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Op-Ed: The UN is No Longer Fit for Purpose- What Now?

Opinion Article
Op-Ed: The UN is No Longer Fit for Purpose- What Now?

There is no structure within the whole sphere of human governance that can deliver us the global biophysical integrity which we now require. The new intertwined relationship between humans and the Earth is now a permanent arrangement…so we must protect the Earth now and in the year 2100, 2500 and the year 3000. At present, we have no mechanism to guarantee success in this extraordinary undertaking, so we must create it. 

The governance structures we have built, principally the 195 nation states and a meeting room called the UN, are not fit for purpose for the protection of a biosphere. In order to restore and protect a planet’s natural systems we must have a full time dedicated specialist in charge, laying down universal biophysical boundaries and enforcing them.  Our nation states, being competitive, hegemonic, built to provide safety within their borders and oversee the flow of human goods and services to their peoples, are not the answer. When it comes to protecting a biosphere, they are part time short-term under-funded amateurs. No wonder a terrible result has ensued since the 1972 Stockholm declaration, signed by all countries, that ‘nature’s assets must be safeguarded’.

So we currently have a structural error of governance. In terms of our power, technology and potency of destruction of the environment, we as a race have moved past this particular administrative unit. It is as simple as that. We are too strong a destructive force for a group of disparate, distracted, geographically constrained amateurs, called the nation states, to handle. 

Instead, our global race must now afford our greatest asset, the living planet, a global specialist protectorate. Human governance structures are fluid undertakings, a bit like ants building an ant’s nest. They work for the conditions of their time. They deliver functions of utility of their time and then when they no longer work, they must be left behind and new structures built. Now, because we are so powerful that we must protect a global asset, we must build a global structure that delivers this particular function of utility.

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This new specialist authority must sit above the nation state, where there is currently a complete void. The UN has no executive or regulatory power over the nation state. If you are mentally drawing a diagram in your mind, put the UN to the side of the nations. For all the excellent work the UN does, on a small budget of only $10 billion annually, it is at the end of the day, just a meeting room of  the Westphalian nation state system.

The calls for a new higher level structure are everywhere you look. David Attenborough has said ‘unless humanity comes to a co-ordinated view of its relationship with the planet, it’s going to get worse and worse’. The World Economic Forum and HRH Prince of Wales, in laying down a ten-point plan for the circular bio-economy (October 2020) argued in point 7 that regulation and policy must reach the global level. Numerous academics, including Prof. Klaus Bosselmann of Auckland University, have argued ‘that matters of a planetary issue require a single polity, however inchoate’. In his 2009 speech, famed American ecologist Paul Hawken called for a new operating system within the next few decades. The World Bank too, has stated that feeding 9 billion people and reducing the pressures on the environment will require radical changes in global governance.

But the truth of the matter is that we have no global governance. Global governance must include actual regulatory power over all the human organisations underneath it, including the nation state. 

Entering global governance and putting a specialist authority in charge will gain us an immediate and material betterment of nature and an improvement in the human condition. Additionally, it will also effect a step change in the profile of human-induced existential risks that we face in this pivotal century.  Many commentators (e.g Martin Rees, Head of Cambridge’s Centre for the Study of Existential Risk, and Toby Ord, Fellow of The Future of Humanity Institute, Oxford University) argue that from the already high base layer of risk including nuclear war, climate change and environmental degradation, are coming the even greater risks of artificial intelligence, dystopian outcomes and biological warfare. So our step into global governance using our shared commonality of the Earth’s protection is extremely timely, as it will pave the way for further governance evolution capable of further reducing this terrible existential risk profile. 

Let us imagine that we have just created a Global Planet Authority (GPA). What actions would it take to protect the planet?  It would build a global transaction fee-based tax system that taxes the biophysically profligate and places taxes on specific externalities such as carbon and landfill. It would operate a global ozone monitoring system with automatic shutdown capability of any factory in the world producing ozone-depleting gases. 

