Global Governance: new challenges vs old concerns

The last few weeks of May have been quite intense on the global governance side. The Financing for Development  Forum in New York (22-26 May), the World Health Assembly in Geneva (22-31 May) and the G7 in Taormina (26-27 May) - to mention a few among the various events on the UN agenda -  followed one to the other.

Regrettably, a common thread running through these events is evident - which is the confirmation that the United Nations and the broader global governance are going through a regressive – rather than progressive - historical moment. 

The outcome document of the FfD Forum left many unhappy as it doesn’t make any real step forward, despite Member States arguing the document can be considered a good point of departure. From the civil society perspective, the document doesn’t take in consideration any of the input and comments raised prior and during the forum (CS FfD Group Comments on FFD Forum Draft Outcome). This outcome is even more disappointing if one considers that all the hopes and expectations for a more progressive shift (following the delusion of the Addis Ababa Conference) were placed in the annual follow up mechanism of the FFD Forum.

In the context of the G7, with 4 new heads of state out of seven, the outcome document clearly lacks concrete commitments and decisive action. Migration is treated as a security issue. Food and nutrition are addressed in relation to emergencies. Climate has been put on the stake by the US and the implementation of past accords is now at risk (though the US’s absence may prove to be less negative than expected according to some analysts). In other words, the Taormina’s meeting is seen by civil society as step backward prior to Elmau.

On the health side, the situation doesn’t look much better. In the last few years, WHO has experienced a clear shift of focus towards emergency and humanitarian crisis whose implication might be a drastic undermining (if not a dismissal) of its normative role. At this stage, no one can say whether the recent election of former Ethiopian Health Minister Dr. Adhanom Ghebreyesus as new WHO Director-General (beating British doctor and diplomat David Nabarro ) will favour this trend. The choice to privilege one function over the other is a substantive one of dramatic importance as it is supposedly driven by the capacity of member states to deploy financial resources to global health governance. The emergency and humanitarian sectors undoubtedly have a greater appeal to the corporate sector. As a matter of fact, member states are themselves increasingly calling on the private sector to make more money available (for instance in the food and nutrition fields), with the risk of contaminating the agency’s agenda through undue influence, particularly in the absence of clear regulations and safeguards on the private sector’s role.    

Going through the various UN policy arena and civil society spaces, some common elements emerge as connecting points which deserve to be highlighted.

·         There is a renewed, undisguised perception by developed countries that the UN is not the legitimate or proper space to discuss economic governance. As if there was a thematic hierarchy. Perhaps there is no real willingness and commitments of states to address economic and financial issues, as even the last G7 outcome document – the shortest in G7 history – has not properly addressed critical issues such as tax evasion, corruption, debt relief. If not the states, who else should?

 ·         The global policy space is experiencing the emergence of some sort of centrifugal forces moving the focus from the global to the national level. Although national implementation is clearly decisive for global policy to be effective, however, such trend risks to be detrimental to the global functions of policy convergence and coherence. The implication is dual: the gradual loss of legitimacy of the global space (global intended both as supra-national as well as the merging of many local spaces) and the policy fragmentation of the same space, generating confusion of roles, overlapping functions and further impoverishment of the accountability and monitoring mechanisms. 

 ·         There is a renewed confusion about roles and definitions of the actors involved in the policy processes. As UN global governance is getting increasingly dominated/charmed  by the new mantra of multi-stakeholderism, all actors are seen as stakeholders. In the reality, actors are not the same in terms of rights, demands, interests, responsibilities and influencing power.  Member states are duty bearers meaning they have the responsibility to accomplish their mandate given by the people, which is to act in the interest of the people themselves who are rights holders and can hold them accountable. The category of stakeholders – applying to private sector, academia, trade unions, civil society, and many other constituencies – define a group that is as ‘inclusive’ as  ‘patchy’  - if not at odds/uneven- in terms of interests, demands and power. Such differences of roles and instances must be always highlighted and preserved to avoid weak and diluted policy outcomes.

·         As public resources become less relevant and greater expectations are placed on multi-stakeholder models, civil society gets more concerned about the corporate influence over the UN space. Proper regulations and safeguards are therefore needed to address conflict of interest issues. 

All the above describes an emerging global political scene,which does not hold much promise for the grassroots poor and marginalized people. However, on  a positive note, people’s awareness has raised and civil society is stronger than ever. Its capacity to converge actors coming from different areas and domains and addressing compelling issues with a holistic approach, articulating demands and proposals for change in a constructive and more comprehensive way is increasingly being recognized. That is why it is important to strengthen joint advocacy efforts and keep linking different thematic groups, constituencies, and localities. Establishing connections across various civil society groups and learning from other’s experiences is key to leave no one behind. Civil society can  - and has to - build on its diversities and peculiarities,  define own  pathways, values and visions, following but not necessarily reflecting pre-defined criteria of policy engagement.

Currently one key battle for people’s human rights is taking place around the intergovernmental open ended working group transnational corporations and other business enterprises with respect to human rights The working group has reached a critical stage as the next session (23-27 October 2017) is expected to discuss and negotiate elements of the agreement. Read and join the statement of the Treaty Alliance civil society network calling the states to ensure that negotiations are constructive and focus on concrete and detailed elements of the future treaty, and establish a road map for their completion.

Angela Zarro, SID

Photo: landscapeandmore/Flickr