Youth E-Consult: Engaging the Minds of tomorrow with the global governance challenges of today

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From 23 March – 20 April, 2015, The Hague Institute for Global Justice conducted an online youth consultation for the Commission on Global Security, Justice & Governance entitled “Engaging the Minds of Tomorrow with the Global Governance Challenges of Today”. The consultation served as an opportunity for students and young professionals active in the field of conflict studies, international economy and climate issues to exchange ideas and experiences on global governance reform in these areas. The E-Consults welcome over 50 participants.

The themes of the three simultaneous consultations were: – Climate Mitigation: Towards Energy Efficient Consumption and Sustainable Development – Reassessing the Governance of the Global Economy in light of Increasing Technological Innovations – Fragile and Conflict Affected States: Reforming UN Peacekeeping for 21st Century State building  

Climate Mitigation

The climate E-Consult focused on the links between economic development and climate change, the role of education in climate mitigation, and enforcement measures required to ensure adherence to climate policies.  

I. Economic development and climate

Participants expressed concern that currently too much emphasis is placed on economic growth during negotiations. They however recognized that economic issues cannot be separated from any comprehensive climate discussion. People are likely to downplay the seriousness of natural disasters to occur in 50 years if they are hungry today, hence development and growth is required for people to even consider the relevance of climate change. At the same time, rich countries or citizens in the Global North are used to ‘carbon-rich’ lifestyles which they find difficult to give-up or adjust for the sake of sustaining the environment.

Contributors emphasized, therefore, that action is required to reduce existing unsustainable actions while moving towards more sustainable growth and reform. In the long term, economic growth will not be possible if we continue our current path of depletion of resources. Climate reforms must not be limited to only economic sectors, as all should participate to ensure a rapid reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. In terms of measuring development, economic growth should not be the only indicator. Rather, we should work on so called ‘multiple value creation’, which takes into account other forms of quantifiable values.

Furthermore it was recommended that more emphasis be placed on incentivizing the transfer of knowledge and green technologies from the global North to the global South. This may require a framework which adequately protects proprietary rights and hence encourage North-South technology transfer.

Some participants expect the increasing number of climate related catastrophes to encourage countries to engage in sustainable economic and development policies. Additionally, the conclusions in the recently launched New Climate Economy Report which contain statistical evidence on how countries could economically benefit from sustainability, even if climate change was not an issue, can serve as a trigger for climate sceptics to do more to prevent the emissions of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

II. Education and Climate

In order to increase awareness of the urgency to take action and in order to achieve a change of behavior, the contributors to the online discussion foresee an important role for education and bottom-up approaches. Initiatives by UNESCO (Global Action Program on Education for Sustainable Development) and UNFCCC (Climate Change Education) were cited as instrumental examples.

Participants called for innovative campaigns at the local level, including through forming community-based platforms where young and old could come together to learn from each other and come up with new solutions. It was argued that a different climate regime would only be attainable through cultural change, and by educating and empowering of the youth. The Google project ‘Impactful Friday’ in schools, which gave opportunity to children to come up with creative ideas was mentioned as an exemplary initiative.

Special attention was paid to the importance of raising awareness among youth. Representation and protection of future generations internationally was regarded to be crucial, in light of the fact that, the effects of climate change will be mostly experienced by future generations. Some argued that the current mindset, based on short term economic profits and political wins, jeopardized future generations.

III. Enforcement measures and climate

Climate mitigation could also be achieved through enforcement or top-down measures. Contributors mentioned the importance of carbon taxes, which could be introduced on several levels, including national. Current initiatives, such as fuel taxes and a small amount of carbon taxes on airline tickets, were considered a start but insufficient. Among others, a carbon tax on clothing or textile could be considered. This would compensate for the fact that textile is being shipped worldwide and that many producing countries, such as China, still highly depend on coal industry.

An Emission Trading System (ETS), as is in place in the European Union, could potentially be effective. However, the current amount of carbon credits granted was considered too high by some contributors, making carbon relatively cheap. The amount of carbon credits granted should therefore be drastically reduced in order for ETS to effectively contribute to climate mitigation. At the same time, it was argued that top-down approaches alone do not suffice and hence this must go hand-in hand with bottom-up approaches, including through education. Participants concluded with an advice for international negotiations where carbon emissions reduction is on the agenda, including COP21 in Paris. Instead of an all-or-nothing approach, more realistic expectations should be placed on consensus-based multilateral negotiations. A “climate regime” (an idea heralded by Dr. Robert Falkner of the LSE) would allow for ad-hoc agreements made by smaller groups of like-minded nations to bring forward smaller multilateral agreements, which would be followed by forging an ‘acquis’ document that catalogs all the different or diverse agreements. Although this approach was not considered an optimal outcome, it would be a ‘better-than-nothing’ approach that at least sets the scene to demonstrate potential results and how change can be made incrementally.  

