Protecting the Multilateral Order:

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Colin Keating


As we approach the end of 2019, it seems that many assumptions about the robustness of multilateralism, which has underpinned New Zealand’s foreign and trade policy over the past 75 years, are under threat.

It is therefore timely, and very encouraging, to see MFAT tweeting about the importance of multilateralism this week.  #multilateralismmatters

Can New Zealand step up to the challenge and become a leader in protecting and restoring genuine multilateralism?

Restoring multilateralism is very much in New Zealand’s interests. We need to be realistic. These are difficult times.  But New Zealand has a large store of goodwill internationally. It has credibility and an excellent track record.

I am pleased that the Centre for Global Studies and the UN Association of New Zealand have launched a joint project to explore options for New Zealand to press for the restoration of the mana of multilateralism.

The project will begin in early 2020 with the aim of producing a short report and some practical recommendations for the incoming government after the 2020 election. CGS and UNANZ have only limited resources, but will reach out to interested individuals and groups in civil society to get input and ideas.

The project has evolved against the background of an increasing global push-back against multilateral rules and norms.

  • International law is not being respected.
  • Human rights and rules governing international trade are routinely violated.
  • Negotiators struggle to sustain agreed principles of good governance and environmental protection.

The current trends are reminiscent in some ways of the behaviours in the 1930s that destabilised and ultimately destroyed the League of Nations.

There are demands for states to have the freedom go their own way and to exercise sovereignty unencumbered by international law or the UN Charter.

  • In decision-making on war and peace, unilateralism seems to be prevailing over collective security rules.
  • Long-term alliances and partnerships are seen as trifling and sometimes as problematic hindrances.
  • The UN Security Council is being undermined. Even Permanent Members flagrantly ignore its binding decisions.
  • Assertive bilateralism seems to be rearing its ugly head, with some world leaders demanding bilateral outcomes at the expense of collective ones.

This infection is spreading. Even in New Zealand there are echoes on talk-back radio, and in what social media trolls are writing.  Some really despise the UN.  Others project hatred of the values it stands for.

There used to be an active political consensus in New Zealand on the need to support multilateral institutions and the UN in particular. But all our political parties here seem now to have drifted into a position where, with the exception of climate change, the focus is on other policy priorities. By default, energy and resources have shifted to bilateral activity.

It has been clear, for over a hundred years, that excessive focus on bilateralism leads, ultimately, to diminished outcomes for everyone.  We have also learnt that it can create conditions that lead to war.

Bilateralism, because of its binary nature, incentivises outcomes with one winner and one loser.  Short-term, this is politically attractive to leaders of large countries. Large countries almost always prevail in these contests. It is therefore a disastrous model for New Zealand and for the 150 or so other small or medium-size countries, whose economies will inevitably falter if this thinking prevails.

Over time, the bilateral model becomes disastrous for everyone, even the large. Global trade shrinks as the number of losers grows. Eventually a point is reached when even the economies of the few remaining winners begin to contract. And that is assuming that there is a long-term at all. Assertive bilateralism can breed desperation, as happened with Japan in the early 1940s. Bilateralism comes to be perceived by the losers as predatory. And, all-out warfare can be the result.

Multilateralism was not invented as a result of some ‘do-gooder’ mentality. To the contrary, it was created out of a very hard-headed conclusion that the world needed an alternative to the binary win/lose dynamic of bilateralism.

Multilateralism incentives win/win outcomes across multiple players. It also incentivises a rules-based system, with independent mechanisms to ensure that agreements are implemented fairly and honestly.

Multilateralism is hard work. It takes time and patience. It does not have flashy short-term political appeal. But long-term, it is the only safe and sustainable mechanism for managing modern international relations. In today’s interconnected world, we cannot solve large and complex problems without a system for agreeing on rules and fairly enforcing them.

This is true for international trade, for preventing conflict, for protecting the environment and ultimately for ensuring our very survival on this planet. The risks of catastrophic climate change and nuclear annihilation cannot be managed bilaterally. The awful situation in Syria is a clear example of total failure to properly use multilateral collective security mechanisms and conflict prevention tools.

But our current multilateral machinery is far from perfect. And after 70 years the UN machinery set up in 1945 is not a good fit with the world of today. It requires major reform. The multilateral trade machinery is much newer. But it too needs some reform.

The Centre and UNANZ accept that it is important, in looking at options for the future, not to be naïve about the UN and other multilateral institutions. Their weaknesses need to be acknowledged. The CGS/UNANZ project will therefore be upfront about the need for reform.

It is time to stop the drift into indifference about multilateralism and the UN. In New Zealand it is time to reverse the drift of resources away from multilateralism. New Zealand is ideally placed to be able to contribute hugely to a transformation of the multilateral institutions.

On trade, on peace and security, on the environment, on peacekeeping, all the New Zealand political parties should be supporting active reengagement in the multilateral arena. And the purpose of the CGS/UNANZ project is to help them by coming up with practical ideas.

I am happy to become part of this project, and look forward to participating in it, during 2020.


Colin Keating was a leading NZ diplomat from the 1970s to the 1990s, including as NZ permanent rep. to the UN, and President of the Security Council during the Rwanda crisis in 1994. He was deeply involved in New Zealand’s most recent Security Council campaign and subsequent term (2015-16). On 24 October 2019 (UN Day), Colin spoke at Premier House on ‘protecting multilateralism’.

