In this interview published in World Future Review, STWR’s Rajesh Makwana highlights the urgent need to reform global governance institutions in order to end life-threatening deprivation and enable nations to co-create a just, sustainable and peaceful world.
WFR: What are the top three factors that you see helping us to address the global challenges of ‘sharing our rule book?’
Makwana: From my perspective, the notion of ‘sharing our rule book’ refers to the various global policies, rules and regulations that require collective agreement by the world’s governments if they are to adequately address issues that are beyond the scope of individual governments to tackle alone. As we know, many such ‘rule books’ exist and are often negotiated through the United Nations or other global bodies such as the World Trade Organisation (WTO). However, in many cases it would not be correct to say that these rules are agreed to on a ‘shared’ basis, as that would wrongly imply that all stakeholders were able to contribute equally to their formation without undue influence from other governments or powerful corporations – and this is patently not the case.
In light of the many interconnected global crises that humanity faces today, there are many factors that put governments under intense pressure to draft more effective global policies and regulatory frameworks. Perhaps most obviously, there is an urgent need for governments to agree legally binding commitments to reduce CO2 emissions. Few issues in recent decades have so effectively rallied citizens, campaigners and policymakers to seek globally acceptable solutions to a crisis – even though carbon emissions have soared by 61% since 1990 while governments continue to prioritise market-based solutions that seek to maintain business as usual.
Another factor is the ongoing global financial crisis that has been causing economic havoc across the globe since 2008. Although attempts have been made to mitigate the impact of the crisis, governments have failed to enact the urgent reforms to the global financial system that many progressives have long been calling for. As a consequence, the prospect of another financial crisis is now widely discussed within policy circles and the mainstream media. These two factors alone – tackling climate change and reforming an unsustainable global financial architecture – illustrate the need for a new set of shared global rules that do not put economic growth and profit maximisation above the needs of ordinary people or the stewardship of Planet Earth.
Many other factors are pressing the international community to consider more effective global policies and agreements, but of particular influence is the growing demand for social justice, true democracy and environmental sustainability that is being loudly voiced by activists and civil society organisations across the world. Since the ‘Battle in Seattle’ alter-globalisation protests in 1999, there has been a groundswell in popular resistance to unjust economic policies that disproportionately benefit the richest 1% or devastate the environment. We are now witnessing the rise of an unprecedented ‘movement of movements’ in which concerned citizens across the world are calling for the rules that underpin the global economy to be radically transformed in order to guarantee a more equitable, sustainable, and peaceful future for all people and nations.
WFR: What do you consider the top three factors/issues working against this?
Makwana: Achieving international agreement on the many global policies and regulations that are necessary to effectively manage transnational issues clearly remains a major challenge for policymakers. One obvious problem is the difficulty inherent in forging agreements among large numbers of countries on complex economic issues. This problem of achieving consensus is exacerbated by the fact that so many countries have competing political agendas—especially in light of a complex geopolitical situation characterised by interstate conflict over land and natural resources, particularly oil and gas.
The thorny issue of national resource security is one of many that illustrate why it is so difficult for governments to agree upon ‘shared global rules’ namely, the highly competitive nature of the present global economic system that is largely based on neoliberal policies and a market-driven agenda. Since the 1980s, an overriding emphasis on free markets, profit maximisation, and the myopic pursuit of economic growth has meant that the global economy is increasingly driven by national self-interest, aggressive competition, and material acquisition. After centuries of colonialism and the exploitation of weaker countries by more powerful ones, a tremendous imbalance exists in living standards between people living in developed and developing nations. This imbalance is a crisis that lies at the heart of present-day world tensions. As global inequalities continue to widen, the financial power and economic priorities of different governments also grow further apart, and it becomes increasingly difficult for them to agree upon shared rules that benefit all nations.
Of additional concern is the excessive power and influence that the private sector is able to wield over policymakers. While many are familiar with the pressures that ‘big business’ exerts over national politics, the influence of multinational corporations within global institutions such as the World Trade Organisation or the United Nations has also reached an apex. Numerous reports have documented how policymaking is captured by powerful corporations and business lobby groups that have the ability to maintain their vested interests at all costs. In light of ongoing global negotiations on pressing environmental issues, it’s clearly time for efforts to curtail the excessive influence of corporations over public policy to be strengthened and scaled up. Without such urgent measures, it will remain impossible for nations to agree upon rules that can ever be considered democratic or ‘shared.’
WFR: Is there some truly awful possibility you would rather not have to think about, but that you sincerely hope someone is thinking about?
Makwana: The prospect of global nuclear warfare is rarely discussed in the mainstream media these days, but we should not dismiss the possibility that such a catastrophe is still conceivable and even likely to occur if governments continue on their current trajectory. As STWR [Share The World’s Resources] highlighted in a report entitled ‘Financing the global sharing economy’, global military expenditures have risen by more than 50% since 2001, reaching over $1.7trillion in 2011 – 12 times more than global spending on aid. The continuing magnitude of military budgets reflects how dangerously misguided current global priorities are, especially in light of the devastating impact of armed conflict on individual lives, communities and entire nations.
This is a particularly worrying trend at a time when the possibility of future violent conflict grows as nations race to control oil and gas reserves in the Arctic, the East and South China Seas, around the Falkland Islands, and elsewhere. As governments continue to aggressively compete to control the planet’s scarce resources, a number of factors all but guarantee a further escalation of violent conflict in the immediate future. These include a growing world population and a rapidly expanding consumer class in developing countries, which is spurring an enormous increase in demand for energy and raw materials. The impact of climate change will also further exacerbate resource scarcity by dramatically constraining access to food, water, land, and other vital resources over coming decades.
