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Last Updated: Tuesday, 15 January 2008, 13:41 GMT
Bypassing the blockage of nations
Richard Black
Richard Black

Solving the world's environmental ills may mean re-thinking the role of nations and national governments, says our environment correspondent Richard Black in this week's Green Room. The current system, he argues, is a recipe for stasis.

Phone box with flag-wavers on beach. Image: Getty
Issues such as rising seas will not respect national boundaries
Many years ago, I used to spend the odd weekend, and sometimes longer, looking after a pair of sibling dogs.

Neurotic Henry and crazy Max generally got on well, sharing a bed, a walk and a tickle without demur.

Every so often, each would be given a bone as a top, juicy, marrow-rich treat.

On these occasions, another side of their nature would emerge. Rather than enjoying his own bone, each would guard it, standing alert, tail erect, staring fixedly at the other's.

The doggy thoughts almost took on corporeal form. "Has he got a bigger bone than me?" "I'm not starting until he does." "Will he look away so I can get my paws on his?"

The stand-off would sometimes continue for minutes.

This image, framed in the springtime colours of a south London garden, has somewhat surreally surfaced in my mind on several occasions in the last few years, as I have watched politicians attempting to make deals on fishing, endangered species, whaling, and - above all - climate change.

The problem may be that the very system of trying to solve global environmental problems through national governments is flawed
"Are his emissions bigger than mine?" "I'm not signing for 11% unless he signs for 12%." "If I keep him awake for 56 hours straight maybe I can lure him into something stupid." "No way he's getting more cod than I am." And so on, summit after summit, with tails standing defiant.

As they check each other out, carbon emissions soar, species loss runs at an unprecedented rate, freshwater systems dry up and fish stocks disappear; check the recent UN Geo-4 report for the full sorry tale of global decline.

Now imagine environmental protection as a computer game. The novice player, faced with continuing failure, would continue to press the familiar buttons marked "lobby" and "persuade" and "cajole" in an attempt to wring action from the on-screen players.

The smart player would change the rules, and get rid of the dogs.

Structural flaws

In all the organisations designed to solve aspects of global environmental decline, politicians argue our future according to national mandates.

Each government decides what its priorities are, and then goes to a forum like the UN climate change convention, the International Whaling Commission (IWC), or the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species and argues for that national mandate.

I think it is time to ask whether this system is really in the best interests of planet Earth or its people.

There is "visible and unequivocal" evidence of the impacts of climate change
Many farming systems have reached their limits of production
Warmer temperatures and ocean acidification threaten food supplies
1.8 billion people face water shortages by 2025
Three-quarters of marine fisheries exploited to or beyond their limits
Exposure to pollutants causes 20% of disease in developing nations
Pollution being "exported" to developing world
About 60% of "ecosystem services" are degraded

I think the problem may not be, as it is often painted, that the politicians we have are failing; but that the very system of trying to solve global environmental problems through national governments is flawed, and likely to continue failing.

The issues begin with the positions that government representatives adopt in these negotiations; because, perhaps bizarrely, there is nothing to force them to reflect the will of their peoples.

Polls show, for example, that the US public wants its government to be more proactive on global warming than the current administration has been willing to be; but the administration has no obligation to act on those expressions of opinion.

In other cases, we do not know, and have no way of knowing, the will of various national publics; what, then, determines how the country casts its vote?

In some environmental treaty organisations - the IWC is a prime example - a nation with no real interest in the subject will vote according to a national interest defined by political favours, or political pressure, from other countries.

Even if delegations reflected absolutely the wills of their peoples, you would still have a situation in which global citizens varied hugely in their power to determine the outcome, simply because different countries vary hugely in their sizes of population.

China's population tops 1.5 billion, that of St Kitts and Nevis numbers less than 50,000; yet each country casts a single vote.

That means that a citizen of St Kitts and Nevis would have 27,000 times the influence of a Chinese person - even on issues such as climate change that are likely to affect every global citizen to a greater or lesser degree.

