71 percent was favorable and in 2018, 69 percent.

Federalism and democracy

These results seem to contradict a statement made by UN Secretary-General António Guterres marking the 75th anniversary of the United Nations according to which “no one wants a world government”.

By definition, binding supranational decision-making means that countries cede authority and sovereignty to a joint organization. At the global scale, this arguably would represent a world government even if it was limited to certain subject-issues.

Responding partly to Guterres’ notion of building “a global vision for the year 2045” – the UN’s centenary – Democracy Without Borders in the course of 2020 developed a theory of change for the next 25 years that was finally adopted at a virtual meeting on 7 October 2020. We believe that by 2045, “a democratic global constitution with a citizen-elected world parliament” needs to be achieved as a result of a successful revision of the UN’s charter.

It is probably true that no one wants a unitary world government. The notion of a new world organization vested with real authority is only viable, we concluded in the theory of change, if it is “based on the principle of subsidiarity that distributes responsibilities across different levels of government”. 

In a piece published on this blog last year and in our 2018 book, Jo Leinen and I argued that a federal and democratic global government is indeed necessary if human civilization is to survive. This is a crucial difference. In addition, binding supranational decision-making is only possible and acceptable if it is democratic and if participating member states are democracies themselves.

The results from the surveys commissioned by the Global Challenges Foundation are encouraging and seem to indicate that our efforts are in line with global public opinion. A key to success will be to mobilize this potential and turn it into political pressure.

It is our hope that future surveys will explore public opinion on the idea of a democratic world parliament as a body responsible for binding global decisions.

Andreas Bummel
Andreas Bummel is Executive Director of Democracy Without Borders and co-authored the book "A World Parliament: Governance and Democracy in the 21st Century"