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Big Data & Privacy:

Elise Antoine

 In 2018 Cambridge Analytica harvested millions of Facebook profiles, including 64,000 New Zealanders for political campaign purposes, using the information without consent.

The scandal illustrated how big data can put the right to privacy at risk.   This may have focused on national elections at the time, but now it reflects a global problem.  The ethical implications include the potential for privacy breach.

So, what is the global community doing about this? What about New Zealand?

Aggregated data conveys insights into the lives of individuals and groups, better informing policy-makers.  Analysis of data collected by governments for policy-making is a common practice. The notion of privacy is complex – essentially being free from intrusion into personal life. It involves many elements but in the digital context it comprises the capacity to control personal information and weaken anonymity.

Global – The UN

The UN has adopted 17 Sustainable Development Goals to achieve a more sustainable global future. As big data help to inform policy-makers, it can contribute to each of these Goals.

Yet human rights, another major UN goal, must be protected to realize the opportunities that big data presents.  The right to privacy has been upheld as a fundamental human right in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

“No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks”.

The problem human society faces is that digital technology is integrated into every sphere of life, and so the space for being free from ‘interference’ is shrinking.  Big data enables the collection and analysis of massive personal information, often without individual consent. Research and policy-making purposes ‘legitimises’ the collection and storage of personal information on the supposition of individual identity-protection. But because so much information is now available, it’s harder to remain anonymous.

These issues are global: they can affect anyone, in any country. Global issues require global responses, i.e. solutions that go beyond national boundaries. The General Assembly adopted its first resolution on the right to privacy in the digital age in 2013, affirming that “the same rights that people have offline must also be protected online”. (UNGA; 2013)

Yet there’s currently no framework regulating digital technology and protecting privacy on a global scale.  So let’s consider how privacy is safeguarded at the regional and national levels.

Regional – EU

In the last few years, privacy laws all around the world have been reformed. The most influential of those reforms has been the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (May ’18). This regulates the processing of EU residents personal data, which apply both to private and public sectors. Although the GDPR has affected many countries outside Europe, it is not sufficient to impose worldwide rules on privacy.

National – New Zealand

In New Zealand, personal information is protected through the Privacy Act 1993, with principles designed to prevent data (privacy) breach. A data breach is a loss or unauthorised use of personal data. Disclosure of personal information also constitutes a data breach. Breaches can result in financial loss or emotional distress, for example, for patients whose diagnosis has been publicly exposed. A privacy breach jeopardises human dignity.

The Act seeks to protect individual privacy and, as such, is based on the capacity of the individual to manage data (e.g. right to access information and correct it). Yet there’s no specific framework when it comes to data from and about Māori. The Act recognises individual privacy but not the collective one.  And the number of privacy breaches has recently increased – the Privacy Commissioner reports that MSD was collecting data of beneficiaries including text messages, police and banking records.

So in 2018 a new Bill was introduced to replace the Privacy Act. When a privacy breach has occurred, the individual affected is currently responsible for making a complaint to the Privacy Commissioner.  The Bill shifts responsibility – the agency collecting data must notify both the individual and the Commissioner when a breach that caused harm (or risk of harm) has happened. This is essential to increase transparency and accountability.

This reform will bring New Zealand close to European regulation, as it acknowledges data subjects’ rights, and requires the reporting of privacy breaches. But the Act falls behind the EU on significant issues.

  • The GDPR defines personal data in a broader sense: it addresses data that can be linked to a person, even if only in combination with other data (g. location data from mobile phones). Additionally it recognises a ‘right to be forgotten’ that extends the capacity to control data. Individuals can ask for the erasing of their data, which at the same time strengthens the capacity to withdraw consent. And the NZ Bill (Art. 89) allows use of personal data for research when safeguards preventing re-identification of individuals are implemented.

Big data is massive; so are the ethical questions

These national and international frameworks delineate the privacy issues brought about by big data, underpinned in New Zealand’s IDI.  The IDI operates under a clear purpose: improving the quality of public services by enabling research based on linked data. Researchers (from government departments or universities) must demonstrate how their project contributes to the purpose. But there is no independent ethics committee for reviewing the projects, and only Statistics NZ is responsible for accepting or refusing proposals.

Privacy, moreover, is considered at different stages. Potential risks to individual privacy are considered before adding data in the infrastructure. Also, researchers can only access data in a secure environment without internet or USB access after attending privacy and confidentiality training. Finally, data is de-identified, so individuals cannot be recognised. The IDI is an example of how researchers and policy-makers can use aggregated data ethically.  New Zealanders could be further involved in deciding how data should be used, particularly Māori who recognise collective privacy.

Above all, anonymity is potentially at risk. The IDI is based on big data and, researchers may recognize an individual due to the fact that they know a large number of different features about the person. The more data is aggregated, the more individuals can be identified. New Zealand has under 5 m. residents, which facilitates re-identification. There’s currently a gap in the legislation, as in most privacy laws, since re-identification is not taken into account.

Because individuals are not identifiable does not mean that harm cannot occur.

Groups of people (social, ethnic, religious) can be identified and flagged, which may lead to discriminatory practices. Further research could, therefore, focus on the challenges of an ‘IDI-based policy’ – how data is interpreted and used in policy-making. What are the implications?

