Posted by: Gray | June 17, 2012

Your Friendly Local Global Government: Governing the Global Commons After Rio+20

When nation-states fail, where can we turn? I am attending the Rio+20 conference here in Brazil and three things are coming clear:

1. The global commons desperately need good governance.

2. The nations of the world are failing to deliver it.

3. Our best hope may lie in local and regional governments that are adopting a local/global approach to governing not just their own backyards, but the Earth as a whole.

About the need: If the massive and growing destruction  of  our air,  water, food and the oceans and agro-ecosystems that support them were caused by a terrorist group or rogue nation we would all be at war. Not  a minor war at the margin of the news but an all out “World War” to fight the steady destruction of our fisheries, our farmlands, our ecosystems and the very sky that envelopes us. We all know this. We prevent massive panic over it and avoid despair for  young people’s futures by simply  ignoring the volumes of well publicized facts that are as familiar as the pavement spreading mile after mile across our landscape. We desperately need to find ways to secure and maintain our commons with good goverance.

If only we could look for it from nation states.  But the bright and promising vision of Rio’s 1992 “Agenda 21” and related principles have not been effectively implemented and the leading countries are actually abandoning their core principles, including the commitment to making giving economic development a just, equitable framework that secures human rights and ecological sustainability.

Most of the most interesting, innovative, and effective work on the complex problems of  economic, social and environmental change is going on at the local and regional levels.  Why? They involve scales that enable experimentation, trust,  collaboration across sectors, and a strongly felt common investment in the future of a shared landscape and the planet in which it is located. They also allow for  friendly competition to achieve meaningful results – and friendly help in sharing those results in order to diffuse innovations broadly and scale them up systematically.

Muncipal, provincial and other regional government bodies and their associated civil societies also share the enormous advantage of not having military budgets or, more importantly, military policies.  When they establish relationships with other sub-national governments in their own country and abroad, they can do so through principles of solidarity and without the political “realism” that makes nation states act like school yard bullies and gang members instead of  mature and effective negotiators who can get things done.

But can these sub-national governments and civil society groups govern the world? If the much small number of  national governments representing them cannot agree on effective treaties in the Rio+20 context, how can thousands of  cities and provinces?

Maybe they can do it by changing the way treaties are made and function. The traditional “realist” model for making treaties allows obstructionism of the kind that has crippled the Rio process.  But the governance of the internet provides an alternative model – one in which protocols for collaboration are proposed, discussed and refined, adopted voluntarily by parties who opt in.  Then, if the protocols prove useful and attractive, they can become a standard adopted widely enough to structure the intellectual commons they deal with.  Villages, cities, provinces and regions are already collaborating in the same way.  The UN should recognize that these governments are, increasingly, the governments that matter. And in looking for a world government of the future, perhaps we should look to the Internetworked Communities of the Earth rather than the Nations of the Past.

In Rio Centro where the official negotiations are going on but folks from Major Groups from civil society are also taking part in “side events” to enrich the dialogue, an official from the UN noted that the UNDP has been working with subnational governments in some ways relevant to this.  But even more striking are the examples from  the Peoples’ Summit in downtown Rio at Flamengo Park. Here are a few links you might find of interest:

The Barcelona Consensus:

The Peoples’ Sustainability Treaties:

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