Cutting up tuna. Image: BBC
Tuna stocks are affected no differently if ravaged by Libyan or French or Chinese ships
As a white-collar London wage-earner, my life has more in common with a Sydney teacher or a Rome accountant than a Shetlands crofter; yet the crofter and I must have one government speaking for both of us on global issues like climate change - and for the Manchester dancer, the Penzance policeman and the Aberystwyth plasterer.

Would we not do better with a meaningful, informed and binding mechanism whereby the global citizenry could decide how to parcel out the cake of allowable greenhouse gas emissions in a fair and equitable way, without governments getting in the way?

Should there not be some way for European consumers of African crops to resolve issues of income, aircraft emissions, and water and pesticide use directly with producing communities?

Should people not be able to rein in polluters wherever they are, without companies being able to shelter behind different legal systems or threaten to take their jobs to a different country?

What logic now?

When the primary threats to human health and livelihoods came through wars and invasions, basing the global power system around nation states had a logic to it.

But you have to ask if it still has any logic when, as Tony Blair among others has argued, environmental concerns may be the biggest long-term threats to our civilisation.

Rising seas will not stop at borders, nor crops magically continue to grow within countries that have cast their votes a certain way in the UN climate convention.

Two dogs. Image: BBC
Good friends can become rivals when bones are in the offing
The atmosphere does not care whether a carbon dioxide molecule comes from Warsaw or Wellington or Ouagadougou; tuna stocks are affected no differently if ravaged by Libyan or French or Chinese ships.

You can argue that the power of the nation state should be sacrosanct. But then you have to explain why countries from Switzerland to Brazil, from Russia to India, from the US to Germany find it necessary to break themselves down into still smaller units of states, cantons and republics, with legal rights and responsibilities devolved.

You also have to explain why most of modern Europe has chosen to pass power up to a larger unit, the EU; and why national governments have ceded substantial decision-making rights on business and trade to the World Trade Organization (WTO).

In reality, we treat the nations we have like old monuments in a busy city; we tend them, nurture them, issue protection orders - until they get in the way of progress, when we clear the obstruction and get on with our lives.

Question time

What a new system of global environmental decision-making not based on nation states would look like, I don't know.

And before anyone hits the comments form at the bottom of the page to say this is just the sort of leftist, neo-socialist, anti-libertarian, collectivist rubbish they would expect from a BBC environment correspondent, I want to emphasise that I am certainly not advocating some kind of global government; if anything, recent history tells us that people want to live in smaller self-determining units rather than see power agglomerate at some remote and amorphous centre.

But just in case this humble journalist's argument finds any favour at all in a corridor possessing a tiny amount of power and influence - a major NGO, for example, or a government frustrated at glacial progress on environmental issues - here is an idea of where to start.

Stage a global referendum on climate change. It doesn't matter who organises it; maybe Unep could do it, or the World Bank, or perhaps one of the major business groups with an interest in climate change could get together with one of the giant NGOs. It doesn't really matter, so long as it is above board and seen to be so.

Chinese ballot box (Image: AP)
Could a kind of global referendum kick-start environmental progress?
Ask what kind of action people want; what global temperature rise they are prepared to contemplate, what kind of global emissions cuts they would back, how the carbon dioxide quotas should be shared out.

Even before that, ask them whether they believe man-made climate change is real, and if they want to do anything about it at all.

The answers would form the basis of a real, genuine global political mandate, direct from the people. The job of governments would become to reflect the global will, and they would have a very hard time if they did not.

This exercise could be followed up by similar referenda on global fisheries, on pollution, on genetically-modified foods. They could be supplemented by international citizens' juries, using the internet to connect jurors with each other, and with expert witnesses, across the world.

It might achieve nothing; we might find that self-interest and business-as-usual triumph. We might find that people are not convinced there are multiple global environmental crises, in which case, fine - at least inaction will be the citizens' choice.

