Behind Copenhagen

It is worth noting that amidst a fury of debating and bartering issues such as deforestation and broad development of less developed countries had a radically different outcome.

Delving into these two issues as examples we should probably not be taken by surprise but take stock of the outcome. The first is striking a note of encouragement while the second falling so short of expectations of the broader environmental movement. We would suggest this is because behind all noise of the “Climate Change” conference there are some fundamentals to be addressed first. Understanding these would lead to appreciating the attitude of countries and shape a view about future options.

Looking at the first issue, deforestation, it is easy to see that it directly affects life on the planet irrespective of location. It is of immediate concern to everybody as it will affect the destiny of any organism. Consequently assigning resources to mitigate its effect was immediately forthcoming by all developed countries. They came with the proviso that monitoring mechanisms will be put in place to verify that these resources will be tightly targeted to deforestation of major tropical forests. The challenge is focused on few large areas managed by reasonably organised state administrations with an infrastructure to carry out such programmes with the support of outside help. The existing ample evidence of the damage already done and science progress in understanding the consequences have helped to only loosely link the issue to the absurd debate about historical burden of the current state of the environment and consequent demands for compensations of countries of which some with administrations of doubtful records in using resources provided by donors.

The second issue became immersed into this debate of apportioning blame and broad demands for compensations for historical damages. Facing a challenging future together fell sideways. The camp of the claimants had divisions ranging from truly unfortunate members such as some island states that face an immediate threat of extinction to politically motivated opponents of the developed world and particularly the US and EU. In between there were countries with interesting propositions that fell victim to the general confusion. Most flew the sovereignty flag behind China and claimed unconditional compensation vaguely specifying areas for support such as new energy technologies. The camp of the defendants, mostly the Western world and Japan could have a more compact position. They proposed support in new energy technologies attaching strict conditions of monitoring the use of this support. They would have been more effective if the various streams of the environmental movement were more co-ordinated and politically alert of the global arena. Recent historical evidence of donor support to most of the developing countries fully justifies donor reservations in providing resources that do not reach directly the objectives. Some mature NGOs with experience on the ground see this. Others exercising pressure inside Western countries have much less awareness. The movements is undeniably making a very important contribution to meeting the environmental challenge but it has to accept that in the global arena it must limit diffusion and become more cohesive. It is issues like the second one that condemned a confused conference to mediocre outcome leaving progress made like in the first issue in the shadows. Prospects of a breakthrough towards Mexico look gloomy.

The most important weakness of the conference on the outset was lack of any credible global institutional framework in place ahead of preparations for the conference. Sadly, event after its poor conclusion there has been no clear signal about this failing. The UN and its Programmes, given their outdated mandate, demonstrated their inability to deal with the challenge. The timid appearance of a Convention Executive with questionable mandate had little effect in leading the whole process. Demands of global governance were evident well before the conference and yet we are only at early stages of a G20 finding its way to be subverted by G2 ideas. Crucial areas such as economy, social development, environment and energy have seen little evidence of an agreed global vision.

It was also the misuse of the concept of democracy in a community of 192 countries with such a versatility of socio-political structures, population and economic potential that makes the process a farce; a well known attribute of UN. It converted the conference to a unique platform of political declarations by known ambitious non-democratic leaders with little or no relevance to its theme. In addition it cultivated the utopian vision of flattening the global population development at one level, lifting people from very low social development and pushing down others that are above that level. The absurdity of neglecting the incompatibility of value systems, levels of social maturity and the need of respect for such differences was left out of this democratic utopia. In the end reality caught up and the declaration was in fact agreed by very few players that matter (with the EU and its members left backstage!) leaving the rest complaining as if surprised by the outcome.

One wonders, are there any options for progress now? As in other areas of global concern, the governance gap is rapidly increasing together with the realisation that chasing utopian democratic models of the global community is a futile exercise. There is evidence of a more realistic approach but progress is slow compared to the emerging threats to humanity. This should perhaps be the most important area to have the broader civil society movement exert its full weight in a co-ordinated fashion thus fulfilling the expectations of the public.

There are a lot of examples to draw from in conducting a down-to-earth global governance project. Countries and regions around the globe are running smaller scale governance projects. Perhaps the most interesting is the EU. But there are also countries that explore new models of social development in their research base such as France and others looking at the review of the established one based exclusively on GDP. After all there is clear evidence that humanity, conscious of the consequences, distances itself inexorably from material consumerism. There is a fine balance to achieve between ensuring all countries foundation for their development and non-intervention in their social system and values. It requires a long and delicate process of maturity that given current communications technologies will ensure exchange of ideas without undue compromising of sovereignty. EU has experienced this for two generations with often forgotten impressive progress in the subsidiarity-v-shared sovereignty balance.

We can even suggest important elements of this foundation such as the agreement on global values reflecting humanity’s conscience and provision of water and sustainable energy to all. Specifically water and energy, produced in a sustainable manner (1), managed by a global institution to meet the needs of the planet could become foundation assets of any global governance model. They are the common denominator for the co-ordination of activity on a global scale such as economic, environmental and social.

Perhaps going behind global gatherings such as Copenhagen and working in pragmatic ways urgently building global institutions is the highest priority for the leaders of this world.

K. P. Vlahodimos-Optir Executive Coaching December 2009

(1) See on this site: Energy in the 21st century

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