Addressing the global crises with purpose and resolve…post-Rio reflections

This is the first of a series of blogs reflecting on the Rio+20 conference of June 2012.

It is a question of the cognitive framework we adopt, as individuals or governments.

–          Do we regard the environmental problems we face today as in the nature of other problems human society has faced before, and one we can solve with the right mix of national political  will and technological ingenuity?


–          Do we acknowledge that we face an unprecedented ecological crisis whose resolution requires, in a purposeful and resolute way, a  transformation of governance at the global level?

Rio+20 conclusively demonstrated what was becoming apparent for some time now .  The international community of states is proving itself to be  ill-equipped to solve the inter-related problems of  global unsustainability (resource depletion, climate change, biodiversity loss).  In fact, that a timely solution by this means, based on the principle of ‘common and differentiated responsibilities’ and the (largely disregarded) ‘precautionary principle’, is impossible.

Rio ’92, which I also attended, was different.  The Rio Declaration, Agenda 21, and the framework conventions on climate and biodiversity set the scene for action.  But the action never followed.

It is apparent that we face two crises: a global ecological crisis and a global governance crisis. Currently, the international community of states acknowledges neither.  The 2012 Rio Declaration is a model of lowest-common-denominator platitudes, that fall below the threshold of effective remedial action.

These crises are related. The first is the consequence of human action.  The second is the human inability to address it.

An increasing cohort of people, from the scientific community and civil society, less so from the business and political worlds, is of the view that we have perhaps one decade at most left to turn the direction of the global economy around – not simply to undertake to do so, but to actually do so.  In that scenario,  the international community of states needs to elide into a more effective form of global governance, one that nonetheless falls back on the international community itself for legitimacy – since that is all the legitimacy that has evolved to date.

Here is a politically-feasible way of resolving the two global crises in this manner. Regard it as a thought experiment or a practical proposal, according to taste.

  1. Security Council declare a global emergency: Have the UN Security Council acknowledge the Global Ecological Crisis and declare this to be a threat to international peace and security, enabling it to act under the Charter’s chapter VII binding powers.  The resolution would declare a ‘global civil emergency’. This is a major step. But the Council would be building upon preliminary steps already taken.  Climate change has been on its agenda since April ’07.  In July ’11, the Council declared climate change a ‘risk multiplier’ and a ‘potential threat to international peace and security’.  The Secretary-General, along with the UNEP Director-General, offered the view that climate change already is such a threat.   It is but one step further for the Council to declare the broader ecological crisis to be a threat, and this could well rest on professional and scientific studies which it could request, as with the Brundtland Report of 1987.  Is the Council a legitimate body?  It retains mid-20th century flaws of composition and veto powers but, apart from the conflicted WTO, it is the only universal body with legitimate global power.  And if India, Brazil and Japan are invited, it is de facto universally representative.  Can it presume to act as a global legislature?  It already has: in resolutions 1373 (counter-terrorism) and 1540 (weapons of mass destruction), it has required member states to undertake national legislation.  If the planet, or human society, is genuinely threatened, then the Council can undertake this role, and indeed must.
  2. Meet regularly at summit level: Based on such a declaration, the Council would meet at ministerial level on a quarterly basis, head-of-government level annually.  These meetings would monitor progress made in combatting the Global Civil Emergency as declared under the original resolution, issuing new binding resolutions as is deemed necessary.
  3. Report regularly to General Assembly: To underpin universal legitimacy, the Council should report to the General Assembly following each quarterly meeting.  The Assembly might adopt resolutions reflecting the broader mood, but these are recommendatory and would not overturn the binding powers of the Council under chapter VII.
  4. Empower the Secretary-General: The Council would support any initiative taken by the UN Secretary-General acting under his independent and interpretative powers in the Charter.  Article 98 empowers him to perform any functions entrusted by the deliberative organs, including the Security Council.  Article 99 authorises him to bring to the Council’s attention any matter which, in his opinion, may threaten international peace and security.  Acting under this, the SG could direct the IPCC, through UNEP and WMO, to report directly to a sub-committee of the Council established under the original resolution (the Ecological Emergency Sub-committee).  This would bypass the behemoth that is the UNFCCC annual conference (COP-MOPs) although the same reports could go to those conferences as well.  In this way, ecological issues (including climate change and biodiversity) would become subject to global executive action rather than international negotiation.
  5. Recognise the planetary boundaries: In fact, it has recently become clear that the Ecological Crisis goes beyond the three framework conventions (ozone ‘85, climate change ’92, biodiversity ’92).  The Secretary-General could, under article 99 and in consultation with the Council’s sub-committee, establish a broader panel of scientific advisers. Their work and recommendations may well reflect the latest insights that have identified nine planetary boundaries that act as the thresholds for ecological stability and sustainability.  These boundaries, fed directly into the Security Council, might become the principal organising framework for global executive action in the 21st century.