My suspicion, though, is that once people engage with the issues as citizens of the only planet we have, global interests rather than national interests will surface.

I also suspect that exercises like this would begin to show us how to construct a better system of solving global environmental problems than relying on governments constrained by stultifying sets of national priorities.

As Geo-4 bears witness, one bone for each national dog is simply not working. It is surely time to ask whether a different way of ordering our affairs can bring sense to the global menagerie.

Richard Black is an environment correspondent for BBC News

The Green Room is a series of opinion articles on environmental topics running weekly on the BBC News website

Do you agree with Richard Black? Are national governments the right bodies to decide the planet's environmental future? Is there a better way to make progress? Or are sovereign governments the only bodies that can establish meaningful agreements?

I find the idea of handing over unchecked power to a council of wise men to be revolting and dangerous. I will not be ruled by a pack of unelected bureaucrats on this matter or any other matter. Its this same sort of thinking that let every tyrant of the 20th century to rise to power, and we should be careful not to give the potential tyrants of the 21st century a similar chance. No Taxation without Representation. Sound familiar BBC?
Zach Smith, Bloomington, USA

Governments are indeed failing, but primarily a few such as my own USA government. After 2008 elections much of this is likely to change. But people world-wide are likely still not doing enough. We have to place demands on both people and governments. That is, we have to demand much of ourselves.
PlanetThoughts, New York, USA

Good Morning! This article suggests that a whole new group of politicians should be created to sort out the problems generated by previous groups of politicians. The UK, along with the USA spent squillions of money convincing the rest of the world that the way to success could be found along the capitalist route and now that lots of the poorer countries are beginning to taste success it's time to change the rules. All sounds a bit suspect to me.

In my opinion, Richard's viewpoint is well thought. I agree with him that the national governments are politically oriented and cannot come up with a solution for the Planet Earth Issues. He is also right in spelling out that one vote for one man on the Environmental issues would not work. To pass judgment on the environmental or any other scientific controversies, should and must be addressed by the scientists rather than the laymen. These are my thoughts on the questions and solution to this issue. First of all the effect of Global Warming (if any) towards the environmental degradation must be confirmed by data analysis and should be done by qualified scientists. The problem is Global, and it affects all inhabitants of the Planet Earth. It should not and must not be addressed by politicians or media until the scientific conclusion is handed over to them by the Committee of Qualified Team of Scientists accepted by all national governments. Therefore whether the national governments like it or not it must be a committee created under UN. Each country must send their group of scientists to UN to develop a UN Committee on Global Warming Issue, if not existing already. This UN Committee must be represented by all countries under UN. The UN Committee must also be able to Impose Severe Sanctions if any country (big or small) decides to ignore the resulting judgment developed from the valid scientific analysis.
Amal Bhattacharjee, Greenbelt, Maryland, USA.

Ultimately, the vast majority of individuals care too much about self-interest to make a global democracy work. Also, most of those who are making these decisions are not fully informed as to what is actually wrong and we need the people who understand i.e. the scientists to be closer to the decision making part of the process. The way we operate, the scientists understand the problem, their published results are read by researchers, who inform civil servants and the then inform governments who have to water down the already watered down science to come to a final deal. A more draconian approach is required to ensure that we, as global citizens, take more individual responsibility for our actions. We hurt our planet enough through habitat destruction, overfishing, overpopulation, the list goes on, yet the current fad is global warming. The truth is that we are too shallow to look at the holistic view of the world.
Grant McCann, Madrid, Spain

