Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam

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The title-phrase derives from Hindu scripture. It is found in the Upanishads, and the full verse remains engraved on the entrance to the Parliament of India.  Essentially, the world is one family.

For centuries, the phrase has shaped India’s spiritual and egalitarian outlook and, during contemporary independence, the country’s diplomatic and foreign policy contours. No wonder that this ancient philosophy also characterises India’s fight against Covid-19.

We live in extraordinary times. Who would have thought it – that neither the ‘US pivot’ in the Indo-Pacific nor China’s Belt and Road Initiative is proving to be the game-changer in our contemporary world, but rather an anti-malarial drug, deferentially known as ‘hydroxychloroquine’ (or HCQ).

So much is being made of the ‘strategic stand-off’ between the US and China, two of some 200 nation-states whose inhabitants comprise the global community.  Such excessive focus is, I believe, a trifle precious.

Actually, with 4.5 m. global cases and 0.3 m. deaths currently, there are, I suggest, two indelible impressions for posterity in the global public memory.  And these are:

  • how so much of the Western world, venerated for its medical science and public healthcare, has become the lingering epicentre of the scourge, for whatever reason(s); and
  • the extent to which India, with 17% of the world population (1.3 b.) and underdeveloped public healthcare, has become a symbol of inspirational leadership with a humane touch, in the face of significant adversity.

Michael Ryan (WHO Exec. Director) noted back in early March how imperative it was that India, with its huge population, successfully tackled the virus, and showed the way forward to the world. In fact, this reflected a not unreasonable trust in India’s capabilities, given its successful record in eradicating smallpox and polio.

A brief review of early action by India:

  • Late January: The first Covid-19 case is reported in Kerala, introduced by a traveller from the Middle East. Numbers begin to multiply, as flights bring returnees from Europe and South-east Asia.
  • March 3, the Government announces mandatory screening of all arriving air passengers, while a general health advisory was issued to seek medical help if one felt unwell.
  • March 1: Vessels and cruise-ships are subject to strict standard operating procedures, including thermal screening at ports.
  • March 12: The Delhi Government shuts schools, malls, cinema halls, universities, and bans any gathering of over 50 people, advising people to work from home.
  • March 15: Prime Minister Modi (who, according to Nobel Laureate Dr Amartya Sen, was the quickest among world leaders in identifying the dangers of the pandemic) closes India’s land borders with Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Myanmar.
  • March 18: A 14-day quarantine policy is put in place for all incoming travellers. At the same time, recognising the importance of the early support of 1.3 b. people, Prime Minister Modi in a national address the following day issues nine ‘calls to action’ including social distancing measures, working from home, and personal hygiene advisories.
  • March 22: In an overwhelming show of public solidarity, the Indian nation observes a public curfew (self-quarantine) from 7 am to 9 pm. Emulating Spain and Italy, some 5 m. people clap, ring bells, blow conches, and beat utensils to thank the healthcare, police, and other essential service personnel for their stellar role in dealing with the pandemic onslaught.

Of course, not everything has gone smoothly:

  • March 13: the Tablighi Jamaat, a fundamentalist missionary sect, congregates in New Delhi, contravening the Lockdown and generating about a third of India’s coronavirus cases over subsequent weeks as attendees disperse across the country.
  • March 24: Somewhat spooked by the 21-day nation-wide lockdown orders, thousands of daily wage-earners amass along the Delhi border, returning to their original homes, creating a flash humanitarian crisis for the country. While most are subsequently ferried on various modes of transport, a large number make the long walk home, creating heart-wrenching scenes of human plight, not seen in a long time in India.

Amidst such dramatic events, on 5 April India again responds to the Prime Minister’s call to observe an ‘Earth-hour Equivalent’ initiative, switching off lights at 9 pm for 9 minutes and lighting candles, torches and oil lamps to dispel the metaphorical ‘darkness’ caused by Covid-19. While sceptics ridicule the event as nothing but blind faith and superstition, it nonetheless demonstrates a unity of purpose – a much-needed virtue for any nation in testing times.

While India faced a Herculean task of safeguarding so many lives while minimising the economic impact, it remaines sensitive to the well-being of the wider world.  In mid-February onwards, Modi holds marathon telephone conversations with national leaders – in Australia, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, Egypt, Ethiopia, EU, France, Germany, Indonesia, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Jordan, Kuwait, Maldives, Nepal, Oman, Portugal, Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Africa, Spain, (State of) Palestine, Sweden, Thailand, Uganda, UAE, UK, US and Vietnam – to discuss joint strategies against Covid-19, and offering necessary support in the crisis.

A lesser known fact is that on 26 February a special Indian air force flight had carried 15 tonnes of Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs) to Wuhan at the request of President Xi Xinping.  On return, it ferries 76 Indians, 23 Bangladeshis, 6 Chinese, two nationals each from Myanmar and Maldives, and one each from South Africa, USA and Madagascar – all stranded in ‘ground-zero’.

