Environment, world governance

COP16 Cancun – All for one and one for all

A communitarian approach is the only way to save us from Climate Change

The expectations about the outcome of the COP16 in Cancun are low. A sad prospect if we think Climate Change is the biggest threat to our future and we have very little time to solve it. A change of approach is necessary; we need a common solution for a common problem.

Despite the multiple rounds of negotiations since the creation of the UNFCCC the GHG emissions haven’t stopped increasing and there is no sign that the tendency is going to be reversed in the near future. In fact, the only tangible outcome of all these years of negotiations has been the creation of carbon markets and financial mechanisms such as the Clean Development Mechanism. Neither of them have been a big success and it is a fact that lucrative parallel markets to speculate with carbon credits have been created. Many polluters are richer than ever whilst total emissions have not decreased…

The current system needs to be changed. And the solution is not in creating another treaty outside the UN framework, such as the last proposal of the US to work on a kind of new Montreal treaty. Behind the ecological and economical problem lies a governance problem that is blocking the process from moving ahead. And the problem lies in the incapacity to turn rhetoric into action; if Climate Change is a global problem it has to be treated with a global solution. And so far Climate Change has been addressed only from the national level. It is important to remind ourselves that the same way that the addition of national interests doesn’t result in the global interest, the sum of national actions is not a global action.

If we look into history, at the end of WWII the world was split as ever and there was an attempt to unite it with the creation of the UN. The high conditionality, absence of real integration, veto power, lack of democracy and persistent intergovernmental approach of the UN are the reasons of its weakness and irrelevance when important issues are at stake –wars and others kind of major crisis like climate change-. The other side of the coin was Europe, where a core of countries decided to move ahead with the revolutionary proposal of creating the European Coal and Steel Community, a common project with common institutions that with limited but real power managed to achieve a common goal. Had the ECSC waited for the United Kingdom to start the process that was to lead to what is today the EU, we would probably not have the EU today. A parallelism can be drawn for the global Climate Change action, the US threat to block the process has conditioned 20 years of negotiations. The unaccountable and inefficient system of cap and trade and offsetting of carbon that we have today is the only concession given by the US. If the US had continued to play the positive role that it played in the WWII period we would probably have established a system of emission limits managed by a small supranational body. But the US has not been in favour of democratic international institutions since 1946 and we have been paying a high price for it.
It is necessary to move on. The effects of a war can be reversed but those of Climate Change cannot. It is necessary that a group of countries decide to move ahead –like France, Germany, Italy and the Benelux did 60 years ago- and set up institutions that are capable to deal with global problems.

There are three possibilities to move ahead; the first and full-blown possibility is the creation of a Global Community for the Environment (GCE) to manage the emissions, the transfer of technology and the common actions in a democratic and accountable way. It would follow the model of the ECSC; creating of a communitarian body that takes care of the global common interest, a bi-cameral legislative assembly composed of representatives of the people of the union and a council representing the member-states and finally a judiciary with the role of settling disputes. This would be the optimal way to approach a global problem; with democratic institutions that can take democratic and accountable decisions minimising the danger of blockade.

A second possibility is the creation of World Environment Organisation whose structure would resemble the current World Trade Organisation. It could be created with a treaty and it could do the job if it managed to put in place a good system to settle disputes. This is a proposal that the German and French leaders, Merkel and Sarkozy, have already proposed to the SG of the UN without much success. The draw-backs of such as solution are; that it only includes the interests of the states but neither the interests of the citizens nor the global interest, that if it is to follow the WTO system the communitarian body –the secretariat- would be too weak to steer anything and that it would be a lost opportunity to engage the citizens in the fight against climate change. The WTO doesn’t have a good reputation among citizens; it is perceived as distant and surrounded by demonstrators and riots. The fact is that despite the procedures can be democratic; the decisions are taken in the intergovernmental limbo far away from the citizens.

