Thursday, November 19, 2009

Democracy Challenged?

The idea of democracy – where the people make choices about who will lead them for a period of time and that these elected officials govern in the public interest – is in decline.

The European Union leaders, meeting today in Brussels, have chosen two major leaders to represent the interests of all within the twenty seven countries of the European Union. The selection was made without any transparency or any involvement of the institutions of the Union. It is a selection which will be made by side-deals, trade-offs and the personal agendas of the leaders. So much for democracy.

The bigger threat to democracy comes from the United Nations. In the negotiations for the Copenhagen meeting on climate change, the UN proposed treaty involved the creation of a new unelected international governmental body. This body would have considerable powers to intervene in national economic and trade matters on a country by country basis. For example, section 38 of the draft treaty creates an new intergovernmental organization which will have considerable powers of enforcement. Here is what the draft treaty says, the term “government” being used to refer to the new international body:

a) The government will be ruled by the Conference of the Parties (COP) with the support of a new subsidiary body on adaptation, and of an Executive Board responsible for the management of the new funds and the related facilitative processes and bodies. The current Convention secretariat will operate as such, as appropriate.

b) The Convention’s financial mechanism will include a multilateral climate change fund including five windows: (a) an Adaptation window, (b) a Compensation window, to address loss and damage from climate change impacts, including insurance, rehabilitation and compensatory components, (c) a Technology window; (d) a Mitigation window; and (e) a REDD (reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation) window, to support a multi-phases process for positive forest incentives relating to REDD actions.

c) The Convention’s facilitative mechanism will include: (a) work programmes for adaptation and mitigation; (b) a long-term REDD process; (c) a short-term technology action plan; (d) an expert group on adaptation established by the subsidiary body on adaptation, and expert groups on mitigation, technologies and on monitoring, reporting and verification; and (e) an international registry for the monitoring, reporting and verification of compliance of emission reduction commitments, and the transfer of technical and financial resources from developed countries to developing countries. The secretariat will provide technical and administrative support, including a new centre for information exchange.

Thus a major transfer of wealth and technology is planned, funded by developed nations, as well as Democratic countries hand over their cash, whether they like it or not. But more than that, there will be an interlocking series of technical panels which will have the right directly to intervene in the economies and in the environment of individual countries over the heads of their elected governments, provided they have the support of the Executive Board.

This idea of global government has been part of the thinking from the beginning of the UN’s involvement in climate change issues. Maurice Strong, who played a critical role in the negotiations leading to Kyoto and was instrumental in the formation of the IPCC, has made clear in a recent article. In an essay in the World Policy Journal, Strong, now 80, said "our concepts of ballot-box democracy may need to be modified to produce strong governments capable of making difficult decisions”, with his comments linked strongly to the need to dramatically reduce CO2 emissions. His point – competing interests of national governments get in the way of what needs to be done to reduce population, reduce emissions and “save the planet”. Democracy, in short, is problematic when global change is needed.

The Copenhagen draft treaty is yet to be endorsed and is unlikely to be in its current form, as President Obama and others made clear in the last several days. But beneath the surface of these negotiations are serious issues about the governance of wealth and technology transfer and the monitoring of national commitments to reduce emissions. Just as world financial systems are now integrated and the role of both the World Bank and IMF is being enhanced so as to create elements of a global financial regulatory regime, world leaders are looking for a similar set of mechanisms to regulate climate change. Both global financial regulation and global CO2 regulation will affect the daily lives of citizens directly. Do we trust our leaders to entrust a new intergovernmental agency on our behalf? Has anyone asked us?

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