As Delhi goes into complete lockdown on 12 March, India undertakes further initiatives:

  • hosts, at prime ministerial level, a ‘virtual’ regional SAARC initiative against Covid-19, and founds a SAARC Emergency Fund with a $10 m. contribution from India to help regional states deal with the pandemic;
  • puts a Rapid Response Team of doctors and specialists with testing kits and PPEs on standby to be flown out to help;
  • offers online training capsules for emergency response; and sharing of software for the Integrated Disease Surveillance Portal (Arogya Setu), a variant of which has been adopted by many states affected by the pandemic, including Australia;
  • convenes a senior health professional SAARC meeting to strengthen intra-regional cooperation across South Asia.

Praise for India’s SAARC initiative, the first of any regional initiative, came from the Australian PM, who urged a similar G-20 initiative (which occurred on March 26). It was a critical and much-needed initiative considering the grouping’s startling statistics—90% of the Covid-19 cases and 88% of deaths have been reported from the G-20 group of nations, which constitutes 80% of global GDP and 60% of population.

In early April, Modi and Morrison also hold an extensive telephone consultation, sharing a mutual commitment to build research collaboration for vaccine development and ensuring a safe return of all stranded citizens. Morrison especially, emphasises that Indian students would be provided all the necessary support and were a ‘vibrant a part of Australia’.

Morrison was essentially backpedalling on earlier remarks that Indian students who could not afford staying during the social distancing phase should return. This had created tension between the two sides, in the context of nearly $A6 b. contribution from Indian students to Australia’s education industry. The most noteworthy outcome of Modi-Morrison conversation was agreement to hold the first-ever ‘virtual summit’ to discuss a joint anti-Covid-19 strategy, and the potential evolution of the Indo-Pacific regional architecture in the post-pandemic phase.

On 28 April, India attends the video meeting of the BRICS foreign ministers to share India’s anti-Covid measures including, Arogya Setu disease surveillance portal, Prime Minister’s Citizen Assistance and Relief fund (PM Cares), SAARC Covid-19 Information Exchange Platform (COINEX) and pharmaceutical assistance extended to other countries.

India has so far supplied HCQ and anti-pyretic paracetamol to over 85 countries, including 25 nations in Africa alone. While the US President issues a retaliatory note if India declines the supplies, the President of Brazil expresses gratitude for India’s easing of restrictions on HCQ exports, comparing the gesture with the legend of Hanuman, the monkey god in Hindu mythology, who had carried Sanjeevani (medicine) from the Himalayas to save the life of Lord Rama’s wounded brother, in the battle against the demons in Lanka.

India, a producer of nearly 10% of the world’s low-cost generic drugs including HCQ, also despatches medical teams along with PPEs and medical supplies to Kuwait, Maldives, Mauritius, Madagascar, Comoros and Seychelles to deal with the pandemic, as a part of ‘Mission Sagar (ocean)’, inspired by PM Modi’s vision of SAGAR – Security and Growth for All in the Region.  Back in 2004, India had undertaken a similar humanitarian, search and rescue mission in the wake of the earthquake and tsunami that had devastated the Indian Ocean littorals.

Keeping an eye on the Indo-Pacific, India’s Foreign Secretary Harsh Shringla holds discussions with the newly formulated ‘Quad-plus’ counterparts in Australia, South Korea, Vietnam, Japan and New Zealand. The common aim is to synergise joint efforts in developing a vaccine, rescue stranded citizens, and discuss ways of insulating the economy from the pandemic’s impact and kick-start the struggling national economies. The group now interacts weekly to keep up with the fast-paced developments.

On 3 May, the Prime Minister participates in the Non-Aligned Movement virtual summit, themed ‘United against Covid-19’. And on 13 May, Indian Foreign Minister Jaishankar holds talks with counterparts in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, to share India’s anti-Covid measures including, a $US266 b. stimulus package (10% of India’s GDP) to revive the economy, make India self-reliant, and provide the much needed sustenance to struggling businesses and citizenry.

India’s ‘glocal’ approach – combining local measures with its ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’ global response approach against the pandemic – has drawn broad accolade from world leaders. This has been reinforced by various commentators who have offered their own take on the pandemic:

  • Francis Fukuyama (The Atlantic) maintains that “citizens must believe that their government has the expertise, technical knowledge, capacity, and impartiality to make the best available judgments”. He observed that Lincoln, Wilson, and Theodore Roosevelt all enjoyed a high level of public trust – which is missing today in the US.
  • Henry Kissinger (Wall Street Journal) emphasises that ‘public trust is crucial to social solidarity’, and the response should be global and collaborative;
  • Fareed Zakaria (Indian TV interview) identifies ‘credibility and trust’ as the two key elements in any leadership to tackle a challenge of this nature successfully.

India’s effective ‘glocal’ response to COVID-19, synergising local through national to global levels of cooperation, draws its thrust from these two elements.

Dr Misra (MA, Banaras Hindu University; PhD, Jawaharlal Nehru University) is CEO of the Institute for Australia India Engagement, based in Brisbane and affiliated with the Griffith Asia Institute. Previous positions include the UN University Leadership Academy (Jordan) and research-adviser to the Indian Parliament and governmental agencies. 