sarah pantry, London UK Perhaps I'm missing something here but all the climatologists I've talked to (several) feel that man is responsible for at least a significant proportion of global warming and that the problems posed are enormous. Wrt to our international organisation:- Countries are often fairly arbitrary boundaries often formed by feudal systems for personal gain and power rather than good governance. Better democracies move towards hierarchical systems (Town Council, County Council, Welsh Assembly, British Parliament, EU, UN for example) and my personal feeling is that we have good enough communication systems now to start formalizing this across the entire planet and to take it to another level. To make this work without introducing new conceptual boundaries between people requires several things: 1) Groupings need to change periodically rather than being fixed geographically. Sometimes you should be working with your neighbor to the east in a trade / law making / global warming commitment, sometimes with your neighbor to the west. 2) People's invested interest in the system needs to be monitored more closely and limited more than say, allowing someone from an oil producing family and leading an oil guzzling country to invade and oil producing country. 3) People's time spans at different positions in the structure needs to be limited to prevent growth of invested interest and promote cross pollination of ideas. I firmly believe that we can formalise such a system, that it can work well in a free trade + safety net (safety net limits trade in specific areas) and furthermore, that in the next century we could migrate to such a system from our current geopolitical scenario.
Tom Shepherd, SoCal, USA, formally England and Wales

You only have to read the comments to this article to realise how futile the dream of action is! You are all presenting 'individual' views. If less than 100 people cannot agree because they are divided by their own personal, individual and unique opinions on one article, how can anyone of sane mind expect nearly 7 billion people to agree? Corruption is rampant and the biggest dogs have got control of the resources so what will a world organisation achieve? Nothing. Time to baton down the hatches and pray to whichever god(s)/goddess('s) you believe in. I personally don't think we stand a chance because too many people are totally out of touch with reality and spend their time living the 'consumer' dream. If it went bent tomorrow no-one would be alive by the end of the year. Those that could survive would be overwhelmed by those that could not (especially as those who could not would be the ones likely to be holding the gun!). But no-one has mentioned what would happen if the worst case scenarios occurred? Who would look after all our nice nuclear power stations, chemical factories, germ warfare bunkers and the military stockpiles of nuclear weapons? Now try getting a global consensus with the real future in mind. Co-operation between more than a handful of people on such issues is impossible.
Kevin Coleman, Banbury

Tropical jungals emitt large amounts of methane a heat adsorbing gas (much more so than CO2. Environmentalists do not have correct information. C)2 is NOT THE PROBLEM>
Neal Armstrong, Demotte, IN USA

Massively anti-politician and not taking into account the real difficulties in environmental negotiations. I agree that we need to act more to protect the environment - and I'm sure you're right that most of the US public agree with that as well - when it's phrased that way, with no suggestion that protecting the environment means changing our lifestyles in ways that might involve some inconvenience. When it comes to suggestions of, for example, higher energy costs or congestion charges, I suspect the level of support amongst the public drops...
Katie, Stockport, UK

Although people may not want global governance, it is what is required. All the largest problems facing humanity take no heed of what nation one is born in (or, for that matter, what age you are, what sex you are, what colour your skin is, what religious affiliation you take, etc). Nations are archaic, meaningless and arbitrary designations - obstructions to humanitarian progress and enforcers of ignorance (since it is in the self-interest of nation-states to re-inforce the deluded idea that national interests should trump global ones). With the advent such a truly global communications medium as the Internet, we are beginning to realise that the biggest, most pressing problems we need to solve are not local ones and, hopefully, we will come to terms with the fact sooner rather than later. The idea of a universal human government may be utopian, but that should not invalidate it as an ideal worth working towards.
Jonathan Aldridge, Toronto, Canada

I join those who agree with the analysis but find numerous flaws in the proposed solution. A recent hospital stay showed me the stunning forces of institutional inertia. Glad to see the "pissing contest" aspect of the problem outed. In general, people who are comfortable hope that somehow the problem will be solved without them having to make any real sacrifices, while those affected rapidly become beyond help, as their lives are shredded or destroyed. And there is a well funded effort to cloud and confuse that is helped by the attempt of media to be inclusive, so that many people don't believe there is a problem until it arrives at their doorstep, when they move from the hopeful to hopeless group mentioned above. As to solutions, I would prefer to think there is one, but doubt that human nature will change. It would be a huge help if the world's religions were not mostly formed with a god made in our image (not the reverse). Those mentioning the burgeoning population are correct, but the solution is at hand, not in our hands but in nature's. Only the rich and lucky will survive.
Susan, Boston, USA