Hyper-connected Global Economy

The hyper-connected Global Economy consultation focused on internet access, including the digital divide between the global North and South, and on whether and how economic innovation and new technologies, such as bitcoin, could contribute to growth in less economically developed countries (LEDC’s).

I. Access to Internet/ Digital divide

With regard to access to internet, contributors welcomed recent developments aimed at providing internet to a larger segment of the population. The example of Cuba was mentioned, where the government seems set on increasing access to internet for its citizens, possibly supported by the US in its new relationship with the country. At the same time, however, participants were concerned that development of the internet in states such as Cuba would be hard to couple to a free, open, and safe internet, because the government usually does not promote these values offline. Similar paths taken in states like China and states in the Middle East showed how difficult it is to ensure that the internet is not censored, abused, or monitored to track dissidents.

In addition, it was mentioned that it is the nature of governments nowadays to monitor what their citizens do. Edward Snowden’s revelations are illustrative of the fact that governments, even those who are, at least in their public communications committed to human rights, rarely respect the right to privacy of their citizens on the internet. The invasive nature of government surveillance on the online activities of their citizens is problematic and was well scrutinized.

Initiatives aimed at increasing access to Internet for the developing world were encouraged, including through international cooperation. For countries where the population had lived in a confined environment for a long time, it was considered equally important to open the country economically, to be able to participate in a hyper-connected world.

Some participants considered companies to be the designated actor to bridge the divide, as they have both the resources and the expertise. As an example the initiative of Facebook to provide basic access to underdeveloped areas, working in conjunction with Ericsson, Mediates, Opera Software, Samsung, Nokia, and Qualcomm was mentioned. At the same time, however, relying on the private sector would not solve the issue of violations of individual and privacy rights, as some of these companies have been accused of violating such rights themselves. Civil society could play an important role to solve this issue. If companies such as Facebook (continue to) work with civil society organizations, including local and human rights organizations, both these rights could be protected and local communities, rather than multinationals alone, could gain from closing the digital divide.

II. Economic innovation

While discussing economic innovation, participants focused on the role of Bitcoin. Participants argued that for Bitcoin to serve economic development in LEDC’s, regulation and monitoring would be crucial. Though a currency that is not subjected to a specific country’s monetary policy and therefore freely fluctuates could be an idealistic setting for an open and free economy, this may not function well in practice. Bitcoin is hard to handle and monitor, plus, its untraceable nature favors illicit activities. The lack of governance and applicable law makes it dangerous and unreliable in “technologically developed countries”, and even more so in less developed countries. Although some expect a legitimate and widespread use in the future, others wonder what structural benefits it would offer to LEDC’s that are an alternative to other mechanisms.  

Fragile and Conflict Affected States

The Fragile and Conflict Affected States consultation focused upon the role of UN peacekeeping as a tool of the international community to prevent and resolve conflict and how it might be better utilized in order to make the international communities responses more effective.

I. Reforming the ‘Holy Trinity’ of Peacekeeping

Participants were somewhat conflicted as to whether the so-called ‘Holy Trinity’ (impartiality, host state consent and the use of force only in self-defense) – the principles upon which the conduct of UN peacekeeping operations (UNPKO) are centered upon – should be reformed. For those who argued that reform was necessary one of the key reasons was the diminishing state centrality of the international arena and the growing involvement of extremely well-funded non-state actors who are increasingly driving 21st century conflict. It was therefore suggested that the international community should prioritize the needs of the individual over political interests and thus remove the need for host-state consent. The focus on the individual is grounded in the international norm of the responsibility to protect (R2P) and that if people are suffering then international borders should be disregarded in order to protect innocent civilians.

The proposal to remove host-state consent from the ‘holy trinity’ ignited some disagreement among the participants. One participant questioned the practicality of removing host consent and raised the issue of where the line would be drawn with regards to disregarding borders and host consent. Concerns were also raised as to how the international community would ensure that R2P, in the absence of the need for host consent, was not used as an excuse by (powerful) countries to perpetrate aggression and to over throw governments who did not agree with Western democratic principles but at the same strength worked to ensure the safety and human security of their citizenry? The organization of the international system was also raised as fundamentally incompatible with an individual-centric approach to decision making on conflicts and related issues.

Another problem raised with removing host-state consent was that this would also remove the impartiality of the UN, another pillar of the ‘holy trinity’ .The removal of impartiality could cause a number of negative impacts upon already fragile situations. For example, it was suggested that removing impartiality could be detrimental to internal politics. If the UN sided with one party then this could cause this party to become empowered over another, which in turn could lead to victimization of innocent civilians, vilification of the UN and increased risk to peacekeepers. Furthermore, an external intervention that transformed the balance of power within a society to the benefit of one side could make more difficult and/or decrease the likelihood of successful post-conflict reconciliation. Host-state consent was also seen to be of fundamental importance to local ownership of the peace process, which in turn is seen to be vital to ensuring effective and sustainable conflict resolution, prevention and state building.