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Systemic Global Change: Two Ingredients

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The international community of states, today, is so heavily engaged in deadly rivalry and competition that we have forgotten the idea of global unity and cooperation.  The latter is, however, a precondition of human survival.

The year 2020 began with Avangard finding its place in the Russian defence forces.  It is the world’s most sophisticated hypersonic glide vehicle. It travels at 27 times speed of sound on the top of an ICBM carrying a 2 Mt. nuclear payload. It cannot be detected by the American missile shield as it determines its own flight path. Russia has now acquired an edge in its arms race with the United States.

Avangard is the latest addition to the arsenal of hypersonic missiles, lethal autonomous weapons, earth-penetrating nuclear weapons, cyber-weapons, and China’s DF-100 missile which can bust an aircraft carrier. The growing stockpile of arms is bringing us closer to our collective death. But nobody is paying attention.

Whether it is lethal arms, pandemics, trade or global warming, we seem to forget that cooperation alone can help us find a way out of the predicament we have created for ourselves.

China and the United States have excelled in levelling acrimonious charges and counter-charges over the spread of Covid-19. China accuses the US armed forces of carrying the infection to Wuhan. The US blames China for deliberately holding back the information on the outbreak.

The foreign ministers of the two countries were together in a hotel in Munich (14-16 Feb.) two weeks after the WHO declared a global health emergency and only a month before most of the world brought the global economy to a standstill. But there is no indication of them constructively exploring collaborative solutions to contain the pandemic.  Nor is there evidence of the world leaders endeavouring to produce a joint action plan immediately after the WHO’s proclamation.

The failure to cooperate is not confined to the ongoing pandemic. We have seen it in the handling of trade disputes and climate change. As for the post-nuclear arms race nobody will talk about it.  Until, that is, the Cuban Missile Crisis recurs.  Or will that be the Korean Missile Crisis, next time?

It may appear that nation-states are losing their ability to manage global problems. But I wonder if they are losing the will, not merely the competence, to deal with issues that might impair our civilization.

One reason is the tunnel vision of our leadership. They can only see what appears on the screen and not what is there in the CPU.

  • If they are obsessed with the corona virus, they ignore hypersonic missiles and lethal autonomous weapons poised to cause Apocalypse, either by intent or accident.
  • If they are obsessed with terrorism, they don’t foresee a pandemic even one month before it attacks the world.
  • If they are obsessed with trade, they don’t see global warming.

The second reason is their fondness of nationalism. Rabindranath Tagore, an Indian poet and Nobel laureate, described nationalism as a ‘menace’ about a century ago. Around the same time, Albert Einstein called it the ‘measles of mankind’. In modern language, we might call it the ‘corona virus of humankind’.

The third reason is that the international architecture is made of nation-states. What we call the United Nations Organisation is the United Governments Organisation. It does not represent the spirit of humanity. It is a bargaining forum for the nation-states, where each one aims to negotiate and aggrandise its own interests. All other organisations, including the G-20, G-7, World Bank, regional development banks, and Asian International Infrastructure Bank, are all ‘inter-state’ bodies.

The nation-states can decide if they want to swim together, or sink together.

  • SARS and Ebola did not cause mayhem because the nation-states promptly decided to cooperate. Covid-19 is causing disaster because the nation-states did not immediately cooperate.
  • Global trade and financial flows grow when nation-states facilitate their movement. Goods and money do not flow easily when the leading nation-states use agricultural crops and 5G as the pretext for confrontation.
  • Emissions can be contained if nation-states of the world honour their Paris commitments to shift to a low-carbon economy. Emissions do not recognise borders; they proliferate around the planet when nation-states refuse to think beyond their national boundaries.

There is a serious risk of human civilization being ravaged in a nuclear or post–nuclear war, impaired on account of climate change, suspended due to attacks of viruses, or hit by a biological or technological mishap caused by the grand failure of some, critical, AI mechanism.

If we want to avert these risks, there are two pathways.

  • First, in the present architecture, nation-states will need to find ways to trust and work with each other, in a constructive and genuine way.
  • Secondly, we shall have to conceive of a global-governance grid that is beyond the horizon of the United Nations, and which does not depend on the representation of the nation-states. It must represent, and serve, only humankind.

Both are formidable challenges. They may appear utopian when our nationalism, our vanity, and our greed, are on full display.

We have a rather ‘lazy habit’ of finding solutions to the world’s problems once world wars ravage millions of people. If a nuclear bomb, a deadly virus, or an ecological disaster annihilates one billion out of eight billion inhabitants on our planet, we will certainly begin our journey on these pathways.

Do we want to wait until such a tragedy happens?

It is a call for our collective wisdom, our morality, and our conscience.

Sundeep Waslekar is President of Strategic Foresight Group (Mumbai, India), an international think-tank that has advised governments of 65 countries, and a bestseller author in his native Marathi language in India.

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The New ‘Global War’

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The coronavirus has overrun the world in no time. This ‘blitzkrieg’ so far only needed four months to destroy many lives, dealing the world economy a serious blow – threatening to topple the Great Depression from its pole position of modern economic catastrophes, and becoming a harbinger of fundamental change to politics and our societies.