Brian Williams, Dover UK is on the money. Population is the ONLY problem, the rest are symptoms. One person one vote will destroy us all.
doug, Canada

A global referendum on climate change, whilst an interesting concept is flawed for two reasons. First, the majority of the worlds population have more pressing concern, that of poverty. In comparison the threat of climate change is a long way off. Second, even if climate change was at the top of the agenda for everyone, human fallibility would prevent us from taking appropriate action. We ask scientists to estimate how much we should reduce emmissions by to avoid the point of no return. Basing policy on this target will inevitably mean that this target is never met, as lets face it, governments never hit their own targets. This presents a certain quandry as people/governments would never accept to aim higher than what is neccessary.
Duncan, Leamington Spa

"Would we not do better with a meaningful, informed and binding mechanism whereby the global citizenry could decide how to parcel out the cake of allowable greenhouse gas emissions in a fair and equitable way, without governments getting in the way?" No. The proposed referenda are the most asinine suggestion I have read today (well, the day is young...)
Thomas Goodey, Cuxton-upon-Medway, Kent, UK

Why is it that population growth is no longer considered? There would not be a pollution problem or a global warming problem if we did not have billions of people. Of course St. Kitts should have as much of a vote as China - China is building a coal fired power station every week because of its vast over-population.
Brian Williams, Dover UK

Nation states to a large extent were set up to protect property rights, implement structures to support national trade and raise taxes to protect their borders (only a socialist agenda expanded their role and the neocon agenda is to return them back again). So in reality they're useless for solving global issues. Unfortunately, I don't think a global referendum will work either because only a small percentage of humanity understand the enormity of the problem and an even smaller number want to make sacrifices to fix it. At the moment I think the European political model is the only one that is likely to create a forum and the leadership to make real progress.
Roly, London

I disagree to a certain extent. What we need to do is to get our leaders to stop worrying about Money. This is what all the wrangling comes down to. Pressure from oil companies / car makers / tree fellers on politicians muddy the waters. To me its a simple answer, stop worrying about hurting business and start worrying about how you are hurting the planet!
Javier, Shrewsbury

We hand over our responsibility at the polling booth.We should really be able to decide for ourselves what and when without being treated like idiots
osiris, falmouth u.k.

It is not the people's will that makes the difference. The only effective voting ordinary citizens have is their purchasing power. As long as multi-national business interests control government policy, referendums and people's opinion polls will be ineffective. What needs to happen is a rising of consciousness among the power elite that associates an eco-centric outlook on existence rather an ego-centric, profit motivated -I'll have your bone as well as mine- attitude. Unfortunately, the wisest sages of both the East and the West just don't know how to accomplish this. Chanting Peace on Earth, good will to men just doesn't hack it, I'm afraid.
Sky McCain, Hartland, Devon UK

No, I wouldn't trust a deluded fool like Mr. Black as far as I could throw him. History has been full of his sort, they helped bring Stalin, Hitler, Mao and many other despots to power. There is always a pressing claim made, they assure you that it won't hurt, but then are quick to demonize and dehumanize those who are made to suffer and die to achieve his aims. What he advocates is complete and utter corporate control, and it doesn't matter if it's private or "public" it will be fascistic. There will be no civil or human rights. We will be considered little more than resources to be exploited or thrown away. That is not anything anyone would support. He advocates an unanswerable, unelected body of elites selling off rights and leases to do one thing or another. The right to drill for this, the right to fish or harvest will be to the highest bidder. Do you think that the corruption you see in full evidence in government will have vanished? If so you are a fool. This will make honors for sale look pathetic by comparison. What Black advocates for will be slavery, plain and simple.
Jenny, Harmony, RI US