Humanity faces a crisis, today.  We have lost twenty critical years in which the international community of states has generally identified the global problem but proven unable to resolve it.  In this, it has failed the global community of peoples.

Time is running out: we have perhaps one decade remaining to remedy the situation before dangerous anthropogenic resource depletion, climate change and biodiversity loss make human life intolerable and untenable.

We need an alternative approach to the failed model of UN-style international negotiations among 193 member states.  We need executive action by the Security Council, acting on their behalf.  We established the Council over half a century ago, to handle international crises.  What was in mind in the 1940s was inter-state warfare.  Yet the Council has evolved since Cold War days in managing various kinds of crises and the 2005 World Summit Outcome Document declared that the Charter was adequate to handle the multiplicity of complex threats of the 21st century.

Let’s see if this is the case.

24 Comments Posted

  1. It’s a global emergency because nations spend the last years concerning only with money and financial crisis. The nations are responsible for the current course on the UNSC and have veto power. There`s no time for a real global emergency because the course of nature is slowly and the crisis just started but now one belive to force the action of nations.

  2. Sam – at present the various nations have failed to act justifying their inaction as being conditional on other nations acting first. However such an argument does not apply to this declaration by the UNSC, so any nations opposing the declaration would have to come up with a better excuse.


  3. Sam, the Americans have been indoctrinated to fear one world government without realising that rule of them in the interests of capital/corporates, that they seem to accept, is also the favoured order of rule of the wider world. They fear global climate change requirements are the beginning of UN direction of America (because this is what their corporates have indoctrinated them to fear).

    The irony is that proposing UNSC imposed action to resolve a global security crisis is just the sort of leviathon that might lead them to accept an international agreement to do something – as the lesser threat to their sensibilities. After all their government has already conditioned them to accept all sorts of limits on civil liberties in the name of security.

  4. “the attempt will highlight just who is opposing collective action”

    Isn’t this already blindly obvious to anyone following the issue? And for those who aren’t, why on earth would they take notice of machinations at the UN – the politics of the UN aren’t of the slightest interest to most people.

    What is needed is a clear message of who is blocking action, why and what can be done about it, without all the pussy-footing around the sensitivities of the powerful which currently takes place, as if they can somehow be talked around to supporting action that goes directly against their short-term interests.

    Somebody compared Copenhagen to Munich, obviously completely different in many ways, but there is an appeasement policy going on – “Don’t worry we can deal with climate collapse without really changing anything, you can keep your profit-seeking, your corporates, your massive economic inequalities, just make it ‘green profit-seeking’, ‘green corporates’ and ‘green inequality'” – or similar rubbish. Its as if people are too scared to tell the truth – “There is going to have to be massive change and you are not going to be able to carry on as you have been” – in case the powerful throw a tantrum and walk out. So we have endless rounds of conferences and remits and UN resolutions, all of which do nothing except give the powerful platforms to pretend they are committed to change when they aren’t.