Indeed, we are ‘at war’ as the President of France warned in a recent interview (Financial Times).  Macron pointed to a Europe, weakened by the Brexit aftermath, and under stress from a crisis more dangerous than the Greek battle over the way out for the Euro, demanding true solidarity of the richer with the poorer members in times of urgent need, or else….

The virus has not only attacked people, threatening lungs and lives; it has also gripped the jugular of our national economies. Just as it inhibits the entry of oxygen into the bloodstream, it has thrown a spanner in the works of our political, economic and social systems.

And as the pandemic is fought by each of us as responsible humans, obeying lockdown at home with serious restriction on movement and social intercourse, governments are trying to contain the menacing consequences of this warlike event – the breaking of international supply chains, sudden ruptures to production, and ensuing loss of work and income.  Never in the past century, except in wartime, has such a sudden jolt to the fate of the world occurred.

We have so far seen estimates by IMF of shrinkage up to 9% in annual GDP of industrialised countries. China has lost almost 7% in the first quarter (compared to 2019), the first contraction ever recorded. Total loss of production in the global economy may reach at least US$ 9 tr. – the combined size of the 3rd and 4th biggest economies (Japan, Germany). Unemployment in the US has suddenly increased tenfold to 22 m. The situation elsewhere is equally appalling.

Past economic convulsions

Re-modelling the successful response to the US subprime mortgage crisis of 2007 which morphed into a global financial debacle in September ‘08, the central banks and treasuries quickly committed financial relief in many ways, including interest rate cuts and injections of fresh ‘money’ amounting to trillions.

Whether this is enough to keep the world economic system in some sort of balance, remains to be seen. The famous ‘income multiplier’ has been thrown into reverse gear, and I would not dare to guess whether the additional public spending is more than band-aid. The ‘animal spirit’ of people in investment and business is stunned, and confidence indicators are at a very low ebb.

Nevertheless, the funding of benefit-payouts plus the support of firms fighting financial suffocation will lead to a huge bubble of new public debt. The US fiscal deficit, already under strain before the pandemic, could reach $4 tr. in 2020 (almost 20% of GDP), the highest since World War II by far. In this context, the contested tax cut of about $2 tr. to pump up the economy and the stock exchange, together with Trump’s election prospects, all gain a new and cynical dimension.

With this somewhat gloomy prelude to an uncertain future, I ponder the consequences of the ‘war’.

Some experts have talked about the need, under these circumstances, for Hyper-Keynesianism. In his essay The Economic Consequences of the Peace, the famous father of deficit spending warned the winners against imposing unbearable burden unto the vae victis.  John Maynard Keynes, looking ahead, saw through the haze of revenge and pleaded for rational forgiveness – to win the peace as well.

His warning was discarded. World War II was, to a high degree of confidence, the consequence of the badly managed peace after the end of the previous conflict. The early warning of 1919, and Keynes’ active role as one of the architects of our post-war financial system a generation later, laid the foundation for seven decades of relative peace and prosperity in Europe and elsewhere.

The current economic convulsion

Economically, we face consequences of an unknown magnitude, the most serious threat since the Great Depression of the 1930s, and the aftermath of World War II.

I can personally remember what happened in Austria in 1947, in parallel with the generous Marshall Plan. As a contribution, and with the aim of putting the economy on a firmer ground, the currency was ‘reformed’. Small savers (such as my war-widowed mother) lost a third of what Kant once called ‘the accumulated industriousness of the people’.

That was then, this is now.  In 2013 at the peak of the Greek debt crisis, the president of the European Central Bank, whose main task is defence of the Euro, advanced a proposal (in her former capacity as IMF head): a ‘crisis tax of 10%’ of net household assets, to solve the problem through reducing global debt to the level of 2007.

This idea could be revived – this time with the virus as the culprit.

Another concept is brandished by the ‘new monetarists’ who think nothing of printing all the money required to finance any form of expenditure one can fancy. This would, however, be short shrift for a more permanent crisis tax – less noticeable and more difficult to fight.  The longest bull-run on the world’s stock exchanges, now aborted, was already supported by ample, almost free, money along with credit.

I am among those who trust the value and stability of savings – together with correct assessment of chance and risk engendered by debt monetization.  ‘Risk assessment’ is a complex issue.  Risk is like energy, something, that may change form but never disappears.  I expect, also, that the call for ‘social justice’ will become louder, as the rift between poor and rich deepens. The explicit taxing of wealth will become a more broadly accepted proposal.

All this will surely make our national societies more aggressive, not necessarily more equal.  What will this portend for the global community?  But will Trump consider revoking, or reworking, his two trillion tax reform?

Will we ‘win the war’ against coronavirus, but lose the peace thereafter?   The management of this war’s consequences could be of similar importance to the world as the challenge a century ago to manage a lasting peace at Versailles or St. Germain.

I would not go so far to say, beware of a new Hitler. But some political figures in Europe and elsewhere, most recently in the US, have shown great populist talent and enormous personal chutzpah.

