It has been a hot, unbearable summer in the Northern Hemisphere. Wherever the temperatures are not breaking new records and the forest fires are not filling the air with suffocating smoke and other pollutants it is the floods that are hitting the high mark, including in places where water is becoming worryingly scarce over time. We are not talking only about developing countries, where you would expect disasters to happen more frequently because of lacking infrastructure, imperfect planning and underfunded response mechanisms. It is the very core of the developed world in North America and Europe, as well as in East Asia, that is suffering too. In a perfect storm that has been gathering for years, human-made climate change and natural phenomena, notably El Niño, are coming together to challenge human hubris of planetary dominance, as expressed most recently in the official pronouncement of the start of “the Anthropocene” (“Anthropo-ending period” would be more accurate, under the circumstances).
What are the most powerful societies of the most powerful being on the planet doing in response? Not much, really, other than drinking more water while they can still find to survive the successive heat waves it and mobilizing military forces to fight forest fires and floods (which is much better than killing other people, one might point out). Otherwise, politics and business continue as usual, playing their big games that traditionally ignore the small people and the planet with its other species. It is a historic(al) irony and certainly a cause for at least a grin by the proverbial or actual Mother Earth that decisions keep being made to divert even more resources to armaments and continue pointless homicidal wars when the very survival of the human species is at stake. Moral compass? Broken – permanently showing South. The common enemy is “ad portas”, or has rather entered the human fort, but the human neighbourhoods keep throwing their projectiles and their garbage at each other, faithful to a game that they have been playing for ages. Will they ever learn?
The rhetoric continues about the need for urgent climate action, together with other wise advice to the powerful, notably the need to reform the global financial system and lighten the debt burden of developing countries. No action, though, to speak of. Maybe we are waiting for UNFCCC COP28 in Dubai to deal with all this, which it won’t because it has no operational role of any kind and this is much bigger than anything a gathering of climate negotiators can deal with. Or the UN Secretary-General’s Climate Ambition Summit in September will really unite world leaders in action; although most probably it will result in another ambitiously worded declaration with no impact on the real world. Or perhaps we are waiting for the Summit of the Future in September 2024 to give the Secretary-General the permission he thinks he needs to convene an Emergency Platform, as per his March 2023 policy brief on the subject. It feels like the orchestra is playing its usual tune while the Titanic is sinking…
The unhappy ending is not inevitable, though, or so one wants to believe. Human ingenuity and all that can still be summoned and a good fight at least put up, before it is really too late. What is needed? Let’s start from basics: “…the least diversion for armaments of the world’s human and economic resources” (quoting Article 26 of the UN Charter). Let’s use the world’s human and economic resources to adapt to extreme weather events, the rich countries by paying for it themselves and the developing with own resources but also that 100 billion annual package lost in the mail, plus Loss and Damage funds, plus… We can also be creative with funding mechanisms like the much talked-about issuance of Special Drawing Rights (SDRs) for developing country use (see, for example, the relevant recommendations in the report of the High-level Advisory Board on Effective Multilateralism). At a more technical level, we have to rethink buildings and urban settlements for natural cooling; build flood overflow systems, not only for flood avoidance but also for water storage for the periods of drought that follow even in the most flood-affected of regions; rethink trade in things such as food stuffs that can be produced locally or more closely; and so on and so forth.
There is no forum to discuss all this, though, not in an operational way towards decision-making. It is certainly not the increasingly dysfunctional and non-competent in such matters UN Security Council. We at FOGGS have long been advocating the establishment of a Global Resilience Council (GRC) to deal with exactly such things. It can easily be created in days, as a subsidiary body of the UN General Assembly, an executive council for the world community of states facing a myriad of interconnected threats to human security. It can be a representative body of 25 to 30 member states and/or regional organizations of states, closely interacting with the whole UN system of funds, programmes and specialized agencies, other intergovernmental organizations and arrangements, as well as associations of scientists, local authorities, civil society, businesses and other non-state constituencies. Its remit to transparently and accountably examine and agree on practical ways forward on climate action, food shortages, pandemics, and whatever else may threaten human survival. Global civil society, at least in its C4UN (Coalition for the UN We Need) incarnation, has endorsed the GRC proposal (see Interim People’s Pact for the Future issued in April 2023).
When are the world leaders going to roll up their sleeves and start dealing with the real issues, instead of big words about the common good and nasty deeds, by commission or omission, to humanity and the planet?
*Georgios Kostakos is Executive Director of FOGGS (Foundation for Global Governance and Sustainability), a former (and for-life) international civil servant, and a scholar of global governance.