The IDI operates under secure principles but there remains room for improvement, both in data-governance and anonymity. Although the new Bill doesn’t address the re-identification issue, it significantly improves transparency and accountability in data use. New Zealand, like the EU, is seeking to counter data breaches and protect the right to privacy ‘offline’.

Privacy is essential for people to be themselves, i.e. to develop unique individuality. As a fundamental human right, it requires constant debate, and effort to keep it safe.  The problem gets harder, from the national to regional to global level.

The digital revolution, both the internet and social media, are shaping, for better or worse, the nature of global citizenship in the 21st century. We need to ensure it’s for the better.

Perhaps there is scope for NZCGS to explore the implications of internet governance for the global community.  As a member of the Centre’s Young Global Scholars Group, I think this would be ‘added value’, for New Zealand and beyond.

Elise Antoine is a member of the NZ Centre’s Young Global Scholar’s Group.  She graduated in Political Science from Panthéon Sorbonne University (Paris), and in 2019 was an intern at UNANZ (Wellington).  She is currently at Kings College (London) where her doctorate focus is on the politicisation of internet governance and its implications for the global community.

A Parliamentary Eye on the Future:

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Jonathan Boston


The most recent UN climate change conference (COP-25) has just completed in its usual state of indecision and rancour.  Meanwhile, the forests of Brazil and Australia, among others, are burning.  The planet is in crisis mode. Effective policy responses are urgently needed – domestically and internationally.

How well do governments in New Zealand prepare for an uncertain future in the 21st century?

How effectively does Parliament scrutinise the country’s long-term governance?

Earlier this year I was engaged in a collaborative effort between the Institute for Governance and Policy Studies (IGPS) at Victoria University of Wellington and Parliament’s Office of the Clerk to explore such issues. This resulted in a substantial report published in June by the IGPS: Foresight, insight and oversight: Enhancing long-term governance through better parliamentary scrutiny.

As Dr Simon Chapple (the Director of the IGPS) points out in his Foreword, there is concern that our governmental systems and policy processes are too focused on the immediate issues of the day, and less on the variety of long-term problems that may be, or indeed are, around future corners.

In New Zealand, he says, democratic government is one of our strengths. Our democracy operates on the basis of parliamentary sovereignty, where Parliament, consisting of the elected representatives of the people, is the supreme power. Yet like any human institution, our systems of governance are less than perfect and, more positively, capable of improvement following rational consideration.

Indeed, Members of Parliament, former MPs and other regular participants in parliamentary processes, who were interviewed for our report, generally considered that parliamentary scrutiny of long-term matters to be deficient.

During debates in the House, MPs often talk about their hopes for the future and are interested in long-term matters, and there are some good examples of forward-looking select committee inquiries. But the political focus is usually on short-term considerations, and Parliament’s rules do not mandate regular examination of long-term issues.  Our report found that advice from independent experts is under-used by select committees.

Many options and ideas are included in the report for improving parliamentary scrutiny of long-term governance. These suggestions are designed to enhance scrutiny by:

  • strengthening incentives for MPs to devote more attention to long-term policy matters,
  • changing Parliament’s rules so scrutiny of long-term governance occurs more regularly and systematically, and
  • increasing the use of independent research, analysis and advice.

Particular options include:

  • change the size and structure of select committees, for example by establishing a Committee for the Future or a Governance Committee, or adding a new specialist committee function focused on scrutinising long-term governance;
  • improve the government’s long-term reporting, including better reporting of progress towards long-term objectives;
  • enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of select committees, particularly during their financial scrutiny activities;
  • encourage cross-party pre-legislative consultation to foster durable legislative solutions;
  • encourage committees to undertake more forward-looking inquiries;
  • track and follow up on the government’s progress in implementing select committee recommendations;
  • encourage greater use by committees of advice from Officers of Parliament and independent experts, including the possible appointment of a Chief Parliamentary Science Advisor;
  • consider establishing a cross-party futures forum of MPs working in association with respected research organisations and sector groups to examine long-term issues; and
  • explore a range of possible policy, legislative and constitutional reforms.

Our report was prepared to stimulate discussion about how Parliament and the government can more systematically anticipate, assess and prepare for future developments and issues. In particular, it provides ideas that can be considered during the three-yearly review of Parliament’s Standing Orders (rules), which commenced towards the end of 2019.

Of special interest to the Centre for Global Studies, I think, is the chapter on ‘foreign approaches, models and practices’.  My colleagues and I looked at five other jurisdictions, which provide lessons and insights into different ways of considering futures planning in various political systems.  Specially, we addressed the following:

  • Finland: Parliament’s Committee for the Future
  • Scotland: Parliament’s Futures Forum
  • Israel: the Knesset’s Commission for Future Generations (2001-06)
  • Wales: Future Generations Commissioner, and the 2015 Wellbeing of Future Generations (Wales) Act
  • United Kingdom: Parliament’s Office of Science and Technology

The conclusions we drew from our study of these and other examples include the following:

  1. Many parliaments, especially those in smaller democracies and at the sub-national level, undertake relatively little systematic scrutiny of an explicitly long-term or forward-looking nature (e.g. assessing how well governments are preparing for the future or mitigating and managing risks).
  2. There is no obvious best model for ensuring high-quality legislative oversight, including scrutiny of long-term governance. Certainly there is no ‘silver bullet’. However, if forward-looking legislative scrutiny is to be undertaken well (e.g. in a proactive, systematic and rigorous manner), a comprehensive approach with multiple mechanisms (including specific institutions and procedural triggers) is almost certainly necessary.
  3. Efforts to improve forward-looking scrutiny need to take proper account of the distinctive features of each parliamentary jurisdiction (e.g. whether parliament is bicameral or unicameral, and the size of the legislature). Approaches that may be effective, or at least durable, in one jurisdiction may be less effective in others. Equally, to be durable, cross-party support is essential.
  4. In designing any system of forward-looking parliamentary scrutiny it is vital to consider the nature of the formal obligations that governments have in relation to such matters as foresight, planning, risk assessment, long-term fiscal projections and infrastructure investment, and to tailor the arrangements for parliamentary oversight accordingly. Ideally, the two spheres of activity – executive and legislative – should go hand-in-hand and the various ‘commitment devices’ to encourage sound long-term governance should be planned concurrently.
  5. It is vital for parliamentarians to have access to the resources and expertise necessary for rigorous, independent and systematic scrutiny. This is likely to be all the more important in smaller parliaments, where fewer legislators are available to undertake such activities.

While our report explored a range of international models for improving long-term governance, our focus was primarily at the national level. But most of the major issues facing humanity – whether ecological, security-related, or technological – are global in nature and thus require global responses.

Currently, there is a range of reputable academic institutes around the world addressing such issues, including the Future of Humanity Institute (Oxford), the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk (Cambridge), the Alliance for Humanity and the Biosphere (Stanford) and the Stockholm Resilience Centre (SU).

Without question, the Centre for Global Studies has an important role to play in our part of the world in encouraging research and debate about ways to improve long-term planning and anticipatory governance – at national, regional and global levels.

Dr Jonathan Boston is Professor of Public Policy in the Wellington School of Business and Government at Victoria University of Wellington. He has published widely on public management, social policy, climate change policy, tertiary education policy, and comparative government.

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Climate Challenge 2020:

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I was recently invited to talk to a consultancy firm about my take on the climate challenge facing both our world and our country, now that New Zealand’s Zero Carbon Act is in force, and as the UN’s latest COP writhes in interminable stalemate – 25th version.

I was given various questions to address. These were my reflections.

  1. Should we be optimistic or pessimistic about the international community’s ability to take collective action to ‘bend the curve’ on greenhouse gas emissions?

Mid-way between the two – a ‘defiant determination’ to change course, fast.  No option.

We need to be rational and proactive. This requires accurate recognition of the following.

  • The ‘problem’ was formally identified in the IPCC’s AR-1 of 1990, when global emissions had reached 34 Gt CO2-e, up from 1 Gt in 1750. Some 30 years after identifying the problem, emissions are at 55 Gt.
  • The goal, from the 1992 Framework Convention, is to prevent ‘dangerous’ climate change, defined as a 2°C rise in post-industrial temperature. Current targets (2015 Paris NDCs) will result in a 3.2°C rise – authoritatively described as ‘catastrophic’.
  • The ‘raised ambition’ in the collective NDCs for 2030 emissions (expected in a 2020 review) is a three-fold increase in targets for 2°C, resulting in 25% reduction in global emissions. For 1.5°C, it is a five-fold increase – for 55% reduction.

To quote the UN Secretary-General:

“The best science, according to IPCC, tells us that any temperature rise above 1.5°C will lead to major & irreversible damage to the ecosystems that support us.  Science tells us that, on our current path, we face at least 3°C. The climate emergency is a race we are losing, but it is a race we can win.”

As Time’s Person of the Year has pointed out, we have no-one to blame but ourselves.

When I began working on climate change, in New York in 1989, we already knew that it was going to become perhaps the world’s greatest single problem.  In 1990 I convened in Italy what appears to have been the first international parliamentarian workshop on climate change.  The Bellagio Communique called for a 50% reduction in global CO2-e from1988 to 2010 (comprised of 20% cuts in fossil fuel emissions, 50% reduction in deforestation, 10% in methane, and 100% in CFCs).

Strangely, this did not occur.

Thirty years later, as New Zealand’s PM has pointed out, climate change has become a ‘wicked problem’, the defining moment of her generation.

I suggest it’s the defining moment for the human species, after 100,000 years.

The underlying issue is whether a 21st c. global problem can be solved through 20th c. international principles and procedures with 200 ‘sovereign’ states negotiating through consensus, or whether it needs a smaller body with legitimate powers of planning and enforcement.  Climate change has been on the UN Security Council agenda since 2007, but the Council has effectively done nothing, beyond describing it as a ‘risk multiplier’.

A more intelligent and ambitious approach, of course, would be the concept of Earth Trusteeship, acknowledging the sovereign responsibilities of States for environmental stewardship, as outlined by Klaus Bosselmann in his recent blog-post.  How to transition to such a conceptual foundation is a major issue, and Klaus has been engaged in this since the Rio Earth Summit (1992) and the Earth Charter (2000).

I see six eras (‘phase transitions’) that the scientific advisers, governments and the global community are going through on climate change:

‘Phase transition’ on climate change

  Phase Science Govts Society
1 Denial n. a. n. a. 2000
2 Prevarication n. a. n. a. 20005
3 Acknowledgement 1990 (AR-1) 1992 2010
4 Analysis 1995 (AR-2) 2012 n. a.
5 Prescription 2007 (AR-3) 2016 n. a
6 Emergency 2019 ? ?