 Could the European ‘political project’ be the first prominent victim, with all the ancillary consequences of that terrible loss, as Macron warned prominently for the second time within six months (originally in The Economist, Nov. ‘19)? I hope not. Where is the Churchill of 2020 – to do what Sir Winston allegedly quipped: “never let a good crisis go to waste”?

I dream of leaders strong enough to overcome the hurdles of domestic politicking, and voters wise enough to give them the power to do so.

Recall Keynes once more – who argued back, in 1944, for a world united, conceived the idea of world money (Bancor), and proposed a ‘world government’ of whatever appropriate kind.

Well, look – we have already achieved a little bit of that, at least at the regional level such as in the European Union. Only a dream?  But … as the Austrian poet Weinheber described the birth of action nursed by a dream…Traum ist das unsre und stärker als die Tat, die willig ihm nachfolgt,

Hans Haumer, a former university teacher, worked on stabilisation policy in the IMF and held senior positions in banking and the stock exchange in Austria. He has given a TED talk, and his books (in German) include ‘The Wild Duck Principle: Strategy of struggle and consensus in management’; ‘Wealth: Metamorphosis of a human dream’; and ‘Trust, Fear and Hope in an Uncertain World’. He lives in Vienna and Waiheke Island.

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COVID-19: Calls for Change

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On 26 March, as COVID-19 was pushing countries into defensive lockdown, former Swedish Prime Minister, Carl Bildt, called for a ‘much stronger global mechanism’ than the World Health Organisation to deal with future pandemics.

Writing for the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, Bildt noted that WHO had declared health emergencies six times in the past decade. He added that the global threats from SARS in 2003, MERS in 2012 and Ebola in 2014-15 were “just three examples of outbreaks that required a sustained multilateral response”.

Yet COVID-19 is being responded to nation-by-nation.

What to do?

The Treaty of Westphalia (1648) still rules our global (dis)order: nation-states’ sovereignty is exclusive, even when the action, or lack of it, threatens others.

China’s failure – as with SARS – to respond adequately to the initial outbreak ensured the spread, first to Italy, which by late March had the highest number of deaths (if China’s recently improving figures are to be believed).

Then note the bumbling initial responses of the Trump and Johnson administrations in the dis-United States and dis-United Kingdom. How are other nations to keep safe if the big ones shamble?

Bildt offered a view:

“A new global institution … would need to have the authority and the means to intervene as intrusively as necessary to stop a contagious outbreak in its tracks”.

Bildt acknowledged that delivering such powers to a supranational institution would ‘not be politically easy’.

In fact, if you believe Kurt Campbell (Obama’s Assistant Secretary of State for Asia), it is close to politically impossible in the present fractured geopolitical climate. Campbell detailed, in a Foreign Affairs article in March, China’s manoeuvres since it took COVID-19 seriously to present the Middle Kingdom as world leader of the fight against the virus: internal lockdowns, propaganda and much publicised material assistance to Italy, Iran, Serbia and Africa. It is a major producer of masks, respirators, ventilators and medicine.

Just six years ago, it was the US that led the response to Ebola. Now, Trump trumpets national self-interest. It has, with China, dismembered the WTO’s appeal body, and pulled out of the Paris Accord on climate change.

Campbell does muse on how China and the US could conceivably cooperate for the global good.  But the bilateral standoff under Xi Jinping and Trump is not just a contest of Palmerstonian self-interests. It is also a contest of ideas of how a society and polity – including the world – should be ordered.

And that contest is much more complex than a two-counry joust. Put Iran, Japan, Russia, Kenya, Chile, Indonesia and Ecuador in a talk-shop – could they agree on much?

We are global dwellers in this crowded, digitally-tied, water-short, climate challenged and pandemic-threatened world.

But peoples’ ways of organising themselves diverge widely. Through history, this has invited conflict more often than congruence.

Also, most major change in human social-political organisation and activity, including policy and resultant collective-action programmes, is reactive, not proactive – whether the polity is monarchical, autocratic (totalitarian) or democratic.

Water shortages and climate events, later in this or early in the next decade, will generate severe public anger in some countries.  Hunger is not a happy state.  The result is a mix of belated, not properly-thought-through and reactive, political and policy responses.

Whether those outbusts fragment the international system or promote (desperate?) cooperation can be known only at the time.

Meanwhile, there is a potential bottom-up path to that cooperation: coalitions of the willing, whether by nation-states or cities or civil society bodies or a combination of those.

MFAT’s Vangelis Vitalis has been active in the assembly of two small such coalitions.

  • One is on climate-change-related environmental taxes and tariff concessions.
  • The other, just assembled, has agreed on zero tariffs on items needed to fight the pandemic.

That is a sort of bottom-up partial globalism which just might over time catch on, and generate a form of functional globalism. Nation-states work well only if there is bottom-up agreement that those within its boundaries feel their decisions, both national and international, are legitimate.

If such coalitions emerge, solidify and expand their memberships, the human species might, just possibly, conceivably (note the qualifiers) develop over time a response to issues of the global commons to save us from the worst.

The alternative is too horrible to contemplate.

Yet we humans have got through multiple crises and downturns on smaller scales over millennia (though often with a lot of pain and inhumanity).

