ECC Platform Library

 

Stopping the Great Splintering: A 5-Step Plan to Revive Multilateralism

24 May, 2019
Oli Brown, SDG Knowledge Hub / IISD

SDG Conference, MDGs, Rio, sustainable development

SDG Conference, MDGs, Rio, sustainable development
A view of the General Assembly following the adoption of the post-2015 development agenda. The 17 SDGs established by the 2030 Agenda were prepared in a thorough and inclusive international negotiation process following the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in 2012 (or Rio+20 Summit) and replaced the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). | © Cia Pak/UN Photo

A new publication on SDGs and foreign policy, prepared by researchers at the German thinktank adelphi, highlights a phenomenon I call this the ‘Great Splintering’ – the fracturing of political will for collective action on the global stage. This article outlines five steps we could take to revive multilateralism.

I miss 2015. It was a landmark year. In the space of 12 short months governments signed a slew of groundbreaking agreements: the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the Paris Agreement on climate change, the Iran nuclear deal, the Addis Ababa Action Agenda on Financing for Development and the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction.

At the time, many of us interpreted these agreements as milestones towards an inevitable outcome: a community of nations that finally would be able to tackle some of the world’s most intractable problems.

How wrong we were. Since 2015, people around the world have voted for populist leaders, nativist platforms or decisions that explicitly renounce a collective approach to common challenges: the UK’s choice to leave the EU (“Brexit”), Trump’s election as President of the US, and the elections of Duterte in the Philippines, Salvini in Italy, and Bolsonaro in Brazil. Far-right populist parties are now in power, or sharing power, in seven EU nations.

A defining characteristic of populist politics, on both the right and the left, is the depiction of multilateralism as driven by global elites at the expense of the “common man.” Countries under the influence of populist messages are retreating from the global stage and defining their politics in terms of opposition to foreigners and a distrust of multilateral organizations – the UN, the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the EU in particular.

Countries have pulled out of critical accords like the Paris Agreement and the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration. Jair Bolsonaro threatened to withdraw Brazil from the UN. Donald Trump is openly hostile to the Organization. For example, in May 2019 –to the delight of the US National Rifle Association – Trump announced his intention to withdraw the US from the UN’s 2013 arms control treaty that aims to stem the illegal trade in conventional weapons.

A new publication on SDGs and foreign policy, prepared by researchers at the German thinktank adelphi, highlights the phenomenon described above. I call this the ‘Great Splintering’ – the fracturing of political will for collective action on the global stage. The fragile ties binding countries together are fraying, with serious impacts: divisive politics, trade wars, disintegrating anti-proliferation treaties, an explosion of hate speech, conflict and division. While the dissolution of the EU or the UN may be unlikely, these trends risk undermining those institutions to the extent that they become ineffective and irrelevant.

Meanwhile, the world’s most pressing cross-border challenges – international terrorism, climate change, species loss, financial contagion, pandemics, growing inequality – have not gone away. Indeed, most are getting worse. Many of the SDGs are off-track, and we risk losing momentum on the implementation of what is perhaps our most important blueprint for a better world.

Is this a passing phase, or an enduring pivot in world politics? Is a new iron curtain falling between us? Is there anything we can do to revive multilateralism?

Here are five steps we could take.

Step 1: Admit You Have a Problem

As any alcoholic knows, the first step to recovery is acknowledging a problem. Those who believe in the ideals of multilateralism assume that the value of working together to tackle common problems is self-evident. This is reinforced as we often work, travel and talk among small circles of the “converted.”

But it’s not so clear to everyone else. Take for example, the fact that in many countries being labelled a “globalist” has—amazingly—become an insult. Many of us live this fiction that the arc of history bends inevitably towards greater cooperation across borders. But the direction of this arc is not automatic, and it shouldn’t be taken for granted.

Step 2: Meet People Where They Are

People working in multilateral organisations tend to respond to criticism of multilateralism by retreating to defensive speaking points about accepted mandates, institutional history and abstract achievements (reports published, conferences hosted, etc.).