    If you want to send a clear message as to what the problem is, declare all this nonsense to be a waste of time, stop participating in the global propaganda factory and build a movement that isn’t too scared to take on the powerful. But that would be a bit too radical and would frighten the fainthearted and those with vested interests, wouldn’t it?

  5. I am surprised to hear Photo advocating Keynesian policies, like stimulus spending on infrastructure projects, during a recession.

    Watch out Photo. You will be sacked for breaking ranks!

    I agree, we should. We should increase regional access with upgrading road, and rail, to Northland AND upgrade Aucklands public transport while we have the spare Labour and resources.

    However we should not be paying overseas banks, to add zeros to the money supply, to do so. Like Germany after WW2, FDR in the USA and NZ in the great depression, both successfully I may add, the State should add the zeros.

  6. Not quite right, Trevor.

    Regulation preventing rights such as withdrawing your labour and negotiating collectively, or treaties which allow corporations to override democracy are fine. So long as RWNJ’s are allowed to steal with impunity.

  7. I think that this idea is worth pursuing. I doubt that it will work, simply because of entrenched opposition, but the attempt will highlight just who is opposing collective action and it is worth making the attempt just to illustrate the seriousness of the issue. And who knows – the attempt might succeed.

    I think concerns about one world rule are just red herrings, as Kennedy has already shown how everything can be kept legal and open.

    The RWNJs don’t want one world rule – they want no world rules and no local rules! In fact, that is largely how this problem has grown to its current size.


  8. Well, as a practical proposal, it’s scary, and as a thought experiment, its completely useless as it doesn’t address the reasons why action has been blocked.

    It’s a bit like responding to a crime wave by discussing the failure of governance in the local Headhunters gang and debating how their methodology for making policy choices can be improved.

  9. The key words are

    “Regard it as a thought experiment or a practical proposal, according to taste.”

    The proposal simply declares that the responsibility for dealing with a global security crisis is with the UNSC – thus the failure of governance is here, however this has only occured because nations on the UNSC have failed to be supportive of necessary action at UN organised international gatherings.

    It’s not a practical proposal because there would be no agreement between the nations on the UNSC on collective leadership. Thus it’s a proposal to pressure the UNSC members to allow international agreement on action to deal with the global ecological crisis.

  10. SPC – “QE is used in the USA and in Europe to help them out of the GFC.”

    QE doesn’t seem to be working in the US or Europe. (And the Germans are getting tired of having to carry the can for the rest of Europe.). Maybe they should try to stop spending money they don’t have. That might work.

  11. “It’s a ploy to identify their hypocrisy and mobilise popular dissent.”

    Are you saying Kennedy doesn’t want this, but is suggesting it to demonstrate that it won’t happen? Seems a bit obtuse.

  12. Sam, it’s a political stance, – responsibility for global (collective) security at the UN is placed with the UN Security Council. And it’s clear this is where much of the resistance to global action on environment security resides. It’s a ploy to identify their hypocrisy and mobilise popular dissent.

    To enable a UN sponsored world gathering where nations take some collective action to secure the world economy from the threat of GFC 11 resulting from GEC 1.

    Gerrit, what is the TPP if not one world capitalist order of rule over democratic sovereignty?

  13. Sam,


    Scary to think that the Greens are even considering one world government.

    Though that is what us RWNJ are supposed to want (wrongly in fact)

  14. Does anybody else find Kennedy’s proposal scary? (I mean if it wasn’t a complete pipe dream?) He seems to be suggesting we empower an unelected group of representatives of a minority of the world’s governments to take action as democratic means have failed.

    Like I say, it’s a pipe dream – thinking that the powerful states that make up the permanent members of the security council – the same states that have up to now been primarily responsible for blocking effective action on the ecological crisis – can be relied on to take firm and effective action beggar’s belief. This response to a ‘crisis of governance’ seems to amount to a call for a constitutional coup – parliament has failed – let’s install a junta.