So the triggers for action may come early enough to produce enough reactions to save us from catastrophe.

Europe’s terrible plagues drove it to develop in ways that eventually gave it the means to generate widespread material prosperity and global dominance.

Those who look for silver linings might see a tiny glimmer in COVID-19.

Colin James has recently retired from a lifetime of political journalism in New Zealand, including the Parliamentary Press Gallery. He is a Senior Associate in VUW’s Institute for Global & Policy Studies.  

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Global Climate Change

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The pattern ahead of the annual UN climate conference in November 2019 (COP-25, Madrid) was spectacularly familiar:

  • over 25,000 participants;
  • worrying reports from climate scientists;
  • more public anxiety about climate change;
  • mobilisation of civil society, with youth to the fore;
  • exhortations from the UN Secretary-General;
  • an urgent need to ‘close the gap’ between states’ pledges and what is needed collectively;
  • an inspirational slogan: ‘time for action’.

Yet for the longest COP in history, going nearly two days over time, the Madrid outcome was very far from meeting these expectations.

So, what are the unlearned lessons we need to draw, from the UN climate negotiation process, to date?

Madrid followed the pattern of climate negotiations rarely failing to disappoint – of which the most spectacular illustration was the 2009 Copenhagen meltdown.  The only two COPs in recent years that broke with the tradition were COP 21 in Paris in 2015, which defined a new climate regime, enabled by another one that agreed the mandate that led to it – Durban in 2011.

The French president, Emmanuel Macron, did not go to Madrid, arguing that this would be a ‘technical COP’.  Beneath all the pre-conference rhetoric, he was right.  Some decisions were needed to make the Paris Agreement fully operational from the end of 2020. Elaboration of the reporting and transparency rules – in other words how countries report their contributions to the global effort and what scrutiny they are subject to – is important in the absence of a legally binding compliance mechanism.  The framework for international carbon markets, a subject which had been troublesome for years before, remains unresolved.

The usual inflated expectations – inflated not in relation to the seriousness of the climate crisis but rather to what was feasible for this conference – proved counterproductive. It should have been obvious from the UN summit earlier in the year that most major emitters, on whom the achievement of Paris Agreement goals depends, were unlikely to raise their ambition at the COP.   Entertaining hopes that they would was calculated to accentuate the sense of failure when they didn’t.

What about the negotiating process itself? Since 2005, when this phase of negotiations began, there has been a proliferation of often overlapping subjects with their attendant bureaucracy. Adaptation, technology, capacity building, a green climate fund, response measures, loss and damage to name some. All these subjects have at least one and sometimes several bodies that require governance arrangements, secretariat support and of course yet more meetings.  Psychologists might term these displacement activities, substituting for lack of progress on the too-hard tasks of reducing emissions and shifting from fossil fuels to renewables.

Madrid saw a reversion to another shortcoming of the negotiations – pervasive and inappropriate North-South contests even over quite minor issues, a throwback to the Kyoto era.  This binary approach had been a long-term hindrance to progress until it was much softened in the lead-up to Paris.

But there are more fundamental lessons.  It is no longer possible to view the United Nations framework of nation states as the determinant of global action on climate change.  Yet the ‘top down’ model of a legally binding agreement with obligations cascading down to the level of nation states then to sectors of the economy persists, even though the Paris Agreement does not follow the model.

Absent from this model is the role of non-state actors, which needs more recognition to reflect the role they are already playing and will need to play in the future. The US group ‘We Are Still In’ formed in 2017 after the Trump administration’s announcement it would withdraw from the Paris Agreement has continued to grow. It includes cities, states, businesses and non- governmental organisations and now embodies 70% of US GDP, over half US emissions, and aims to meet the US target tabled by the previous Administration. If it were a state this group would rank among the three largest economies along with the US and China.  Numerous international alliances of non-state actors were also present at Madrid.  The common view of these participants was that the global transition was going to happen, that they needed to plan for it, and so were taking action autonomously.

The Paris Agreement provides some clarity – a temperature goal, getting to a point of no additional warming well before the end of the century, and the need for long-term transition plans.  It also acknowledges the equal importance of principles of adaptation and finance – an implicit recognition of the responsibility of developed countries towards  poorer countries. It recognises, albeit somewhat timidly, the role of non-state actors.  This amounts to  the most important statement of the problem and how it needs to be dealt with since the original framework convention back in 1992.

Since 2015 the Paris Agreement has been remarkably successful in encouraging action despite slow progress in the international negotiations. Its universality combined with its unprecedentedly fast entry into force in under a year is a powerful signal.  ‘Alignment with the Paris Agreement’ is proving a guiding principle for governments, business and other non-state actors alike and is something the general public can understand.

Acting consistently with the Paris Agreement is happening independently of legal obligations and does not need to await detailed rules from the UNFCCC.  Getting to climate neutrality by 2050 is becoming a de facto standard for developed countries to meet – despite its not being decreed by the Paris Agreement.  Judging progress solely in terms of relatively short-term targets and timetables is a relic from Kyoto era.