This is the wrong strategy. We need to meet people where they are: people experience global challenges locally, even if the only effective response to many of those challenges is collective action on the part of many countries. We need to move beyond preaching to the converted and understand how we can better frame multilateral action in a way that makes sense to people’s real-life experiences.

Step 3: Rebuild Trust in Multilateral Institutions

Part of the necessary reframing is dealing with real problems in the multilateral system, which is suffering from a deficit of popular trust – some of it deserved, much of it not. Reform of these global organizations should be a matter of priority. It is more important than ever that they be more inclusive and totally transparent, reduce bureaucratic friction, and walk their own talk. Foreign policy professionals, as the recent publication from the German thinktank adelphi points out, can and should play a critical role in ensuring that happens.

Step 4: Focus on Results

Multilateralism is based on the idea that common problems are best solved by collective action that generates benefits for every country. The multilateral system needs to find concrete, communicable ways to demonstrate that this is true: that global action delivers meaningful change for people around the world, and thus directly serves the interests of individual nations. This means fewer self-important conferences and more on-the-ground projects. It means fewer “generals” and more “foot soldiers.” It requires a relentless focus on results that change people’s lives.

Step 5: Rinse and Repeat

The current multilateral system was built from the ashes of two World Wars with a combined death toll of more than a 100 million people. This searing experience led people to create an entirely new architecture for cooperation to ensure that such devastation was never again unleashed on the world. That architecture is in graver danger than many of us realize.

The fabric of international cooperation, painstakingly woven over the past 70 years, is beginning to unravel. In 1918 and again in 1945, war-traumatized countries said, “Never again.” It is incumbent on all of us to redouble our efforts to ensure that dialogue trumps division, and that cooperation beats conflict.

 

[This article originally appeared on SDG Knowlege Hub / IISD]

The author of this guest article, Oli Brown, is an Associate Fellow with the Energy, Environment and Resources Department of Chatham House (the Royal Institute of International Affairs). His blog and other writing can be found here: www.olibrown.org

Oli Brown and Stella Schaller (adelphi) contributed an essay to the publication titled, ‘Driving Transformative Change: Foreign Affairs and the 2030 Agenda,’ which was launched on 30 April 2019. The study was written by adelphi in cooperation with partner institutions including the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD), the Center on International Cooperation (CIC) at New York University, Chatham House, TMG Think Tank for Sustainability, and CDP Worldwide. It was supported by a grant from the German Federal Foreign Office.

ArticleClimate Diplomacy
Source
Topic
Climate Diplomacy

Region
Global Issues

Topics

Adaptation & Resilience

All countries will need to adapt to some of the environmental, social and economic impacts of climate change that are already unavoidable. Food security, livelihoods, water resource availability and public health are some affected areas. People living in poverty are more vulnerable, having a lower capacity to adapt. Thus, it is essential to promote resilience building. The adaptation and resilience aspects need to be mainstreamed into planning by policy makers and the private sector as well as integrated into development strategies.

Biodiversity & Livelihoods

Nature protection is most sustainable if it essentially contributes to the long-term stability of human needs. Today many regions around the world are confronted with increasing destruction of the natural foundations of life. The consequences of wide-ranging resource destruction are no longer regionally limited, but rather represent a global threat. Those affected are mainly rural populations, who find the sources of their income and the foundations of their way of life swept away. The depletion and destruction of natural resources goes hand in hand with decreasing agricultural yields and increasing poverty, which in turn forces the affected populations to deplete the remaining resources.

Read more

Capacity Building

On the one hand, conflicts are caused by structural factors, such as economic and social inequality or environmental destruction. On the other hand, conflicts are fuelled by a lack of democratic structures, deficient mechanisms of non-violent conflict settlement, inadequate rule of law, the destruction of social and cultural identity and the disregard of human rights. Against this backdrop, development policies have been dedicated to a broad concept of security, which comprises political, economic, ecological and social stability. As a consequence, development cooperation agencies and actors have developed a broad spectrum of approaches for conflict prevention and transformation as well as for sustainable use of natural resources.

Read more

Cities

Sorry, no description found.