It was recognized that there is no panacea or ‘one-size fits all’ tactic that can be applied to responses to 21st century conflict. Utilizing a ‘tailor-made’ approach to the ‘holy trinity’ and deciding upon their centrality to guiding UN peacekeeping on a case-by-case basis was a proposal that appeared to garner wider support. Taking into careful consideration the specifics of each conflict (political, social, cultural, historical etc.) and the potential effects of disregarding a principle, it was suggested that the UN should learn from the past and utilize best practice when deciding upon an approach to international peacekeeping. There still seemed to be trepidation with regards to the possibility of forgoing host state consent and one participant urged that host-state consent should only be removed with the consensus on the Security Council.

Some participants questioned the idea of reforming the ‘holy trinity’ and asked whether it was other mechanisms, such as the Security Council and the international community’s commitment of R2P that needed to be reformed and reshaped. Reforming the Security Council, preventing the use of the P5 veto when dealing with situations such as the ongoing crisis in Syria and thus avoiding deadlocks, could in turn ensure that the international community was able to respond more effectively to conflict. With regards to R2P, reshaping consensus and placing more emphasis on the responsibility to rebuild, an often ignored component of the norm, could enable more effective state building. The example of Libya, wherein military intervention was decoupled from building sustainable peace, was put forward as an example as to why the responsibility to rebuild is vitally important.

II. Increasing Member State Contributions

One of the main obstacles to effective and sustainable UN peacekeeping missions is the unwillingness of a large proportion of capable member states to make substantial contributions, both financially and in terms of personnel. A suggested method for remedying the current situation was to convince governments of their own self-interest in resolving conflicts, especially in light of increasing interconnectivity, the spread of global extremism and the role of transnational non-state actors in driving 21st century conflict. Idealistically, playing on the conscience of member states and warning them that distant conflicts could soon be causing problems on their doorstep would be enough to encourage increased contributions. Over the past ten years the international community has come to accept their ‘responsibility to protect’ citizens from fundamental human rights abuses and systematic violence, regardless of where they are located. Placing more pressure on countries to recognize their commitments and to close the gap between acceptance of the norm in principle and a commitment to take action could also push member states to make financial and personnel contributions to UNPKO.

It was acknowledge, however, that this approach, although ideal, was naïve in a world where self-interest unfortunately reigns supreme. Taking this into consideration and adopting a more realist approach, the idea of an incentive/compensation system was proposed in order to increase the political willingness of member states to contribute. Considering that the top ten troop contributing countries are developing countries and that Bangladesh, the top troop contributor, contributes 9446 personnel, compared to the US who contributes 119, an incentive/compensation system could be beneficial for all member states. Developed countries, and in particular Western democracies, are often under a high degree of political pressure not to risk soldiers’ lives in conflicts that the country has no direct interest of involvement in, and thus are often unwilling to commit high numbers of personnel to UNPKO. To ensure that the burden is spread across all UN member states, it was suggested that developed countries that are unwilling to commit their own troops could compensate those countries that are willing by increasing development aid or by providing training to their military and/or police. The self-interest involved with receiving these benefits could encourage countries to contribute larger numbers of personnel and also the sharing of expertise could improve the overall efficiency of UN peacekeeping missions. This sort of system would be highly susceptible to abuse and therefore a high level of oversight and accountability by the UN would be required. There would also need to be strict monitoring of contributions in order to ensure that they were of an appropriate standard and that insufficiently trained personnel were not being contributed in order to receive compensation.

III. Preventing Human Rights Abuses by UN peacekeepers

There have been disturbing cases of abuse at the hands of UN peacekeepers during the conflicts in Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Congo, discrediting the organizations ability to foster peace and security in some of the world’s most fragile conflict zones. The reputation of the UN and its PKO are incredibly important to the efficiency and effectivity of the missions. One participant questioned how we can expect states to consent to UN peacekeepers becoming involved in their country when those who are supposed to protect are contributing to the suffering of innocent civilians? In order to prevent reoccurrences of human rights abuses by UN peacekeepers the root causes must be addressed. It was argued that there is insufficient discipline and oversight within UN peacekeeping missions and that those who commit abuses often do so with impunity. One participant suggested that we only needed to look at history to know that troops are able and willing to commit abuses when they have the power and opportunity to do so. Therefore, there is a fundamental need to increase the levels of accountability, within the UN system and within member state militaries, in order to ensure that those who do commit human rights abuses are punished and that victims are given justice.

A further suggested cause of human rights abuses by UN officials was that the troops lack understanding of the situations to which they are deployed and that many of them have not received sufficient training for the situations they face on the ground. Feelings of powerlessness can entrench fear and frustration, causing troops to act irrationally. As with any conflict situation there is of course the risk of psychological trauma which can in turn cause troops to commit these abuses. In order to address these factors it is essential that all personnel are trained to a high standard and that there is sufficient oversight to detect potentially damaging situations before they arise. It is also vitally important that troops are given ample support, both physically and mentally, from the UN and their national militaries to ensure that they are fit for active participation in UNPKO.

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