The global focus needs to be first on transitions – with targets and timetables serving a purpose of giving some consistency and tracking progress.  The most effective way of ‘closing the gap’ will be by government, local government, business and civil society  working together in the domestic environment in order to achieve a faster low carbon transition.  Increasing pledges at UN climate conferences will thus be able to follow – reversing the presumption that domestic action follows international commitments.

There have been plenty of lessons from the recent history of climate change negotiations; few have been heeded. The negotiating process has not kept pace with changes in the external environment; it has frequently focused on the non-essential.  The result is that the negotiations within the UNFCCC are becoming less and less fit-for-purpose; they have become a sort of complex perpetual motion machine which for the most part does not actually negotiate in the sense of making compromises to reach agreement.  Entering the Paris era is the chance to do better.

Will Glasgow at the end of this year be a rerun of Madrid, or will making a tidy start to the Paris climate regime prevail?  There is of course a new factor in play.   The preoccupation with COVID 19 over the rest of this year, and the drain on public finances, may preclude big increases of ambition or of financial commitments from the ‘rich’ countries.

All the more reason to get the transition to the Paris era done smoothly, to reinforce public confidence.

A global stocktake under the UNFCCC is due in 2023.  This is not far off, and it can be prepared by good coordination at home. With all Paris mechanisms operational, better coordination of states and non-state actors, and more experience of working together, the stocktake will have a good chance of increasing the pace of the transition.

Dr Adrian Macey was New Zealand’s climate ambassador (2010-16), including time as chair of the UNFCCC Kyoto negotiations at COP-17 in Durban.  He was chair of the Centre’s Board from 2013 to ’18.

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Internationally hot, domestically not’

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Legal personality is an established part of the law in New Zealand and similar countries. It is widely accepted, for example, that a company or incorporated society can be considered a legal person.

Over the last half-century, however, the argument has been advanced that the right of legal personality should also be extended to the environment, and to individual natural features.

Over the past decade I was engaged, somewhat intimately, in this issue as Minister of Waitangi Treaty Negotiations, and as Attorney-General.  In 2014, a Treaty settlement between the Crown and Whanganui River iwi agreed to acknowledge legal personhood for the river, and implement this in domestic law.

So, how visionary is this?  And how practical in the real world of politics?  Where does New Zealand stand, within the global context of the rights of nature movement?

We were, I think, among the pioneers around the world in taking the 2014 to ’17 initiative.  Here are my thoughts on the matter.

In the years since Christopher Stone wrote a now-famous 1970 article about whether or not trees can have legal standing, the concept of recognising legal personality or rights in nature has come to the forefront of the environmental movements in many countries.

In the US, a number of examples now exist of cities and municipalities recognising legal personality in nature.

  • One of the first was Tamaqua, Pennsylvania, where the borough banned the dumping of toxic sewage sludge as a violation of the rights of nature.
  • That was followed by further community-led initiatives across the United States, including campaigns in some states for constitutional amendments.
  • In 2019, voters in Toledo, Ohio, approved an amendment to the city’s Charter that established a bill of rights for Lake Erie and recognised that the lake and its watershed “possess the right to exist, flourish, and naturally evolve.”

Several other countries have embraced the concept.

  • Ecuador, whose national constitution was amended in 2008 to recognise the rights of nature.
  • In 2016, the Constitutional Court of Colombia recognised a river as having rights to “protection, conservation, maintenance and restoration”.
  • In 2017, India’s Uttarakhand High Court granted legal personhood to the river Ganges.
  • In 2018, Colombia’s Supreme Court recognised the Colombian Amazon as an entity, subject of rights, and beneficiary of “protection, conservation, maintenance and restoration”.
  • In 2019, the High Court of Bangladesh recognised rivers as living entities, legal persons and juristic persons.

There are numerous other examples, relating to all sorts of environmental features, flora and even fauna – all different, but ultimately recognising at their base mankind’s stewardship responsibility in relation to nature.

The New Zealand Experience

In 2013 and 2014, New Zealand took its own steps forward in the area of legal personality for nature. Since the 1990s, New Zealand has pursued Treaty of Waitangi settlements, a national policy of reconciliation between the indigenous Māori people and the Crown (the New Zealand government).

A Treaty settlement seeks to address long-standing Māori grievances stemming from New Zealand’s colonisation and settlement. In each settlement, the government makes a formal apology, provides financial redress and seeks to restore an iwi’s connection to its land through cultural redress.

  • The 2013 settlement with the central North Island iwi Ngāi Tūhoe vested ownership of Tūhoe’s large ancestral homeland, Te Urewera, in itself and recognised the area as a legal person. A joint Tūhoe/government board (with a Tūhoe majority) now provides Te Urewera’s legal voice.
  • The 2014 settlement with Whanganui River iwi, mentioned above, took a similar approach in recognising the New Zealand’s third longest river as a living entity in its own right, incapable of being owned. The River is now represented by Te Pou Tupua, a body established to be the human face of the River and act in its name.