Perhaps you are right. Afterall, we are pretty much still wondering what the meaning of life is. It seems life is even a game in which we are required to figure out the rules along with everything else. Please consider one more, in-plain-sight answer. Men and man's nature determine the dominant system. It appears instinctual and analogous to simple canine, competitive rituals. What if 'success' for our species' experiment was supposed to be the very clean trick of turning our global society from its male, back-watching gear to a female nurturing approach as the norm? Would we be happier? healthier? last longer? feel more satisfied? Probably women would.
Carol Isaac, Seattle, USA

I am agree with what Mr.Richard Black has written about the practical problems of this issue.I strongly believe, instead of blaming governments,we must target every individual of this planet irrespective of his national identity simply by education,indoctrination and motivation and let the governments do their jobs.We should not forget, it is ultimately people who elect the governments.
SSThakur, Indore,India

A 'Planet Earth Council of Elders' selected on the basis of their wisdom, their honesty, their integrity, their moral authority, their adherence to 'Nature-First' principles and their charisma and influential powers may offer some hope. Members for this 'Council of Elders' should be nominated and elected by intelligent college & university students from around the globe with a bias for the survival of future generations. Idealistic yes - but food for thought.
Klaus Keuecke, Grand Bend, Ontario, Canada

Richard, do you really think powerful interests would not set about corrupting the system you propose as soon as it was set up? This is what they have done with national governments.
Doubting Don, Australia

The United Nations structure of non-governmental organizations is a possible mechanism for addressing climate change across national boundaries. Also, Bring back the New Deal Civilian Conservation Corps....on a global scale.
Kathleen Pagan, Gainesville, FL UNited States of America

Richard's idea of having the pubic decide as to how to tackle climate change is a good one. But (a big BUT) it's important to remember that people base their judgements based on the information that is provided, and who gives that information, the media, and the government. The decision making should not turn into a blame game with people saying that 'this country pollutes more than us, let them do more'.
Nitya Hariharan, Edinburgh

The reason the current system can and will not implement a quick and efficient solution to any global issue is because the system is democratic. Any democratic system must average the opinions of all those within it and is so can only take small steps. To implement the large jumps required to limit climate change in a short space of time we would have to be undemocratic. I do believe the current system can succeed, just not quickly. Unfortunately time MAY be against us.
Ross Campbell, Irvine, Scotland

I would say that I agree completely that our current political system is The major stumbling block for international cooperation, however I would also suggest that anything remotely political in nature cannot function at an international level. Politics is almost entirely local (see the statement from Mark Boyles) as is the self interest of nearly everyone on this planet. With this in mind terms "international political systems" "international politics" and "international political solutions" are ridiculous, they cannot exist because of the very nature of politics. Take for example the EU commission. I have listen to a number of european political scientists bemone/berate its existence. It is answerable to none of the citizens of the member states and the decisions it makes are disliked by most, if not all parties. Where there is no local accountability there cant be real politics. The idea of global government is even more laughable in the face of the current politic! al (or should I say tribal) turmoil in Kenya (to name just one recent example). We are human beings, we hold grudges and we stick to our local groups because it is in our best interests, that is how politics works. The best hope at the moment seems to be, shall we call it, "enlightened entrepreneurialism," even if it may just be chasing the "green" market (greater efficiency does mean some savings). Good public policy can help, but that is not something that we can expect any time soon, so maybe it would be better if consumer demand and better eduction could be used to compel companies to get in line, and perhaps force those who are not also in line to fall in. Idealistic at best, but if what we want is a quick fix that may be our best shot. Long term the answer is, as always, more and better education, but by the time that happens it will probably be too late.
Tom Gillespie, Durham, NC, USA