Can we bend the curve?  There are a number of curves to bend, and they are inter-related.


Psychology curve (denialism / prevarication / acknowledgement)


Technology curve (renewable energy / product materials / land-use)

Behavioural curve (life-style = driving / flying / racing / eating)

Political curve (global leadership / national consensus)


Achievement curve

 2. How important is New Zealand leadership on this issue in the global context given our small size and relative contribution to global emissions?

A large economy-size is critical to the Achievement Curve.  The G-20 account for 78% of global emissions.

But any size is critical to the Political Curve, conveying leadership through example. This is especially so in the case of New Zealand, with its energy / agriculture / forestry mix.  Others are watching.   We should avoid a sophomoric desire to be ‘the’ global leader; but we can offer progressive thought and exemplary resolve.

 3. Will future governments commit to delivering on the net-zero target by 2050, or will the goal-posts be shifted?

The target is likely to stay the same or be strengthened, as a result of the science, global societal pressure, and the advice of the forthcoming NZ Climate Commission.   Sub-targets (by sector & by gas) are likely to change, as the Commission advises.

4.  How much difference will it make if we have a National-led or a Labour-led government following the next election?  

It depends on future coalition politics. Any coalition will probably address the following:

  • The structure will remain, in the form of the 2019 Zero Carbon Act, and the new Commission;
  • Much will depend on New Zealand’s review in 2020 of its current 30% target for 2030;

I suggest that a cross-party consensus develop over the following:

  • The 2030 and 2050 CO2-e targets (irrespective of the particular gas sub-target split);
  • A ‘policy ratio’ of 80/20, i.e. there is agreement over 80% of reductions for the CO2-e targets; and there is democratic debate over optional mitigation policies (by sector; by gas) for the remaining 20%, but within a continuing cross-party agreement on the overall CO2-e target. A balloon is an apt metaphor.

 5.  What are the key uncertainties / risk factors for climate policy in NZ? 

There are, broadly speaking, six challenges – two per sector. They are:

Energy challenge:

  1. Low population density plus high transport distance
  2. Pioneer lifestyle = urban SUVs plus rural utility vehicles

Agriculture challenge:

  1. Digging-deep on ‘grass-fed’ meat; the ‘most efficient in the world’
  2. Readiness, or reluctance, of producers to change to industrial protein

Forestry challenge:

  1. Land-use: Trade-off between pastoral  / arable / forestry
  2. Sequestration: Exotic v. natives


Dr Kennedy Graham is Director of the NZ Centre for Global Studies. He is a former NZ diplomat, UN official, university teacher and MP.

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Earth Trusteeship:

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Klaus Bosselmann

 At the opening speech for last year’s Climate Week at the United Nations in New York, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern presented the Maori concept of kaitiakitanga as the key for combating climate change. She explained it in this way:

“It means guardianship. But not just guardianship, but the responsibility of care for the environment in which we live, and the idea that we have a duty of care that eventually hands to the next generation, and the one after. We all hold this responsibility in our own nations, but the challenge of climate change requires us to look beyond the domestic. Our duty of care is as global as the challenge of climate change.”

‘Guardianship’, ‘responsibility of care’, ‘duty of care’, ‘beyond the domestic’ – what does that all mean?

Can kaitiakitanga save the planet?

The Prime Minister called on UN Member States to take their responsibility for the global environment seriously. Yet, the many terms and expressions that she used to describe something quite basic is revealing. There is in fact no legally-relevant duty of states to care for Earth. As bizarre as it may sound, States have no enforecable obligation under international law to protect the natural environment, either domestically or globally. They may choose to do so, but they are not legally required.

States are legal entities, therefore ‘persons’ with rights and responsibilities. The concept of state sovereignty gives the State exclusive rights, both internally and externally.

  • States have, for example, the right to control their own territories, and to exploit the natural resources within their boundaries, as they see fit. And the right to prevent other States from interfering with their ‘domestic affairs’.
  • States have also responsibilities, for example, to not intentionally harm the territory of other states. And the responsibility to protect citizens from harm.

Fortunately, international law holds human rights in high esteem, so much so that States must respect and protect human rights and not just within their own territory.

One of the most important recent developments in international law has been the emergence of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) principle. This requires States to uphold and protect human rights against States not willing or able to do so. As Ramesh Thakur shows in his blog (29 Nov 2019), R2P walks a fine line between state sovereignty and human rights and is often ignored, but it is unlikely to be discarded anytime soon.

Parallel to R2P and even more promising is the doctrine of sovereign States as trustees of humanity. Universal human rights are constitutional to international law, and a constraint upon state sovereignty. States must therefore act as trustees of human rights across national boundaries (Eyal Benvenisti). Anything less would, in fact, threaten the very promise of human rights.

The trusteeship sovereignty concept has great potential for meeting the two biggest threats of the 21st century: threats to human rights, and threats to the Earth system – our home.

Earth trusteeship is the legal response to the PM’s call for environmental responsibility. The ethics of guardianship are deeply embedded in Maori and other indigenous cultures, but they are also rooted in religious traditions and often referred to in contemporary socio-ecological texts. From a legal perspective, we can think of Earth trusteeship as an obligation of the State to protect the integrity of Earth’s ecological systems – including the atmosphere and oceans (climate system!). More than 25 international environmental agreements refer to the duty of States to cooperate in order to protect and restore the integrity of Earth’s ecological systems. What is missing is the willingness of States to take this duty of care seriously, and accept it as a legal obligation.