Non-proliferation treaties and the decommissioning of nuclear weapons is an issue that civil society has been actively promoting for decades. But despite the existence of a number of agreements to limit nuclear capabilities and control the use of conventional arms, many have yet to be enforced. However idealistic it may seem to envisage cooperative solutions that can prevent future conflict over fossil fuels and other natural resources, humanity faces an unavoidable choice: either to come up with cooperative rules for sharing the environmental commons more equitably, or to continue on the path of intensified resource competition and the eventual possibility of a devastating nuclear war.
WFR: What are the top three goals you would like to see addressed between now and 2030?
Makwana: STWR has put forward a number of broad goals that the international community should be working towards in order to tackle escalating inequality, environmental threats, and security crises, all of which will require nations to embrace ‘shared global rules’ on a wide range of pressing issues. There can be little doubt that the underlying causes of the many complex problems facing humanity will necessitate widespread reforms to the rules and institutions that underpin the global economy. But at a time when 40,000 people are dying each day largely due to a lack of access to nutritious food, basic healthcare and clean water, we also need to take bold steps towards saving lives and ending extreme deprivation immediately, today.
A foremost priority, therefore, is an international program of humanitarian relief to mitigate the ongoing tragedy of life-threatening deprivation and avoidable poverty-related deaths - regardless of where they occur in the world. Such a programme needs to be agreed upon and implemented in the shortest possible timeframe, and will require an unprecedented mobilisation of international agencies, resources and expertise over and above existing emergency aid budgets and humanitarian programs.
The UN General Assembly should also convene a worldwide public consultation with representatives from all countries and all sectors of society to debate, negotiate, and implement a strategy for restructuring the global economy. Among the many reforms that these negotiations should consider, major international attention must be given to the following objectives: guaranteeing access to adequate social protection and public services for all; establishing a just and sustainable global food system; and instituting an international framework for sharing natural resources more equitably and within planetary limits. If you would like to know more about our perspective on these issues, you can visit www.sharing.org
Of course these overarching goals may seem idealistic to some, but they broadly echo those put forward more than 30 years ago by the Report of the Independent Commission on International Development Issues (the Brandt Commission). Today the world’s problems are even more complex and interlinked after three decades of economic globalisation, and the solutions needed to address global crises must go far beyond even the proposals of the Commissioners who contributed to the Brandt Report.
WFR: Can you tell us in three headlines an aspirational vision you have for the year 2030?
Makwana: I would choose the following three headlines:
1. WORLD NATIONS APPROVE PROGRAM OF GLOBAL ECONOMIC REFORM: Policy makers in countries across the world have agreed to the demands of citizens calling for a new economic paradigm in which wealth, power and resources are shared fairly and sustainably both within nations and internationally.
2. UN MEMBERS IMPLEMENT REDISTRIBUTION OF RESOURCES TO SAVE LIVES: Governments, working cooperatively through the United Nations, have implemented an emergency program of redistribution in an unprecedented effort to prevent life-threatening deprivation, reverse austerity measures and mitigate the human impacts of climate change.
3. HISTORIC AGREEMENT TO END COMPETITION FOR RESOURCES: After a worldwide public consultation, governments working through the United Nations have implemented a framework for sharing planetary resources cooperatively and sustainably in order to establish a more equitable and peaceful world.
WFR: What three things would need to happen to advance your vision?
Makwana: The first crucial step is for many more people to recognise that humanity is in the grip of a global emergency. As mentioned earlier, amidst the various crises we face - including the food, environmental, and financial crises - hundreds of millions of people across the world suffer from extreme deprivation and are dying needlessly from a lack of access to the essentials, whether as a consequence of extreme poverty, climate change, or natural disasters. Even in rich countries, austerity measures are inflicting unnecessary hardship on millions of families, many of whom now struggle to afford basic food or healthcare. In fact the basic rights set out in Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are not universally guaranteed in any country of the world, even though governments first committed to fulfil them some 68 years ago.
Second, we must recognise that this emergency exists largely as a consequence of our failure to share, and that the principle of sharing must therefore be an integral part of the solution to global crises. Simply put, a just sharing of the world’s wealth, power and resources is fundamental to bridging the gap between rich and poor countries and meeting basic needs for all. Establishing a new international framework for sharing natural resources more equitably and sustainably (such as land, minerals and fossil fuels) is also essential for safeguarding the environment, ending centuries of inter-state conflict and fostering global solidarity. From this human and common sense perspective, a new economic paradigm based on rules that promote the sharing of planetary resources—rather than aggressive competition and recurring conflict—offers the only pragmatic way forward for the international community.
Third, it is essential that a united global public urgently puts pressure on governments to reorder their distorted priorities, cooperate more effectively and share the global commons more equitably. As humanity moves ever closer to social, economic and environmental tipping points, it is clear that we can no longer rely on governments alone to create the future we want. The hope for a better world rests with the participation of the global public in a call for reform that extends beyond national borders. As the worldwide mobilisation of people power since 2011 has demonstrated, only a united and informed public opinion is stronger than the private interests that obstruct progressive change from taking place. It is imperative that millions more people recognise what is at stake and take the lead as proponents for change—the wellbeing of Planet Earth and future generations largely depends on this shift in global consciousness.
A version of this interview was originally published by Sage Publications in the journal World Future Review Vol. 6(4) December 2014, pages 464–467.
Image credit: Elio Di Rupo, Flickr creative commons