Scientists Call For Stronger Global Governance To Address Climate Change

Stronger global governance is needed to mitigate human impact on the earth's climate and to ensure sustainable development, according to 32 scientists who published a paper in Friday's issue of the journal Science.
In "Navigating the Anthropocene: Improving Earth System Governance," (summary), the scholars argue that current institutions, including the United Nations, have shown themselves inadequate to the necessities now facing humanity.
In a podcast accompanying the article, lead author Frank Biermann, an environmental policy specialists from VU University in Amsterdam, cites climate change as the most prominent example of the failure of global governance to meet the needs of global society:
"It just takes a long time normally to get new agreements in place," Biermann says. "One example is climate change where the first Framework Convention has been negotiated in 1992. And since then, there is no change in the emissions trends of major countries.
"I mean the current state of global climate governance is surely not effective in dealing with the challenge of global warming that we see today."
The scientists recommend changes both within and outside of the United Nations, including:
A shift in the UN from consensus decision making, which requires all nations to agree to a new treaty, to qualified majority voting: "Not necessarily majority voting on the one country-one vote principle, but a system of voting where also larger countries can protect their own interest in a more meaningful way."
Creation of a new council within the UN, the Council on Sustainable Development, that would consolidate the many agencies and more than 900 environmental treaties currently in effect. The call for environmental policy to be administered on the model of global economic governance—the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund. "We also argue for the upgrading of the existing U.N. environment program toward full-fledged specialized U.N. agencies, which would give this agency better possibilities, better mandate to influence norm setting processes, a better source of funding, and a higher influence in the international governance."
A stronger role for civil society—for non-governmental organizations—in international decision making. This is necessary, Biermann says, in part to ensure accountability: "The key question that we also have to ask ourselves is, 'How can we hold these global systems of governance accountable to citizens? I mean, how can we invent in a way democracy, accountability, legitimacy at the global level?' Civil society organizations should gain more rights in getting information and assessing information and also a stronger right to be heard in international norm setting procedures."
All 32 scientists are members of the Earth System Governance Project, so their views should come as no surprise. The project is a decade-old effort to coordinate research on global governance, with a stated interest in reforming the United Nations, in order to mitigate human impacts on the environment.
The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) currently plays the most prominent role in attempting to forge international agreements in response to global warming. It hosted the 2009 Copenhagen Climate Change Conference, which produced the Copenhagen Accord (pdf), a voluntary "political agreement" that has produced little progress in halting or mitigating greenhouse gas emissions.
The 32 scientists describe efforts like this as proof that current institutions are unable to effectively address what the paper describes as "human activities [that] are moving several of Earth's sub-systems outside the range of natural variability typical for the previous 500,000 years."
Biermann elaborates:
We know from the natural sciences that there are a number of core processes in the Earth’s system that are changing fundamentally. This is why natural scientists have coined this term of “The Anthropocene” that has been described as a fundamental transformation of key planetary systems. And we know what the demands are for the social systems and how to change current trends. But we also understand from our social science research that the social systems are not at the current condition to really change these trends.
So the governance systems that we have, the international treaties, the national policies, they are all not effective enough dealing with these challenges. And for this reason, we argue for a structural change in the global governance systems that are dealing with sustainable development and global environmental change."
The authors are primarily public policy experts affiliated with universities including Yale, Oxford, the University of California, the University of Oregon, the University of Massachusetts, the University of Arizona, Arizona State University, Colorado State University, among others.

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