Elements of Earth trusteeship already exist in many countries. Examples include constitutional obligations of the State to protect the environment, environmental rights or progressive environmental laws.

  • A good example is New Zealand’s Resource Management Act if (!) implemented and interpreted correctly, namely to respect non-negotiable environmental bottom lines (2014 King Salmon decision of the NZ Supreme Court).
  • Notably, the 2014 Te Urewera Act, the 2017 Te Awa Tupua (Whanganui River Settlement) Act and the 2017 Te Anga Putakerongo/Record of Understanding for Mount Taranaki recognize certain ecosystems – a national park, a river and a mountain – as legal persons. They have to be represented by guardians who speak and act on their behalf.

This is the kind of Earth trusteeship (or guardianship) that Prime Minister Ardern had in mind in her plea to UN Member States.

Earth trusteeship is a new, but already widely supported concept. More than eighty human rights, human responsibilities and environmental organisations, including the NZ Centre for Global Studies, have recently formed the Earth Trusteeship Initiative (

On 10 December 2018, the day of the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, they launched the ‘Hague Principles of a Universal Declaration of Responsibilities for Human Rights and Earth Trusteeship’ in the Peace Palace, The Hague. In my opening remarks for this event I said:

“What on Earth are we doing? For 70 years now we have human rights, yet more people are deprived of their most basic needs (material security, freedom of movement, freedom of expression etc.) than ever before. Treating all human beings as equal and in dignity is still an unfulfilled dream. And for 50 or so years, States produce policies and laws to protect the natural environment, yet these have not in any way stopped run-away climate change, biodiversity loss or growth madness. They have not reversed detrimental practices that could ultimately bring us down as a species. We are destroying Earth, our home, arguably because we have no firm sense of responsibility for her and for our common destiny. We urgently need a universal declaration of responsibilities for human rights and Earth trusteeship.”

The core message of the Hague Principles is that humans are members of the Earth community (of all living beings) that defines what responsibilities we as members have. Human rights are a prerequisite for any form of social organisation and totally indispensable. In fact, they require trusteeship responsibilities that each of us must accept and likewise our institutional tool of governance, the sovereign State. But human rights are not as fundamental as responsibilities that we and our political institutions have for Earth. The Hague Principles call for a legally-binding commitment of States to Earth trusteeship.

In the Anthropocene, Earth trusteeship exercised by people individually and collectively is the key. Without it, we would be saying that Earth doesn’t matter, and that human survival doesn’t matter either.

That simple.

Klaus Bosselmann is professor of law and director of the NZ Centre for Environmental Law (University of Auckland). He is also Chair, Earth Trusteeship Initiative, and a member of the Board of the NZ Centre for Global Studies.

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Multilateralism –

Dr Fraser Cameron

If you were to read the speeches and articles of Chinese leaders you might conclude there was no country on Earth more committed to multilateralism.  Certainly, China has benefited enormously from the rules-based, international system established after 1945.  How genuine is China, along with the other major powers assembled at the United Nations, in its commitment to multilateralism – 21st century-style?

China’s commitment to multilateralism is, unsurprisingly, a mixture of world-view and self-interest. This is especially true in the area of trade.  In the two decades since it joined the WTO, China regularly achieved annual growth over 10% as it became a global manufacturing powerhouse, and built up the largest foreign reserves in history. China is now the world’s second largest economy, poised to overtake the US in the 2020s.

But now that the WTO is under attack from the US President, China has been slow to respond to proposals from the EU, supported by Japan, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, to reform and strengthen the global trade organisation in light of changes in the world economy. It is reluctant to discuss rules for e-commerce and proposals to tackle state subsidies, one of the main reasons Western powers refused to grant China market-economy status which, it claimed, was due to it after 15 years of WTO membership.

The conundrum extends beyond trade. While professing respect for international law, China ignored the Hague Tribunal in 2016 which dismissed Beijing’s claims to sovereignty over most of the South China Sea. It has subsequently been dragging its feet over agreeing on a code of conduct with ASEAN states. South East Asian leaders have also not forgotten the outburst of the Chinese foreign minister in Hanoi in 2016 when he stated: “you are all small states and China is a big state – do not forget this”.

In the UN system more broadly, China has improved its engagement and its budget contribution.  It supplies more ‘blue-helmets’ for UN peacekeeping than any other P-5 member state. It still uses its veto to defend its clients on occasion, but it has been broadly supportive of the work of UN agencies. It signed the Paris climate change agreements, and it supported EU-led efforts to agree a nuclear deal with Iran.

In the area of international finance, China arguably would not have hived off and established its own institutions if the US Congress had agreed to modest changes to China’s voting rights in the IMF and World Bank. But as a result of the US attitude, Beijing set up the Asia Infrastructure and Investment Bank (AIIB), along with other banks, to fund its flagship Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). China describes this as a ‘multilateral initiative’, but the reality is that 90% of all such projects are China-financed. China has also been rightly criticised for paying insufficient attention to environmental and financial sustainability of BRI projects.