GPA would place all rainforest under its global protection, so that no rainforest is lost anywhere in the world. The current GDP of the Amazonian-facing nations is $3 trillion. The GPA would be able to pay, for example, $300 billion a year for 10 years to all the people of those nations, so they directly benefit from the executive order that affords the amazon rainforest global protected status. In oceans, all the high seas of the world would fall under the GPA’s protection and 60% would be made no entry. The Arctic and Antarctic would be sovereignty free, that is, no country can claim ownership of the waters of the Arctic or the land and waters of the Antarctic. Mobile marine reserves would track migrating whales and large fish within coastal areas, and deep-sea trawling would be immediately banned worldwide. Our fixed nitrogen and potassium use for fertilisers would be materially reduced whilst overseeing an agroecology program that restores soil and maintains our current caloric output of essential grains. And of course, through a series of low risk actions, the GPA would take us safely to 300 ppm of carbon dioxide equivalent units in the troposphere by 2050. In short a GPA would deliver a far superior range of biophysical outcomes, ones highly unlikely under the current system.

With these new boundaries in place, humanity’s response would be exceptional. Capitalism would respond to clear pricing and regulation, GDP would grow but with hugely reduced industrial metabolism and we would all share in our joint achievements of biophysical restoration, benefiting the poor in particular. Our long term potential to flourish as a race would also remain intact. 

So how do we enter global governance? Who do we ask? Is there someone to call? Is there someone to lobby? No, the only way of entering this void is if we, the people of the world, decide to move there and build the structures we want. It is our own permission that we seek, and fortunately we can now undertake the first act of global self determination. Let me explain.

The act of creating a nation state is called an act of national self determination. A large group of people get together and in effect, allocate a small part of their personal sovereignty in such numbers that the new governance structure is created. The people are saying “we choose to create this governance structure and abide by its rules.” The acts of national self determination were so numerous in the first half of the 20th century that the right to self determination was written as a central tenet in the charter of human rights at the founding of the UN. 

Jumping forward to the present, for the first time ever, we can gather as a global race and allocate our personal sovereignty en masse at the global level. This is because 5 billion of us are now online and connected. We really have arrived at an exceptional point in human history. We can enter global governance by our own free will, in the same manner humans have always advanced- as the people.  The power that we yield is that we are the system. For example, we can close down the world economy by not working in order to force the new governance body to come to be. One could argue that COVID-19’s ‘economic shutdown’ could well be a warm up event.

Only 50 million people govern and enforce the primary institutions of all 195 nation states.  This is composed of 25 million people administrating the highest offices of the judicial, operating and executive arms of state and a total of 21 million soldiers. At 5 billion on line and connected, and 50 million representing the ‘opponent’, we are 100 to 1…and this is the median ratio of the most famous acts of national self determination of the last 250 years. And it will be the ratio that sees us enter the global sphere. 

THE ACTION: Because we live in the 21st Century, we will allocate our personal sovereignty by way of a biometrically valid and secure global vote for anyone 13 years and over. It will probably require 2-3 billion votes. Teenagers will be eligible to vote, as they have always been active at revolutionary points of human history, and they have the most to gain. We will write a constitution for a Global Planet Authority, charge it with delivering global biophysical integrity, set up its biophysical board and ensure it has excellent internal governance systems to give it sufficient but limited power..

I believe that it is no coincidence that this capability for a step change in human agency has arrived when we are also running Earth’s systems for the first time. 

It is easy to say, “this is not possible” and cross one’s arms and look stern and huff. But let us remind ourselves that in 1770 there was no USA, in 1850 no Canada, in 1875 no Germany, in 1943 no India and no People’s Republic of China, in 1960 no Singapore. Their leaders, their visionaries, their people, that is, all our forebears, stepped into the governance voids of their time, under what were often very difficult circumstances, to create semi-permanent human governance structures (nation states) they deemed necessary to ensure their progress. 

I am convinced that if the likes of Washington, Pankhurst, Gandhi, Mandela, and Sun Yat-sen were alive today, they would say to us, “GO!”, recognising that we must create a new governance structure designed specifically for the task at hand.  

And we must. We must advance our governance to be fit for this new era: our most valuable global asset must be afforded global protection by a global race.



About the Author

Angus Forbes

Angus Forbes was the first director of the Prince’s Rainforest Project, founded the not-for-profit Bankers without Boundaries (bwbuk.org) and has founded the Global Planet Authority movement (www.globalplanetauthorty.com).

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