A third option is the International Court for the Environment (ICE) following the precedent of the International Criminal Court. A global judiciary on climate issues –ruling on the jurisdiction provided by the convention and protocols- is indispensable to avoid the current lack of enforcement of the policies. The ICE would be a first step towards communitarianism from which it would be possible to evolve towards a democratic and accountable system of world relations.

All three options have no chances to succeed in the short term if all the countries are expected to sign in. More importantly, it is very unlikely that any of the three options will be supported by the US. Indeed, the US since the end of WWII has opposed any step in the direction of supranational democracy, in 1948 it initially didn’t accept the disputes settlement mechanism of the GATT –precursor of the current WTO- and the US is one of the few countries in the world that has un-signed the Rome Statute which founded the ICC.

There is no reason to believe that the US will be willing to change its policy in the short term, yet in the short term action is needed. A good number of countries in the world are ready to move ahead with a more democratic and communitarian approach for world relations when it comes to Climate Change. Same as with ECSC building a communitarian approach to fight climate change would not only benefit those who are in the union, it would also benefit those who are outside. For instance; the UK, Poland or Spain profited from the stability, common understanding, vision and good management of resources of the European Community even before they joined the EU. The same would happen for the US and the few other countries who would decide to stay out of the first Global Community for the Environment.
For instance, the US, the first polluter per capita in the world, would benefit not only because they will profit from the effort of the others to fight climate change but also because they would understand that it is in the interest of everybody to change the current fossil-fuelled economy into a more efficient and decarbonised one. In a way, the US is committing economic suicide with their reactionary policies of protection of the status quo. It is a paradox that a country with a structural fear to state intervention approves that the government continue to use the tax-payers money to subsidise fossil fuels. This is not only against free-market but also against the world interest. For what matters a Global Climate Community would foster pooling of research and technologies and by bringing in the concept of supranational solidarity and thanks to the economies of scale it would allow rapid decarbonisation of the world economy. From the competitive point of view, a country like the US that continues to subsidise fossil-fuels would be interested in joining the community, same as the UK decided that joining the EU is better than staying outside, because of widening technological gap. A coherent and responsible communitarian management of the transition to low-carbon economy would spark a lot more innovation and productivity than an economy that subsidises fossil fuels. The US would have to join the Global Climate Community before the Tea Party can imagine.

What about China and India? They are becoming the biggest world polluters and hence it will be difficult to strike a deal on capping emissions. However their opposition to a better governance solution is not of the same nature as the one from the US. A global approach to GHG emissions, eco-efficiency, resource use, biodiversity, energy savings, transnational infrastructure and renewable energies as well as a progressive deal in worldwide converging emissions per capita are possible positive outcomes of setting up a communitarian system based on trust and equality between the members. The EU is a good benchmark of the positive effects and externalities of setting up a communitarian system, on the opposite the UN system and more concretely the UNFCCC is a benchmark of how little can be achieved in horse-trading deals in intergovernmental forums.

In historical moments like the one we find ourselves in it is necessary to take a step back and observe our history; understand that humanity has advanced when it has worked together and has failed when it has been split. In order to solve the current challenges it is important to leave intergovernmentalism behind and find ways for human-beings to work in the same direction, towards the same goal. For diplomats and politicians the climate negotiations are seen as a battle-field where there are winners and losers –funnily those who think they are the winners are those manage to continue to pollute and the losers those who have to cut emissions-. The truth is that with the current system all the world citizens lose and so does the faith in democratic institutions and politics in general as an instrument to serve the citizens problems.

Changing the course of history is not easy but if we continue the route of intergovernmentalism is at our own peril. Thomas Jefferson said “One man with courage is a majority” let’s hope we can find one among the hundreds of leaders in Cancun that dares to go for a communitarian solution.


  1. Groan, groan and thrice groan.

    All this climate change/global warming stuff has been shown to be a total fraud.

  2. There is, actually, a fourth alternative which you may want to check out. It already has the support of 24 MPs in the UK parliament.

    http://www.simpol.org (global site)
    http://www.simpol.org.uk (UK site)

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