Civil Society

Civil society is the first victim of environmental pollution, under-development and conflicts. Economically disadvantaged and politically marginalized population groups are particularly affected by violent conflicts as well as increasing resource degradation. Simultaneously, civil society is a fundamental pillar for implementing sustainable development. It contributes in many ways to strengthening conflict prevention and plays a significant role in the peaceful and democratic development of states. It must be supported to strengthen civil rights, adherence to human rights in general and democratic participation.

Climate Change

Climate change resulting from the emission of greenhouse gases represents one of the vital challenges for international environmental policy. Flooding, droughts, shifting of climate zones and increasingly frequent and intense extreme weather events will have serious economic and social consequences for entire regions. The climate problem is also directly linked to the question of future energy generation.

Read more

Climate Diplomacy

To address the challenges posed by climate change, a new profile of climate diplomacy is evolving. This utilises a full range of policies, including development cooperation, conflict prevention efforts, and humanitarian assistance, in addition to more traditional measures of climate change adaptation and mitigation. Moving from a risk analysis of climate-related threats to well-timed preventive action requires a greater commitment to integrating climate change concerns into development, foreign, and security policies. Examples include strengthening diplomatic networks, building new alliances with partners, and raising awareness – not only of potentially negative climate change impacts, but also of opportunities to embark on a sustainable transformation of our societies.

Read more

Co-Benefits

Climate action entails an array of economic, social, political and environmental co-benefits. It provides an opportunity for economic growth and new jobs. Many investments can take into account climate considerations without becoming more costly. Further important co-benefits include: improved energy security, less local air and water pollution, health benefits as well as ecosystem and biodiversity protection.

Conflict Transformation

In order to overcome the structural causes of violent conflicts and thus bring about an improvement in the framework conditions for peaceful and fair development, it is essential to have long term and broadly planned peace development and peace advancement. Various governmental and non-governmental, national and international actors and groups are involved in these processes.

Read more

Development

Climate change and development are inextricably linked. Climate change endangers the development agenda and has the potential to reverse development goals. Furthermore, successful mitigation of climate change heavily depends on development choices around the world. Therefore, development strategies need to be climate-compatible to provide long-term success, and there are viable policy options that support this compatibility. Many mitigation and adaptation activities can present development opportunities to developing countries and avoid the lock-in to environmentally damaging technologies.

Early Warning & Risk Analysis

The reasons for the development and escalation of conflicts and the incidence of risks are multifaceted and complex. Simultaneously, the assessment of the specific causes in the form of risk and conflict analyses can contribute to a better understanding of these processes and make it possible to provide warning of negative developments, or ideally help prevent them. In the context of natural resource use, risks and conflicts have gained increasing attention in the past years. The debate on possible future water wars is merely one example.

Read more

Energy

The well-being of individuals, communities and nations depends on the availability of energy resources. The gap between energy supply and demand appears to be growing, making the world vulnerable to serious economic shocks. At the same time, the burning of fossil fuels causing climate change is one of the vital challenges of international environmental policy. So far, only rudimentary approaches exist for shaping climate and energy security in a sustainable way. The components of a strategy that can contribute to reducing vulnerabilities related to climate change and energy policy include a greater role for renewable energies, the improvement of energy efficiency and a stronger decentralisation of energy supply.

Read more

Environment & Migration

The economic, social and environmental consequences of climate change aggravate the breakdown of eco-system-dependent livelihoods and are likely to become dominant drivers of long-term migration. Natural disasters already cause massive shorter-term displacement and the number of temporarily displaced people is likely to further increase with climate change. For vulnerable populations in vulnerable regions, such as the Sahel zone or the Ganges delta, migration often becomes the sole survival strategy. In order to address climate-related displacement and migration successfully, knowledge of effective adaptation and an improved understanding of how environmental change affects human mobility is essential. 

Read more

Finance

Climate finance, from all sources, plays a key role in supporting and enabling adaptation and mitigation action as well as climate and energy innovation. The Paris Agreement ensured that the Green Climate Fund and the Global Environment Facility are at the core of climate finance architecture as entities entrusted with the operation of the Financial Mechanism of the UNFCCC. Increasing climate finance from all relevant public and private sources is crucial. Furthermore, much needs to be done to redirect finance flows to sustainable paths, e.g. reducing fossil fuel subsidies, introducing maritime and air transportation taxes. The conditions for green investment in developing countries should also be improved.

