Democracy Without Borders

Planetary crisis requires urgent and bold international changes: report

Increased occurrence of wildfires is one of the impacts of global warming. Image: Shutterstock

As the 28th UN climate negotiations start in Dubai, commonly referred to as COP28, a group of experts warns that urgent and bold changes to the international system are needed to address the climate crisis. 

According to a report published by the Climate Governance Commission earlier this week, the world faces “a deepening planetary emergency” and “conditions of worldwide polycrisis” characterized by a broad impact of “ongoing or imminent transgressions of multiple, planetary bio-system-supporting boundaries”. In the Commission’s view, current policies and institutional responses are “dramatically lagging behind” in addressing the situation.

Although “daunting”, the Commission believes that current challenges are “solvable” if far-reaching actions are taken now to avert “the worst”. The report stresses a need for “novel approaches to global governance” and presents near- and medium term proposals “for vital and substantial governance improvements across the international system” that should be implemented within one to five years. Among the immediate measures recommended are the declaration of a planetary emergency by the UN General Assembly and a review of the UN climate negotiations so that they deliver better results.

An immediate review of the UN climate negotiation process

Governing Our Planetary Emergency: Report of the Climate Governance Commission, November 2023

The group, made up of 36 members and “contributing experts”, is co-chaired by Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland, María Fernanda Espinosa, former President of the UN General Assembly, and Johan Rockström, Director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. In the foreword, the co-chairs write that the Commission seeks to “initiate a shift in global governance and provide a practical path forward for ambitious and doable climate action, ensuring a safe, flourishing, and sustainable future for all.”

“Empowered with new authorities and capabilities, current and new international governance institutions must exert competent crisis leadership, developing and deploying emergency plans, disaster preparedness, and a new generation of effective policies”, the report says.

Apart from “urgent improvements” of the UN climate negotiation process and the UN declaring a planetary emergency, near-term “working proposals” put forward in the document include, among others, “developing a planetary emergency plan”; the creation of a “Science-Policy-Action Network” that monitors planetary boundaries; recognizing the environment as a major pillar of UN activity in addition to development, peace and security, and human rights; enhancing the role of the UN Environment Program; a number of economic and finance measures including a “calibrated global carbon tax” and an international levy on short-term currency trading; strengthening legal frameworks including better use of the International Court of Justice; new mechanisms for citizen participation; harmonizing trade and investment law with climate policy; committing business to an ecological transition through “high-quality voluntary to mandatory standards”; as well as better representation of local authorities at multilateral venues.

Proposals need to be implemented within one to five years

In the field of “citizen participation in global governance”, the report refers to the proposals put forward by the “We the Peoples” Campaign for inclusive global governance that is supported by over 200 civil society groups and networks. The creation of a United Nations Parliamentary Assembly, in short UNPA, “would give elected citizens’ representatives a role in the agenda-setting and decision-making of the UN”, the document explains. It further elaborates that “through portfolio committees, the work of a UNPA over time could be connected to relevant bodies, institutions, and activities of the UN system and beyond as needed, making it a parliamentary umbrella of multilateral collaboration that helps overcome fragmentation. At first, the work could focus on select issues such as climate policy.”

Complementary to a UNPA “would be the parallel, supporting mechanisms of a UN Under- or Assistant-Secretary-General-level Civil Society Envoy for the UN System” and “a World Citizens’ Initiative, an instrument to enable citizens to put forward proposals on key issues of global concern for discussion and further action at the highest political level.”

A UN Parliamentary Assembly to enhance representation and accountability

“Given the global polycrisis and systemic failures of global governance in particular in the field of climate policy we need to improve the efficacy, credibility, and legitimacy of the international governance systems in a number of respects. The consideration of the creation of a global parliamentary consultative body is one important element of this”, commented the Commission’s convenor and international lawyer, Maja Groff.

In addition to pursuing these near-term measures, the report suggests that “planning and serious expert discussion on enhanced next-generation international governance”, to be implemented within three to five years, “should start now”.

A Global Environment Agency as central authority in the field

This includes transforming the UN Environment Program into a “Global Environment Agency” that operates “as a central authority on climate and other crucial planetary environmental governance” vested, over the long-term, with a mandate to make binding decisions based on majority voting. Further, an International Court for the Environment granted compulsory jurisdiction is recommended as well as “reinventing” the international financial system. The Commission envisions that the UN Security Council would be transformed into an “Executive Council” with collective security implementation as one of a range of functions. The UNPA in turn “could be strengthened over time” and provide “the deliberative and legislative functions of the Global Environmental Agency”, an “integrated approach to global governance of related issues” as well as “accountability of global governance to the people”.

According to the report, the Commission plans to form “diverse, high-level working groups to refine its recommendations and advocate for their associated transformations”. In addition, it is partnering with the World Federalist Movement and Citizens for Global Solutions in setting up the Mobilizing an Earth Governance Alliance campaign, in short MEGA, that “aspires to unite state and non-state actors in a new kind of smart coalition to address the planetary emergency”.

The official launch of MEGA is intended to take place in January 2024. Democracy Without Borders is one of the co-sponsoring organizations.

The Climate Governance Commission believes that the UN’s so-called “Summit for the Future” scheduled for September 2024 is an opportunity to implement some of its proposals.