Like many indigenous people around the world, Māori have recognised something akin to personality in nature for hundreds of years. It is the West that is catching up. New Zealand’s recognition of legal personality in natural features has responded to a world-view expressed, for example, by Ngāi Tūhoe this way:

the use of property rights by the western legal system has hidden from view the concept of nature […] The use of property rights to regulate human disputes arising from human society is no longer permissible in and of Te Urewera. Te Urewera may never again be owned by people.

In the Whanganui River settlement, legal personality helped New Zealand’s Western legal system accommodate the iwi’s view of the river as Te Awa Tupua: a living being, an indivisible whole incorporating its tributaries and all its physical and metaphysical elements from the mountains to the seas, inseparable from the people connected to it. This world-view is conveyed by the Whanganui pepeha (saying):

E rere kau mai te Awa nui                              The Great River flows

Mai I te Kāhui Maunga ki Tangaroa                 From the Mountains to the Seas

Ko au te Awa, ko te Awa ko au                       I am the River and the River is me

New Zealand’s approach to legal personality differs from many international examples in that the executive has negotiated, and the Parliament legislated, the arrangements: they are not the product of local referenda or imposed by court decisions. More fundamentally, perhaps, New Zealand’s arrangements are unique in the state’s recognition of the aspirations of indigenous people. Legal personality has helped the New Zealand government and Māori get past difficult discussions about Western concepts such as ownership and instead served as a bridge between two fundamentally different traditions of thinking about property and the environment.

The Tūhoe and Whanganui River settlements have achieved significant attention overseas. In 2018, the Whanganui River featured as a key part of US filmmaker Issac Goeckeritz’s documentary, The Rights of Nature, a Global Movement. Among other coverage, the Atlantic made a video setting out what we did with the Whanganui River. National Geographic ran a full-length article, as did the New York Times and Smithsonian Magazine. The BBC made a video telling the story for British audiences. Academic literature has now started to examine New Zealand’s approach with Te Urewera and the River.

Domestic Context

Nonetheless, this international attention has not translated into domestic interest. New Zealand’s experiment with legal personality has been described to me by one person as ‘internationally hot, domestically not’. This probably reflects the relaxed nature of New Zealanders to even radical reforms. We have all got used to what former UK Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd once described as our ‘adventures of policy’ that make keeping an eye on New Zealand essential for anyone interested in politics.

International Implications

To legislators looking to address seemingly intractable problems in their own countries, I suggest there are a number of benefits to New Zealand’s approach which make it of export to other jurisdictions. In addition to bridging the gap between different (even incompatible) world-views within an existing legal system, New Zealand’s approach:

  • allows progress to be made on matters where there is agreement, while transcending issues where there will not be agreement (such as who owns something, and what that means);
  • is capable of being implemented in legislation, rather than being left to the courts to develop over time;
  • allows the exact scope of legal personality to be spelled out clearly, alongside how the legal personality will be represented practically, and for what reasons;
  • grants the natural resource full powers to be involved in environmental management policy development and decision-making;
  • can be customised to fit a range of different situations.

Global Implications

It is difficult to predict the extent to which legal personality may be applied in the future. Need the boundaries of legal personality and the rights of nature stop at national borders? Could the concept be expanded to a supranational or international level? Trans-national environmental problems require an increasingly multilateral approach.

As Attorney-General of New Zealand in 2013, I appeared in the International Court of Justice, intervening on Australia’s case against Japan on its whaling program. Australia and New Zealand had a great victory in that case but, seven years on, whales are dying from ingesting plastic before they even get close to a Japanese ‘scientific research vessel’.

Could the Pacific Ocean, its islands and fauna one day be recognised as having legal rights?

Perhaps it’s an amorphous idea at this point, but a rights of nature approach to the Pacific Ocean could guide more international collaboration. It has already been suggested that rights of nature laws could help save endangered species, such as orca whales.

In 2018, two Canadian lawyers even considered applying the New Zealand legal personality model to the moon, other space resources and space habitats. Whether or not the concept has extra-terrestrial applicability, there is certainly scope for further examination of how the model could operate on an international or supranational level.

It is an even more interesting exercise to consider the application of the rights of nature to a number of intractable international problems, including cross-border disputes over natural resources and contested or occupied land.

The increasing and often radical suggestions of possible usages of legal personality reflect the promise and adaptability of the concept for different situations.

It does not have to be the preserve of one side of politics or the other. While the rights of nature are promoted in many countries by the environmental left, it doesn’t really belong to either side; in fact it is capable of enjoying support from all parts of the political spectrum. In investigating attitudes to the rights of nature movement, Ben Price of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund found that recognising such rights is also popular in rural, conservative towns.

It is easy to get disheartened by some of the environmental problems confronting us in 2020. But we have two options: get apocalyptic or do something. Looking to expand the rights of nature into new fields could be one solution. It’s an area where the New Zealand experience could help lead the way.

Hon Chris Finlayson was a New Zealand MP from2005 to ’19, serving as Minister of Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations and as Attorney-General from 2008 to ’17.  He also had ministerial portfolios for the arts, culture & heritage, and for intelligence services.

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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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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.

https://www.parliament.nz/en/get-involved/features/keeping-a-keen-eye-on-the-future/

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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