Forests

Forests are disappearing at an alarming rate. Competition for forest resources triggers, exacerbates, or finances numerous crises and conflicts in tropical developing countries. Illegal logging and timber trade foster instability and sometimes violent conflict by strengthening illegal and armed groups, increasing corruption and exacerbating use and claim conflicts among local communities, the state and the business sector. Forests are a vital resource to poor people but they can also become areas of conflict. Sustainable management of forest resources is therefore key to preventing violent conflict over and within forests.

Read more

Gender

Gender plays an important role as a category of conflict for many reasons. The interlinkages between gender, environment and conflicts are complex and much research is still needed. Existing insights suggest that conflicts may worsen gender inequalities that existed before the outbreak of violence. The unequal distribution of land property rights in many parts of the world serves as an example. Moreover, women (and children) are among those most affected by both violent conflict and natural disasters. At the same time, women carry much of the burden of trying to implement rehabilitation measures after crisis events.

Read more

Land & Food

Increasing water scarcity, desertification and crop failures due to extreme weather events are becoming more and more of a threat to global food production. While the world’s population continues to grow rapidly, food production is unable to keep pace. Due to the global food crisis in 2008, the number of hungry people reached the symbolic one billion threshold for the first time – corresponding to about 16 percent of world population. Food insecurity may be a consequence or cause of conflicts. Violent conflicts often lead to the destruction of agricultural infrastructure and means of production, as well as to the displacement of local communities.

Read more

Minerals & Mining

In the past, the discovery and tapping of valuable or strategic resources like valuable minerals, oil and natural gas, particularly in developing and emerging countries, has often led to large scale environmental contamination and negative development. The "resource curse" of some countries shows that the wealth from resource yields is frequently unfairly distributed; instead of serving development it advanced the formation of corrupt elites and in some cases even led to conflicts and civil wars. Measures in various sectors and at all levels are important in order to use the potential of these natural resources in a manner that is sustainable and prevents conflicts.

Read more

Private Sector

The spread of violent conflict not only affects people but also companies located in such regions. Destruction of investments and infrastructure, collapse of markets and trade partnerships, flight and expulsion of employees are phenomena of conflicts and environment-induced crises that directly affect companies in unstable regions. Almost all branches of the economy thus have a clear interest in a stable and peaceful environment for their activities. Conversely, the business sector plays an important role in the interaction of economic growth, social development and a healthy environment, all of which can advance peace and sustainable development. 

Read more

Security

Environmental issues have a significant security dimension. Access to, and overuse of, natural resources often play a key role in civil wars or other forms of internal domestic conflict. This is compounded by climate change and environmental degradation. Climate change is now widely recognised as a non-traditional, risk-multiplying threat that will have increasing security impacts. Key risks with possible implications for human and national security include water scarcity, food crises, natural disasters, and displacement. More preventive diplomacy and advocacy is needed to address the strategic implications of climate and environmental change.

Sustainable Transformation

Sustainable Transformation allows societies to profit from a growing, environmentally sustainable and socially inclusive economy – especially in emerging and developing countries. This requires a higher up-front investment, but the benefits of a sustainable transformation in the medium and long term are significant. For instance, energy cost savings and reducing the impact of price volatility offer major incentives for deploying renewable energies and promoting energy efficiency. Such benefits exist in all key sectors of the economy.

Technology & Innovation

Innovations and technologies are already readily available and affordable but their global diffusion and uptake remains a challenge. Innovation and technology are crucial to achieving ambitious climate change mitigation and adaptation targets. However, research and development often do not receive appropriate public support. Developing countries can leapfrog high-carbon industrialisation phases by adopting, deploying and improving existing innovations and technologies. For this, it is essential to minimise financial, administrative and political barriers.