China continues to attend BRICS summits but has concluded that this brings little added value to its policy aims. It also views its membership of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SC) largely in defensive terms, unwilling to cede influence in Central Asia to Russia. It holds irregular summits with African states, continuing to portray itself as a developing country, while seeking investment opportunities and votes at the UN.

Under the previous leadership of Hu Jintao and Wen Jibao, China employed slogans seen by many as vacuous – ‘peaceful rise’; ‘harmonious development.’ But with President Xi Jinping at the helm, China has taken a more authoritarian course. New slogans such as ‘a shared future destiny for mankind’ cannot cover up China’s its selective approach to multilateralism. Of course, China is in good company here with the US.

This leaves a small core of states aspiring to defend the liberal versions of the multilateral order which has been so beneficial to so many over the past half-century. China was not in at the ‘creation’, but it has been a major beneficiary. Someone needs to remind Xi Jinping that the alternative is anarchy, not something that it enjoyed in the 1960s under Mao.

This is not to dismiss the validity, both historical and contemporary, of China’s unique civilizational culture.  But it is to suggest that the 21st c. multilateral rules-based order requires a genuine and mutually-respectful dialogue between West and East, North and South.  China has huge potential to play a constructive role in that.

An area for New Zealand’s Centre for Global Studies to enter with insight – and circumspection ….

Dr Fraser Cameron, a former UK and EU diplomat, is Director of the EU-Asia Centre (Brussels) and a member of the Centre’s International Advisory Panel.

The University in the Global Age:

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Chris Gallavin

 Last year I had the privilege of travelling around the US as an Eisenhower International Fellow. The experience was the most amazing of my professional career.

In this column, I outline my Fellowship project – Global University 2.0

Let me convey what I see as the challenges facing the modern global university, the imperatives that face humanity, some of the options available for change within tertiary education and the possible form of the ‘new global university’.

My project is an area that I not only work in, but which regard as a life mission. It involves the exploration of implementation of my vision:

  • a vision of the university of the future;
  • a vision tried in the fires of post-earthquake Christchurch;
  • a vision that sees universities as community partners in addressing the imperatives of our time – sustainability, equality, equity, social enterprise, social justice, economic development and entrepreneurism, to name a few.

It is my vision that qualifications come as a consequence of a university’s pursuit of a meta-narrative mission. We are not degree factories.

I see universities as a community of scholars (academics, professional staff and students alike) working together and in collaboration with government, industry and society, to change the world by actualizing the society we individually and collective want to see.

The empowerment of individuals through attaining qualifications is a vital consequence of that mission, the importance of which must not be underestimated. But we are more than qualification attribution centres.

Humanity is capable of working collectively to solve all of the most pressing issues of our time. But that will not happen by accident; it will happen by design.

Predictions over the future of work, globalization, the advancement of AI, and computerization, have all combined with falling budgetary support for universities and increasing industry dissatisfaction with the skill and ability level of graduates. They are creating a perfect storm in higher education.

The challenges facing the tertiary sector globally are thus multifaceted.  They include the following nine.

  • The changing nature of employment. Whilst the commodification of education over the past 60 years has seen universities move increasingly from providing education as a deontological good (as an end in and of itself) to a utilitarian product of importance to the advancement of national economies, universities nonetheless find themselves flat-footed in the modern world. In this regard, the basic model of a single degree for life predominates. In its present form there are two fundamental difficulties with the predominant tertiary model.
  • First is an over reliance on a degree structure that does not support life-long-learning and is, at best, merely a filter for industry in recruiting the people they need rather than providing genuine focused preparation.
  • Second, universities provide neither highly-trained specialists nor truly flexible generalists who fully understand multi-disciplinary collaboration or complexity theory based upon systems thinking.
  • A multiplicity of competitors. Traditionally, universities have been based upon information discovery and dissemination.  But in the modern world, such tasks have been democratized. Alternative providers – boot-camps, industry based training platforms, specialist third party institutions – are often better positioned to provide tailored employment focused training more cheaply and just-in-time, than traditional universities.
  • A crisis of meta-narratives. More than ever, the world needs innovators whose thinking will act to change the normative foundation of our societies. These include citizens focused on sustainability, the development of alternative economic models, equity, equality, entrepreneurship, social enterprise and social justice. Therefore, citizens need to be prepared for the new century as well as employable on graduation.
  • A broken funding model. Whether it be the system of student fees in the US or universal access to tertiary as in many Nordic countries and New Zealand, the funding mechanism supporting tertiary education is in need of re-evaluation.
  • Over-reliance on a traditional credentialing model. Traditionally, universities have been secure under the predominant model of credentialing in which authority and legitimacy has originated from the State and centralized credentialing bodies. Innovations such as block-chain credentialing and industry training challenge such superiority.
  • Student recruitment and retention challenges. Currently most universities operate poorly in the realm of engaging the non-traditional student market. Minorities, first generation students, and alienating class divides, have stretched universities in their capacity to engage all communities. In light of futurist predictions of mass extinction of whole classes of vocations, the future is not bright for universities which cannot engage all kinds of peoples.
  • Inflexibility of curriculum. Universities are masters of Newtonian approaches to problems in which an ordered, rational approach is taken to problems by dividing them into logical units along traditional discipline lines. Rather than training people to deal with the organic and chaotic, universities are good at creating linear experts specializing in particular forms of thinking and problem-solving. It is not that the future has no need for such skills, but that an over reliance on such an approach fails to adequately prepare citizens for tackling the ‘Grand Challenges’ of our times.
  • Digital delivery models. Digital delivery deserves a category of its own albeit it is relevant to all other categories of modern challenge. Whilst representing a unique opportunity for brand development for some universities, for the majority it represents a significant challenge to the underlying financial model of their operation.
  • A silo over cooperative mentality of operation. Universities have traditionally defined themselves as centre of knowledge and learning, rather than facilitators and partners in social development. The latter will help define the new university paradigm.