All very moving and unfortunately shows a very poor understanding of the issues. You may be wishing to bring forth the new world order or some other super national state but the politicians and environmentalists are currently the ones doing the most harm to the environment. Just look at greenpeace currently burning up over 70 tonnes of fuel a day just to stare at the tail of a whaling ship and yet screaming about carbon footprints whilst creating a bigger one than created by hundreds of people flying. All the scientific evidence is in fact pointing to environmental issues being a non issue unless of course you specifically hand pick the reports you want to base your theories on and ignore all the recent (post 2005) evidence to the contrary. We only have to look at the IPCC reports to see the benefit of letting any politician have a say in what should be a scientific report. Only 4 IPCC peer reviewers agreed with the key chapter on man made global warming and yet it is evangelised constantly as if it actually proves something. Go back to the drawing board and get some facts before trying to promote yet another level of interference in our daily lives when we already have well to much of that from the current overbearing nanny state.
sarah pantry, London UK

I suspect that the comment by Paul Deacon, Exeter, UK, shows the real difficulty of world government. Mr Deacon declares that "It would require . . . power shifted upwards, rather than downwards to the citizen." In any system you will always have people like Mr Deacon who seem to regard themselves as the "special, extra wise" ones who must be allowed to make all the decisions. Of course, experience shows that whenever power is "shifted upwards", those in power immediately exploit it for their own benefit. It may be imperfect, but Democracy is the best answer.
Stephen, Australia

The world has multi-national organisations capable of formulating policies for the "good housekeeping" of our planet and the knowledgeable people to carry them out. National interests should play no major part in this process. Governments are by their make up and nature representatives and protectors of a national identity, an issue of this magnitude requires a universal approach. Unfortunately history does not suggest such a massive change in human relationships is very likely but we must surely try to work together. Whatever your view on the global changes that are forecast a common objective to unite the peoples of the world has to be worth following in it's own right.
Roger Smith, Warwick, England

I agree 100% with Richard Black that the current government system of inaction has been (and will continue to be) devastating for the global environment. I also agree that clearly, a new more effective system must be implemented. However I am wary of placing the fate of the entire planet and its hundreds of millions of species in the hands of an uneducated populace. Perhaps a modified version of the system Mr. Black suggests should be considered; for example, have the decision making be in the hands of an international body well-informed citizens representing a wide-variety of interests. Of course then there is the problem of recognizing which individuals can be considered knowledgeable enough to make decisions on these imperative issues...
Shannon, Kentville, Nova Scotia, Canada

Hopelessly idealistic about the common sense of the general global population. If a global vote were somehow arranged my guess is the results would be that most people believe there MIGHT be something wrong but don't want to do anything about it because it might worsen their living standards or because they believe God (or other deity) will fix it so they don't need to worry about it. That would be the global opinion apart from those who are at the front line of climate change who would vote the other way but be hopelessly outnumbered particularly by more affluent countries where the population are shielded from the effects of climate change by environmental control luxuries - air con, heating etc. Time to face up to the fact that climate change WON'T be solved because global agreements and intelligent/rational thought / agreement are just as impossible for humanity in large groups as they are for dogs with bones. Instead of bothering to try and get people to do the right thing (which is obviously a lost cause - at least to me) we should instead be budgeting and planning to mitigate the worst effects of climate change when it starts to have an impact we can't ignore.
John, York

At midnight, New Year's Eve this year I proposed a toast to "World Government" and was joined by a roomful of people. Someone else said "to good World Government", and was joined again. Its a long way off but it has to come if the species and the current global ecosystem are to survive.
John Ferngrove, Hants UK

I think you are right to an extent, in that the current method of deciding how best to tackle global problems is flawed, due to each nation having its own agenda. However, I do not think that giving the general population the power to decide whether or not to tackle these issues is the best way forward. For example the issue of climate change is extremely complicated, and I do not think that most people will have the background knowledge required to accurately make informed judgements about such things. Personally I think a better way to tackle these problems would be to gather the experts in each specific field from around the world, and to have them decide the way forward. However, once again the problem of each person having their own agenda may once again arise.
Nick Allen, Nottingham

