It must be said. I won’t be silent.
I’ve had enough of the hypocrisy;
Please shed the silence with me.
– Günter Grass
I have been a fly on the evolving landscape of ‘global environmental governance’ for many years now. Long enough for initial awe to be replaced by tired skepticism.
It is certainly a good thing that we have ‘evolved’ to a point where our governments can come together under the banner of the United Nations, to discuss how to save the world’s flora and fauna, manage cross-boundary pollution, or save the world from global warming.
Sadly, though, the formation of the UN in 1945 remains but a small step for humankind. We are far away from even articulating the hope that some day, the UN will become a forum for achieving global democracy where rich and poor, nations and individuals, will have equal rights.
As my late mentor Anil Agarwal used to say, economic and ecological globalization have been thrust upon us, but we are far from achieving political globalization. So-called ‘global leaders’ are interested only in protecting (short term) national interest. Obama or Cameron have no (political) responsibility to the poor in Asia or Africa. Why should they, the poor don’t vote for them. (On the other hand, why shouldn’t they? Why are national boundaries so sacrosanct that common human decency can only seep through in dribs and drabs?)
There is, of course, much talk of the poor and even some money to address poverty in global negotiations. But the poor neither participate in the global negotiations, nor often hear of the decisions that have been taken on their behalf. They rarely get to decide how the money should be spent, if and when it gets to them.
National governments of poorer countries do not do a good enough job of protecting their poor populations – they either lack the power or capacity to influence the negotiations, or have to bow to more powerful factions at home and abroad, which are busy oiling the wheels of economic globalization.
(Lest this lack of proper representation be seen as only a developing/ poor country malaise, though – a lot of my friends from North America and Europe also lament their inability to influence their governments’ positions in international negotiations).
Without a global body to ensure equity in the global negotiations, the interests of the world’s poor remain largely marginalized at the global level. Issues are fragmented and discussed in isolation, while linkages that could actually make a difference to the poor are conveniently ignored.
It is not considered diplomatic, for instance, to link Northern consumption patterns and unfair global trade rules with natural resource exhaustion (such as water and soil quality depletion) and desertification in the South. Instead the loss of these natural resources, with deep implications for the poor, must be addressed through a smattering of other negotiations, institutions and processes that do not address consumption patterns, such as the UN Convention to Combat Desertification. As for Northern consumption – that is a discussion mostly relegated to processes even more ineffective than UN treaties, usually talk-shops where there is no danger of legally-binding outcomes.
Intellectual property rights are guarded ferociously by the World Trade Organization, the only global institution with ‘teeth’,when they belong to large multinationals. But the intellectual property of poor communities in the South is open to exploitation. The chances of effective protection for the IPR of the poor are diluted by scattering the discussion in several different fora, including the Convention for Biological Diversity, Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Intellectual Property Organization.
The link between greenhouse gas emissions (mostly accumulated in the atmosphere from developed countries) and climate change impacts on the poor in the developing countries is clear, but cannot be mentioned explicitly under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change – certainly not in conjunction with terminology such as “polluter pays” or “liability and compensation”. (The recent addition of a work stream on loss and damage gives hope – but less hope than the reopening of the discussion on common but differentiated responsibilities takes away).
This blog aims to flag such miscarriages of justice, and give voice to the concerns of the poor.
A word about the title. Its likeness to the title of Günter Grass’ poem is coincidental, but the lines quoted above are appropriate in the current context. The inability of the global negotiations to address the concerns of the poor must be brought to the forefront, and the reasons for their failure discussed. I hope you will join me in breaking the silence.