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A world without a course. UNsustainable development and global governance

A world without a course. Unsustainable development and global governance

Photo by Joshua Earle on Unsplash

The consequences of coronavirus pandemic go far beyond the traditional planning horizons for all, without exception, participants of global governance. The epidemic multiplying global and local “imperfections”. All the existing international scenarios were dissolved, not being able to be implemented in the visible future. The world will not be the same — we can hear from different sides. But do we need the same world? In the absence of cooperation and unilateral solutions?

Today we have an unbalanced international system. Global economy and policy are at a loss, and the contradictions between the highly interdependent world and the lack of proper interaction are becoming more apparent. In theory, “global governance” is a process of joint leadership for solving global problems, a “social contract” that unites national governments, multilateral international institutions and organizations, and civil society. Moreover, the decision implementation is carried out through a multilevel system of effective inter-governmental institutions in the framework of an open political dialogue.

In practice, characterising “global governance” today, we can use an expression of the American neo-realist Kenneth Neil Waltz: “The modern world operates on the principle of“ self-help international system ”. This thesis characterises how the actors of “global governance” realised the idea of ​​a “global neighbourhood for peace and security” (formulated in the 1995 report “Our Global Neighbourhood” by the United Nations Commission on Global Governance) at the time of the pandemic civilisation crisis. So, today, “global governance” is rather a declaration of intent, but not a sustainable international system, which is necessary for global world today.

Governance through goals

The term “global governance” appeared in the focus of discussions due to the activities of the United Nations Commission on Global Governance (it was created with the aim of finding a solution to the global problems of mankind), which in 1995 prepared the report “Our Global Neighborhood”. In document, international experts proclaimed the era (post-bipolar), in which, after years of hostility and rivalry, an order will be established based on the cooperation, security and climate issu. In the report, the problem of “global governance” was directly related to the problem of the development of international institutions, and above all the United Nations.

In academic environment, the problem of “global governance” really usually comes down to the United Nations and its reform, which would allow combining elements of intergovernmental system with new network principles. However, at different times, the G7/8, the G20, the OECD, APEC, the WTO claimed the role of “global managers”. But it is difficult to say about all of this structures to be able to geve a solution to a global problem or systemic crisis.

For a long time, the principle that forms the basis of “global governance” was not clear, and the specific goals and objectives with which it could be associated were not identified.

In 2015, by resolution of the United Nations General Assembly, the document “Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development” was adopted. At this moment, “global governance” had a goal — the transition to “sustainable development”, and the agenda until 2030 identified 17 goals, the implementation of which, as stated, will ensure the gradual development of civilization without destroying the environment. Thus, the United Nations proposed a new approach to “global governance”, the so-called “governance through goals”. While the past efforts of “global governance” were largely based on the top-down principle or situational approaches to regulation, a new type of “global governance” implies the existence of non-legally binding goals adopted by United Nations member states.

It is interesting that the proposed approach does not define any country as “developed” in terms of economic “sustainability” and turns all countries of the world into “developing countries”, which need to put forward plans to transform their societies into “sustainable” ones.

Nothing more, just economy

Behind the facade of the concept of “sustainable development” we can see a critical for many countries model of transition the global economy to “green” rails. The move towards a low-carbon future will hurt not only the energy exporting countries, but also those whose budgets and plans for the near future do not require investments in projects with a high technological component. It is worth to make clear that the main block of countries initiating the “green transition” are included in the 10 most energy-efficient countries in the world (based on the International Energy Efficiency Index). The first positions are occupied by the EU countries (Germany and Italy — 1st place, France — 3rd place), then — Japan, China, Canada and the USA. For them, the proposed measures immediately provide a competitive advantage. Russia in this rating is in 21 place out of 25 possible.

The European Green deal, for example, is the largest economic correction in the history of the European Union. The project involves reforms in all sectors so that by 2050 the European Union becomes fully carbon-neutral. The plans (already by 2021) include the principles of a closed-loop economy (proposed instead of a linear economic model) in free trade agreements, in bilateral, regional and multilateral documents and processes, as well as in the financing instruments of the EU foreign policy. Thus, the “clean economy” of the EU implies the introduction of standards that will become restrictive barriers for other countries.

China also uses low-carbon development as an opportunity to accelerate the modernization of its economy. In 2015, China announced the acceleration of the construction of an “ecological civilization.” The strategy involves transition from a material-intensive to a knowledge-based and high-tech economy based on the principles of energy efficiency, resource-saving technologies and non-waste production. Thus, China not only adopted the rules of the new game, but also has every chance of a strategic elevation in a new emerging reality.

The reality is that the principle of “sustainable development” was adopted not as a roadmap for collective action (although it could become one), but as a reason used by developed countries to provoke competition between economic systems and institutions, to solve domestic economic problems.

The countries that have used up their traditional industrial potential faced the question of developing trategy that would give them opportunity to reach a new level of development. Moreover, in our interdependent world, only a global, unifying goal (in this case, goals) could, on the one hand, lead all states to a common denominator (as it was supposed to unite), and on the other hand, create the necessary conditions for the implementation of such a transition.

Chance for development. But not for everybordy

The concept of “sustainable development” has become an ideal motive, incorporating goals that are critical for the development of the entire civilization, assuming global institutional transformations, as well as the formation of a special budget for the purpose of their successful implementation (Fund for the Sustainable Development Goals, Green Project Financing Fund).

So that, the main role in new game is played by countries (primarily the European Union, the USA and China), which not only realise the need for a transition to a new understanding of energy efficiency (as the only possible option for economic development at a new stage), but also have all the possibilities for this, having received at the same time at global level a “chance for development”. “Sustainable development” at the same time ceased to be an opportunity for an equal dialogue, defining a club of “selected countries”. And even more so, it could not become the goal for consolidating actors of “global governance” of polycentric international system.

Thank you all for your interest. If you have any questions or sugge please contact me by e-mail: jtrefy@icloud.com


A world without a course. UNsustainable development and global governance was originally published in ILLUMINATION on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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