I agree with Mr Black completely! Nations are going to have to surrender some power to promote the common good, otherwise we may well face the collapse of our civilization. I think a big piece of the problem is that goverments, while purporting to be democratic, are really operating in the interest of corporate profit. To act for the well being of humanity rather than CEO's will require exercising much more control over corporations. That's a challenge the world has no tools for.
Hal Cronkhite, Huntsville, Alabama, USA

Sustainability delivers benefits, not costs. Using less energy and resources and producing less waste is clearly cheaper. Until governments really understand that, they will continue to waste time arguing about arbitrary targets which will get them nowhere. In the meantime, maybe we could get on with it ourselves and not sit on our hands waiting for them to tell us what to do?
Martin Sykes, Cuddington, England

If you can't get 200 odd nations to agree, how could 6.5 billion people come to a decision?
Tim James, International

A global democracy is still a long way away, but we need to aim for it. A first step would be to integrate international standards set out in e.g. the UNFCCC, the ILO, and the Cartagena protocol into the international financial institutions, WTO, World Bank, IMF to make for more coherence in the international regime - bridging UN and IFIs. The UN budget -currently 12 bio.$, like that of a medium-sized european city- clearly needs to be upgraded, i.e. through a global Tobin Tax, in order to make the UN less dependent on national contributions. Then, we need to co-finance to help countries that are willing to meet transparecy international's anti-corruption standards escape poverty. This could also be achieved in the context of a global cap-and-trade system, based on the principle "one person, one emission right". Countries' governments are trapped in prisonner's-dilemma situations. We need a global contract, a "Global Marshall Plan", lest we end up like the Easter Islanders who destroyed their Island because its tribes could not decide on how to share resources between each other. The way to such a contract would be a global consultation process assessing people's needs, starting at the local level, and translating this into national, regional and global governance mechanisms.
Daniel, Salzburg, Austria

I do not believe that governments should be the only bodies to decide on our planet's environmental future as the carbon footprint that one politician makes alone must be larger than of a non-politician. Have you seen our government using public transport recently?
Amanda Burgess,

Like Richard Black I expect some knee-jerk negative comments.But look at the world's seas,rivers,rainforests and ice-caps and the bells are ringing louder than ever. Radical answers are necessary now and they won't be coming from a government near you...
, London

The analysis is one I'd agree with - the solution not, though. Peoples' votes would be subject to advertising campaigns, lobbying, misinformation, lies and bribing - by oil companies, political parties and even governments - which will undermine the idea that "individuals" will somehow "decide" on anything in a referenda. Worse, the environment isn't something up for a vote. Cutting CO2 emissions, for example, by 'X' amount as decided in a global referendum won't do any good if that figure is nowhere near the 'Y' amount that is in fact needed. The solution is for a global, supranational organisation of independent experts who are able to say what needs to be done, and for governments to get on and do it without the bargaining, talking, etc. It would require a pooling (or loss, depending on your view) of a good deal of sovereignty over environmental policy by governments, and power shifted upwards, rather than downwards to the citizen. Only that way will effective decisions for the environment be made, rather than any decision to suit a majority of people.
Paul Deacon, Exeter, UK

With respect to what organizations should be responsible for implement what are really treaties or laws. I judge who will make good decisions based on whom I believe is trustworthy. My assessment of trustworthy, with regard to government organizations is the smaller it is, and closer to the governed it is, the more trustworthy it will be. By that measure I trust my homeowner association greatly, my city government a bit less, my county government yet a bit less. By this measure I have little trust in my national government and almost none in the UN. You, I don't trust at all. In addition, you assume that your assessment that something "must be done" soon for each of these issues is universally accepted. This assumption is incorrect. In each of these cases, some of the participants represent populations that simply do not see the problem as needing a solution, or the existing solution is fine. Your problem is that you have been unable to force them to comply with your wishes. Give authority to a global organization? No, Nyet, Non, and finally, absolutely not. Sincerely, Mark J. Boyles, PE
Mark Boyles, Spartanburg, SC, USA

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