by Kennedy Graham
The 1st post-Rio+20 reflection last week argued that the international community of states has failed the global community of peoples in ensuring global sustainability (comprised of resource conservation, climate stabilisation and biodiversity). There are, it said, two global crises: an ecological crisis and a governance crisis.
On governance, what was needed is the replacement, or at least the supplement, of internationally-negotiated legislation by global executive action, through legitimate UN Security Council initiative. And the greater empowerment, sanctioned under the Charter, of the Secretary-General.
This blog takes the argument a step further.
Global environmental governance is, in fact, bedevilled by two problems. The first, identified in Reflection # 1, is the sheer multiplicity of sovereign states, almost 200, purporting to reach agreement in identifying the global problem, then the global solution, then the common but differentiated, and binding, share of national responsibility. Possible in theory; unlikely in practice.
There is a second, associated, problem – the nexus between science and politics. In today’s world, global problems are the product of science and technology. So the international community has employed the scientific community to understand the nature of the challenge. But there is a problem of critical path.
Take climate change, as the most prominent issue. The IPCC has the mandate to explore the science of climate change. It has submitted four reports now and the fifth is due in 2013-14. Its three working groups explore the evidence, the impact, and future scenarios. A synthesis report is compiled, with an executive summary for policy-makers. But, as the IPCC is careful to stress, its work is ‘policy-relevant, not policy-prescriptive’.
The IPCC report is fed into the international negotiating machinery through direct submission to member states. The policy-makers tend to ‘modify’ the IPCC draft, to suit pusillanimous taste. So the draft gets masticated in the final stage of manufacture, and then cast aside when the sheer negotiating fun of punching above one’s national weight kicks in. The science gets de-scientised – the rigour of logic suborned to the flux of competitive self-interest.
So, the interface between science and politics is too abrupt. What is needed is a ‘policy prescriptive’ body that acts as intermediary between the scientific and political communities.
Reflection # 1 suggested that the UN Secretary-General be empowered to develop advisory groups that can report direct to the Security Council. The Brundtland Commission, for example, produced ‘Our Common Future’ in 1987. That formed the basis of the 1992 Earth Summit.
For Rio+20, UNSG Ban ki-Moon established in August 2010 the High-level Panel on Global Sustainability. The Panel, co-chaired by the presidents of Finland and South Africa, submitted its report (Resilient People, Resilient Planet: A Future Worth Choosing) to the SG in January 2012. The SG, in turn, conveyed the report direct to member states in March.
The theory is that the report then informs policy-making at Rio+20 in June. But, in fact, member states tended to ignore its (56) recommendations in their statements in favour of national spin.
The problem with this kind of report, despite good content, is two-fold. First, it has little direct interaction with the scientific work that goes on. Secondly, it has generic distribution only. As a result, it tends to become background noise.
What is needed, perhaps, is for a panel of this kind to act on behalf of the Secretary-General, in receiving the IPCC report, interpreting it, and recommending ‘policy-prescriptive’ action to the Security Council.
This way, the science goes, unadulterated, into an analytical and prescriptive expert panel, and thence into the political body that has global executive action.
My 3rd, and final, reflection on Rio will explore the high-level report, the Secretary-General’s promotion of it, and how it relates to the nine planetary boundaries.
Published in Environment & Resource Management by Kennedy Graham on Mon, July 30th, 2012
Tags: biodiversity, climate stabilisation, Earth Summit, High-Level Panel on Global Sustainability, IPCC, nine planetary boundaries, Our Common Future, Resilient People, Resilient Planet: A Future Worth Choosing, resource conservation, rio+20, The Brundtland Commission