Research gaps in the institutional design of global democracy

Jo Leinen and Andreas Bummel • Nov 27th, 2011
Research gaps in the institutional design of global democracy

The Earth System Governance Project has been mandated by the four global environmental change research programmes as organisers of the 2012 conference Planet under Pressure, to compile a fast-track policy-relevant assessment of the state of research on the institutional framework for sustainable development. This assessment provides input of the scientific community to the international policy process leading to the "Rio+20" Conference's theme of "institutional framework for sustainable development". The project is also designed to assist policy responses to the pressing problems of earth system transformation.

One of the five analytical issues around which the project is organized is about how to ensure the accountability and legitimacy of more regulatory competence and authority at the global level. This includes an assessment of institutional designs that “can produce the accountability and legitimacy of earth system governance in a way that guarantees balances of interests and perspectives.” By contrast to this, David Shearman and Joseph Wayne Smith believe that democratic structures will and probably have to be abandoned in an attempt to deal effectively with the world’s unfolding civilizational crisis.

We concur with the approach of the Earth System Governance Project. Not less, but more democracy will be the key to achieve broad legitimacy and, based on this, more effective global environmental governance. International polls suggest that a clear majority of citizens in the world who are aware of the issue want their own government to do more to address climate change. In many instances, not only regarding climate change, publics seem to be more supportive of global cooperation than their national governments.

Means and tools of participation and appropriate institutions of global democracy need to be conceptualized. The scientific plan of the Earth System Governance Project actually mentions the “far-reaching proposal” for a global parliamentary assembly that was already briefly elaborated on 1995 in the report of the Commission on Global Governance.

As practitioners involved in the Campaign for a UN Parliamentary Assembly, we recognize a substantial and practical need of in-depth research in this specific area. In our perception, academic research has not quite kept pace with actual developments.

Over the past ten years, political support for a UN Parliamentary Assembly has steadily grown. An international campaign that was launched in 2007, for instance, is now endorsed by over 800 Members of Parliament and hundreds of other distinguished individuals from around the world. In June, the European Parliament called on the Council of the EU to promote a UN Parliamentary Assembly at the UN General Assembly. Recently, a member of the US Congress has expressed support.

A UN Parliamentary Assembly could be created by the UN General Assembly as a subsidiary body based on Article 22 of the UN Charter. The project could also start elsewhere in the intergovernmental system. Last year we tried to imagine how this could be done at the Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

As an initial step towards a fully-fledged assembly, a small nucleus could be created. The Cardoso Report on the UN and Civil Society in 2004 for example suggested that parliaments should be linked with international deliberative processes through fairly modest “global public policy committees”. In the same year, the International Labor Organization’s report on the social dimension of globalization proposed “the creation of a Global Parliamentary Group concerned with coherence and consistency between global economic and social policies, which should develop an integrated oversight of major international organizations of the UN system, the Bretton Woods Institutions and the WTO.”

What role could such committees or groups play in earth system governance? How could they be created and to which intergovernmental institutions should they be linked to? How could their composition look like? What functions exactly should they have? How could the roadmap to the implementation of the actual global parliamentary assembly look like? What would it cost and how would it be paid for?

Few so far have attempted to provide answers to such practical questions, still less have come up with concrete models and scenarios.

The Earth System Governance Project provides for an excellent framework to deal with this research field. We hope that it will help to overcome the existing research gaps and that, finally, the proposal for a global parliamentary assembly will be included, in one way or another, into the project’s policy briefings.

About the authors

Jo Leinen is chairman of the European Parliament’s Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety and Co-Chair of the Parliamentary Advisory Group of the Campaign for a UN Parliamentary Assembly

Andreas Bummel is Secretary-General of the Campaign for a UN Parliamentary Assembly

Tags: accountability,UN Parliamentary Assembly,United Nations Parliamentary Assembly
Note: Comments will be visible only after approval

UNPA discussion event at Lund Conference