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It’s time for Plan B

23 December 2009 Harriet Riley No Comment

When the going gets rough, we forgive our politicians for abandoning some elements of democratic freedom in the name of swifter action against a foe. But over the last nine years we have lost more of those freedoms than our World War II counterparts could ever have imagined, with no perceivable gain. Instead, the state has acted as a leaver for business, easing the gradual growth not so much of market, but of corporate control. We are more regulated than ever, but enjoy less of the benefits that come from a strong, functional state, such as the efficiency and support offered by publicly owned goods like education and health. What a time for governments to lose control, right when a regulated, rapid and cooperative Marshall Plan is needed to confront the greatest enemy we have ever faced; climate change.  Instead the appointed powers have compromised democratically, with no perceivable practical benefits. That, we cannot forgive.

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Though inconceivable in the 90s, this is the system we now inhabit, and it seems to show no sign of changing through conventional methods of protest. Even those politicians and civil servants within it seem no so much un-willing, but incapable, of shifting the new machinery. So as civil society withdraws from Copenhagen, to scheme even bigger banners, and even more petition signatures for the COP16 in Mexico, maybe we should be asking, is there a better way?


Maybe civil society (that’s all of us concerned global citizens) should circumvent traditional channels within the international system, and ignore those national leaders who do not want to participate. In fact, perhaps we should circumvent the international system altogether. It has been suggested before, but now might be the time to create an alternative world government, staffed by NGOs and other international non-state actors. The legitimacy of this body is not founded upon force, as is the state case, or on the membership of states, as in the UN’s, but on the moral, intellectual and effectualness of its actions


Imagine a General Assembly populated by representatives from every culture, faith and interest group on Earth, backed up by a team of scientific and academic experts, producing policy and instituting mechanisms by which cities, groups, businesses and individuals could start to take unified action against climate change, in accordance with norms and targets agreed by the body. The worlds largest NGOs, such as the Red Cross, churches, and needless to say businesses, have already achieved this kind of traction. There is no reason why an institute-style body, a kind of alternative UN, could not do the same.


At first, the core team of this new international body looked a lot like your avarrage think tank. It would start by bringing together some of the worlds premiere intellectuals, much like the Global Humanitarian Forum has done, then have them discuss possible ways to build an alternative system for global governance. As this body began to release policy, initiate projects and achieve success through business and state-based partnerships, it would gain legitimacy. Though slowly building up to it over years of action, this body’s ultimate aim would be to provide an international forum for cooperation, the way the UN does now, but unimpeded by the demands of dominant member-states.


The key question is not legitimacy, or the authority of enforcement (once it’s functionality had been displayed, people will turn to it as an expert groupthe way we do now to universities), but funding. Where can we derive the start-up cash necessary of this ‘World Council’ to launch its projects? That is something for the very first councilors, those intellectuals and experts I suggested be convened to create the body, to figure out when they come together.


The point of this ambitious post is to illustrate that we cannot, as Albert Einstein said, solve a problem with the same kind of thinking that created the problem. We might have to take a leap into uncharted territory, and trust each other’s ability to support a notion as reliant on goodwill as this one. After all, it was not just will but goodwill that the Copenhagen talks lacked. Why not head to the opposite end of the spectrum in search of a result?

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