    At its basis, this shows a misunderstanding of the problem. It is not a governance problem, it is an ideological problem. Once you allow an economic system in which short-term profit is a primary goal, and in which wealth gives you political leverage, no amount of fiddling with the structure of governance is going to fix the problem.

    In the current situation, handing power to representatives of the wealthiest and most powerful is absolutely the last thing you’d want to do.

  15. Good notion I think…. if we can make it appear similar to QE but alter the source of our money that’d be even better.



  16. Possibly one way to raise the issue of monetary reform is to propose an alternative to QE (of a more social credit form where the money goes directly to goverment rather than as a measure for inflating the value of assets and thus helping out struggling banks). The idea of QE came from the Bank of Japan where it was designed as a way to end deflation there.

    QE is used in the USA and in Europe to help them out of the GFC.

    Turning QE into a monetary source for government (still inflationary but to assist government financing its debt repayment without adverse impact on existing or new government spending) is opposed by the capitalist right on economic and political grounds. They want to pressure goverrnment into spending cuts and to make asset sales to the private sector.

  17. I know that Samiam. I have proposed it internally to the party and gotten some traction with individuals but not at the party level, that takes a presentation at the AGM. I really have to be doing something other than working for a living to actually pursue it and get it on the agenda. I will rewrite it and resubmit it of course.

    It needs some people in the party caucus to accept it and bring it through… I can help with the path to get there from here, but I can’t be in Wellington now and I can’t go to the AGM… I am really really limited in my reach.

    We could count on support coming from the Social-Credit people, and massive opposition from the Nationalista’s (natch).

    Need to do it…. Nothing else I know of can work.

    I correspond with Kim sometimes and she interviewed Keen, and I know she would understand the deep issue, but I am not a name known throughout the land. There will I think, be no interview with me.

    Just remember:

    The economy sits BETWEEN the society and the environment, and we cannot effectively influence the environment EXCEPT by changing the economic system.


  18. BJ what you are proposing isn’t even on the plate as a discussion, let alone gaining any real traction. So just how do we get this discussed? (with a nod to Kim Hill)

  19. I think… that if the 82nd airborne does not immediately land here in NZ to suppress our revolt against fractional reserve banking, that the bankers in New York and London and Zurich will experience an erosion of their power over their governments unprecedented in modern times.

    That loss of power would be coupled with a new economic reality.

    “Sustainable growth” is a lot slower and more reliable than the juiced up version that they’ve been selling us and everyone else on the planet. It doesn’t support billions of extra people that easily, but we have birth control capabilities now, we can manage that as well.

    The only problem is that this is the only path I know that will work in the long term and we don’t have even enough time to do this.

    So there will have to be some engineering tricks played to delay the inevitable. Satellite Solar Power, mirrors in space, and in places like Germany, the nuclear power plants have to start back up. Turkey, I think, gets enough solar to have that as a viable answer, and the flow through the straits could be harnessed.

    Truth is, Dr Graham has the right of it in terms of how bad it is. This is a planetary emergency, equivalent to a war which (which we declared on ourselves). Our defence has to be brought in line with the offence, and we’ve been saving THAT up for a century. We have to match that in the next 20-30 years. Expensive, but cheaper than the alternative.


  20. Even then action is likely to come through global multi-lateral agreement (independent of the UNSC), once there is consensus that we/they have to act. That provides the democratic consent. Of course proposing the UNSC action in response to a global threat is however a good strategy for promoting the need for a global agreement of the kind required.

  21. It is apparent that we face two crises: a global ecological crisis and a global governance crisis.

    I see a single problem, not two. The economic crisis permits and encourages the governance crisis AND underpins the ecological crisis.

    With a monetary system that INSISTS on growth, and cannot exist without it, and which puts control of the creation of money, the tool of growth, in the hands of private bankers, we have the “root of all evil”.