When I was in the US I witnessed the most incredible innovation in the US tertiary sector.  In future blog-posts, I shall offer an outline of my ‘Eisenhower Project’, detailing the elements of my vision for tertiary and the collaborative approach that I hope will typify the 21st c. university for the global community.

Prof Chris Gallavin is Deputy Pro-Vice-Chancellor, College of Humanities& Social Sciences, Massey University. He is a member of the NZCGS Board (Coordinator of the Global Education & Citizenship Programme). This blog first appeared in his Linked-In column.

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How to Prevent Genocide?

Abbas Nazari

The best conflict is one that doesn’t happen. This blog argues that the best global approach (short of a full-fledged military intervention) to prevent a potential conflict from developing into all-out conflict is early interventionThe blog analyses a counterfactual approach to the Rwandan genocide, and how early intervention, had it been utilized, could have prevented the genocide of the Tutsi.

The memo demonstrates how heeding early ‘warning signs’ and  a concerted diplomatic effort could have prevented the genocide. Interspersed throughout are policy recommendations for the prevention of future conflicts.  

Firstly, early intervention means listening and heeding early warning signs. By taking note of these early warning signs, it is possible to extrapolatetake preventative measures and develop contingency plans. In the case of Rwanda, the Belgian ambassador to Rwanda had sounded the alarm about Hutu death squads as early as the spring of 1992. Samantha Power, in her searing article in The Atlantic Monthly, articulates the many missed warning signs. Foremost among these was the UN cable sent in early 1994 by General Romeo Dallaire, commander of the U.N. Assistance Mission in Rwanda (UNAMIR), that Hutu extremists were planning a campaign to exterminate Tutsis. General Dallaire’s early warning of genocide was corroborated by the news of assassinations, massacres and egregious human rights abuses reported by non-governmental organizations.  

In hindsight, it is clear that the US Clinton administration was performing under a ‘knowledge gap’ whereby the flow of information to the White House was not clear, in some cases conflicting with the reality on the ground, and in all cases sourced from media and third parties. By the time credible information on the scale of the atrocity did reach the White House, it was too late.

Contrast the Clinton administration’s response with the Obama response to the potential genocide of the Yazidis by ISIL. Acting on official intelligence and security advice, the administration allowed the use of targeted airstrikes against ISIL fighters, armed Kurdish YPG forces, and provided humanitarian assistance to strategic locations. Although many Yazidis did perish in the early days of the ISIL advance, these actions prevented the potential for a large-scale genocide to take place. By tuning to warning signs, timely and effective action can largely avoid a crisisHad Western decision makers acted with foresight on the warning signs, the Rwandan genocide may have been averted.  

SecondlyWestern states must remain committed to working with all relevant parties to reach a peaceful diplomatic resolution. This may involve the use of small contingent of military operatives to aid the diplomatic effort, but it must not be confused with a “boots on the ground” military intervention. Ethnic groups with a voice in the decision-making process have a much higher possibility of resolving differences peacefully than resorting to war. Rwanda had been experiencing political instability ever since achieving independence in 1962.

However, as noted above, had the West acted as early as 1992, when the alarm bells were first raised, then perhaps the conflict could have been steered toward a political settlement. A diplomatic effort in Rwanda, as early as 1992 could have included an acknowledgement of the fragile relationships between Hutu and Tutsi, while being sensitive to questions of culture, history and symbolism. 

Diplomatic efforts need to be specific, going beyond stereotypes and vague generalizations. In the case of Rwanda, this could have included, but not limited to, geographic partitions, and the inclusion of neighboring states in the dialogue, particularly Uganda. Open dialogue is critical as it will help to dispel misperceptions and maintain confidence between parties. In Rwanda, had Western states committed to a diplomatic effort in the early 1990s, then communication between the two belligerents could have built the foundations of a representative government. 

This blog purposefully chooses to overlook military intervention as an option in preventing the outbreak of ethnic conflict. Although it is one option to be used, political debate often means there is little domestic support for such an option to be exercised. We have seen this recently in Syria, with minimal US troop presence on the frontline against ISIL. A US-led military intervention in Rwanda may have prevented the worst of the massacre, but the logistics, politics, and overall timeliness of such an option meant this was never used. 

This is why this blog focuses on early intervention (heeding the early warning signs, and pursuing a diplomatic path) as the best way to fully prevent, or at the very least, mitigate the significant loss of life. Although Rwanda was a missed opportunity, subsequent conflicts, demonstrate some lessons learnedFor example, the US has changed tack with regards to the Taliban, pursuing peace talks rather than continuing its longest running war.

One wonders how different the course of Rwanda, Afghanistan, or any other country that experienced conflict could have been, had those with the ability to act on behalf of the global community, had done so.  

Abbas Nazari, a graduate of the University of Canterbury, is currently studying for a masters degree at Georgetown University on a Fulbright grant. He is a member of the Centre’s young Global Scholars Group.