Water

The availability of freshwater resources in sufficient quantity and quality is essential for the preservation of human health and sound ecosystems. The use of water resources is also vital, however, for economic development: whether for agriculture, industrial production or for electricity generation. The world's freshwater resources are distributed very unevenly in terms of geography and seasons. In addition, water shortage is becoming more prevalent in several regions due to population growth, economic development, urbanisation and increasing environmental pollution. Thus, water resources can hold potential for conflicts between parties who have different interests and needs.

Read more

Regions

Asia

The environment in Asia is already under tremendous pressure as a result of the unsustainable use of land, forests, water and even air in many regions. Climate change will only exacerbate these challenges. Rising sea levels will likely endanger densely populated areas, changes in the monsoon patterns can strongly impact agriculture, melting glaciers will increase long-term water scarcity, and extreme weather events such as heavy rainfall and cyclones can pose further hazards.

Read more

Central America & Caribbean

Natural disasters and water scarcity are key challenges for most of Central America and the Caribbean. These challenges will become even more pronounced as the climate changes. Weak resource and disaster risk management and land disputes pose additional security challenges for large parts of the region. Several countries of Central America and the Caribbean have limited adaptive capacities as they face political instability caused by high social inequality, crime, corruption, and intra-state conflicts.

Read more

Europe

As one of the most developed and most densely populated regions in the world, Europe makes heavy use of its resources, resulting in difficult trade-offs and negative consequences for the environment and ecosystems. Land is used for settlements, agriculture and dense infrastructure, creating problems of soil degradation. Water resources are stressed due to unsustainable agricultural practices. Despite nature protection policies, Europe continues to lose biodiversity at an alarming pace. Some of these trends are exacerbated by climate change, which is expected, for instance, to lead to shifts in water availability.

Read more

Global Issues

Resource scarcities, environmental pollution and climate change are not limited by national borders, but often have a transboundary or even global impact. These issues interact with political stability, governance structures and economic performance, and can trigger or worsen disputes and violent conflicts. Exacerbating some of these trends, climate change is likely to lead to the degradation of freshwater resources, declines in food production, increases in storm and flood disasters and environmentally induced migration. All these developments pose potential for conflict.

Read more

Middle East & North Africa

The geopolitical position of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), its fossil fuel resources, high population growth and the political changes spurred by the Arab Spring all make the region one of the most dynamic in the world. Nevertheless, it is also one of the most arid and environmentally stressed. Dwindling water resources, limited arable and grazing land, high pollution from household and industrial waste, remnants of conflicts and increasing desertification are key environmental challenges.

Read more

North America

Climate change has various impacts on the three North American countries of Canada, Mexico and the US. Canada and the US have well-developed adaptive capacities and foster the strengthening of capacities in other regions as well. With high per capita emissions, these two countries also bear a greater responsibility for a changing climate. Mexico has a sound national strategy for climate change adaptation, yet fewer capacities than Canada and the US. The poorer and rural populations of Mexico are especially vulnerable to climate change, due to an increased sensitivity and a lower adaptive capacity.

Read more

Oceania & Pacific

In Oceania, population growth and economic development trends put a strain on oceanic and island ecosystems. Freshwater scarcity, overexploitation of fisheries, loss of land biodiversity, forests and trees, invasive species, soil degradation, increasing levels of settlement, poor management of solid and hazardous waste and disproportionate use of coastal areas are some of the problems. Climate change exacerbates most of these trends, while also raising questions about the future sovereignty of some island states.

Read more

South America

South America has diverse and unique ecosystems and is very rich in biodiversity. Weak natural resource management, land disputes and extreme weather events bring about significant challenges for the region. While South America accounts for relatively few CO2 emissions, the changing climate will alter its ecosystems and greater climate variability will lead to more hurricanes, landslides, and droughts.

Read more

Sub-Saharan Africa

In many African states, environmental security issues rank high on the political agenda. Throughout the continent, countries suffer from water scarcity, food insecurity and energy poverty. These chronic and worsening resource scarcities have severe livelihood implications and are exacerbated by political conflicts over access to and control over these resources. Climate change may seriously threaten political and economic stability in Africa. It may also put a severe strain on the capacities of states and societies to co-ordinate activities, to communicate and to organize.

Read more