    We CANNOT ignore this much longer. The bankers are being found out and some CEO’s are being forced to resign but the SYSTEM remains, and the “muppet hunt” continues.

    So here is an ALTERNATE path that is within OUR reach…

    1. Re-create the NZ dollar as a dollar, subject to demurrage, redeemable (backed by KWH) and issued by the government of NZ.

    2. Use Steve Keen’s notion of a “Debt Jubilee” to deal with outstanding debt issues.

    3. Develop our infrastructure as a sustainable country.

    4. Watch as the economic system of the planet falls to pieces as people suddenly have an alternative to the “too big to jail” banks.

    The end result of this is to remove the banker’s entrenched control of major nations of the world. It sucks the ground out from under them.

    This HAS to be done or nothing can be done.

    I can tell you right now, as a USian, that what you are asking of the UN would almost certainly lead to bloody revolution in the USA… if any US government were to agree to it in the first place. You will not pass this there even though people there are dying from the change in climate.

    That’s not a guess. That’s 50 years of living there and growing up in that culture.

    You are fighting the wrong enemy in that. It is not entrenched nationalism, it is entrenched wealth and power, and that wealth is centered on this sort of self-serving bankster behaviour.

    “The few who understand the system will either be so interested in its profits or be so dependent upon its favours that there will be no opposition from that class, while on the other hand, the great body of people, mentally incapable of comprehending the tremendous advantage that capital derives from the system, will bear its burdens without complaint, and perhaps without even suspecting that the system is inimical to their interests.”

    —The Rothschild brothers of London writing to associates in New York, 1863, laying the groundwork for the eventual passage of their catastrophic Federal Reserve Act on December 23, 1913

  22. It’s only a global emergency if nations spend the next 10-20 years on the current course. And the nations responsible for the current course are on the UNSC and have veto power. There is a hole in the bucket, and that hole means waiting 20 years before there is a global emergency to force action.

    Even then action is likely to come through global multi-lateral agreement (independent of the UNSC), once there is consensus that we/they have to act. That provides the democratic consent. Of course proposing the UNSC action in response to a global threat is however a good strategy for promoting the need for a global agreement of the kind required.

    Otherwise bringing carbon charging (and/or credits in protecting the environment or clean energy investment in the third world) in trade via the WTO, public pressure on corporates/brands, local activism and national green politics. It has to be ground up – consensus building and collaborative.

  23. Kennedy
    As one that attended Rio+20, I share the concern at the overwhelming inadequacy of the outcomes in face of the realities of the threats to life (as we know it) on this planet. Identifying the Security Council as the catalyst for action is appropriate considering this is a matter of planetary danger – but the Security Council as currently instituted is unlikely to recognise that. So yes, if we can pass that hurdle…but lets also push for constant resolve in the General Assembly…and this is where the much-touted argument about the smallness of our emissions and our impact for every small country can be countered. In the UN every country, however small, has one vote, every country counts. And that is why the call for a global governance approach has to be rooted in work to ensure open participative and informed governance in every country. Along with the call for a Global Governance approach we need to start working for this in our country when our own democracy is being eroded by changes that take power and the ability for participation and consultation from civil society. This is happening for local government and so communities (as in the proposed Local Government Amendment Bill and RMA changes) and each time civil society is edged out of the loop in consultations (eg Crown Minerals Act, EEZ and Coastal Shelf Bill among others).
    We need to work global to local and local to global.

  24. As a schoolboy, I recall being required to write an essay entitled:

    Democracy is good but not perfect; Dictatorship is bad but not hopeless.

    Democracy prevents action being taken to address the issue.

    For a democratically elected party to impose the kinds of changes necessary to address the issue they would be unelectable. The changes would require an electoral mandate, and the party to suggest such a thing would get the nul points treatment.

    Alternatively, should the UN mandate some action, a democratically elected party would be required to ignore it.

    Under a dictatorship, then compliance would be entirely possible, should the dictator be persuaded of the wisdom of such action.

Comments are closed.