Global Governance and Sustainability

Submitted by Arthur Dahl on 8. December 2020 - 0:56
Dahl, Arthur Lyon

Global Governance and Sustainability

Arthur Lyon Dahl
International Environment Forum Webinar
6 December 2020


We are facing existential threats including climate change, biodiversity loss, resource depletion, and mass population displacements. These problems are interrelated and can only be managed effectively at the global level. Present mechanisms for global environmental governance are woefully inadequate to the need for urgent action all around the world. The good efforts of some are neutralized if not reversed by the contrary actions of others. The Bahá’í International Community has recently explored the need for global governance. Proposals for United Nations reform and global governance for the 21st century could finally give us the institutions to manage the necessary transition to sustainability while embodying the principles of world federalism and the oneness of humanity.

The Sustainability Challenge

Many of today's existential threats including climate change, biodiversity loss, resource depletion, and mass population displacements are interrelated and can only be managed effectively at the global level. There is an ecological ceiling that we must learn to live within, and an inner social foundation addressing poverty, lack of education, poor health, etc. that we must rise above to stay within the safe and just space for humanity with a regenerative and distributive economy. This means respecting planetary boundaries such as climate change and land-system change where we are already in the danger zone, and the loss of genetic diversity (biodiversity) and nitrogen and phosphorus cycles where we have already gone far beyond the safe limits and must return within them.

Climate change is perhaps the most urgent existential threat, with global heating accelerating much faster than science has predicted. We now have only seven years to turn the corner with our greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions before tipping points such as melting ice in polar regions might make any return difficult if not impossible. If we look at the relationship between our fossil fuel use and climate change, the accepted limit for global warming without significant damage to the planet is 1.5°C and we are already at 1.2°C (2°C in Switzerland since mountain areas warm faster). The estimated remaining capacity of the atmosphere to absorb carbon without going past this limit is 420-580 gigatons of CO2, which may be reached by 2030. In 2019 we released 43.1 gt, a 3.1% increase over 2018. However, proven oil, coal and gas reserves total 2,795 gigatons of carbon, not counting unconventional sources like fracking gas or tar sands. To prevent catastrophic climate change, 80% of proven reserves need to be taken off asset accounts and left in the ground. Think of the challenge this represents for countries and companies that are dependent on fossil fuels for much of their revenue.

If we look at the role of corporate polluters, between 1880 and 2010 the 90 biggest industrial carbon producers were responsible for half the rise in global temperature and a third of sea level rise. By 1965, the climate impact of fossil fuels was known by both industry leaders and politicians. Nevertheless, the top 20 petroleum companies have since contributed 35% of all energy-related CO2 and methane emissions, and planned to increase production to 2030 before the pandemic hit. They have delayed national and global action for decades, and spend $200 million each year lobbying to delay, control or block policies to tackle climate change.

The result is an enormous emissions gap. Incremental changes will not be enough and there is a need for rapid and transformational action. G20 members account for 78 per cent of global GHG emissions. In 2030, annual emissions need to be 15 Gt CO2 equivalent lower than current unconditional Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC) imply for the 2°C goal, and 32 GtCO2e lower for 1.5°C. A dramatic strengthening of the NDCs under the Climate Change Convention is needed in 2020. Countries must increase their NDC ambitions threefold to achieve the well below 2°C goal and more than fivefold to achieve the 1.5°C goal (UNEP Emissions Gap Report 2019). This is not happening.

One consequence is accelerating sea level rise. The present estimate 1.2m to 2m by 2100 and continuing. Such sea level rise could displace 600 million people by 2100. Many coastal urban areas are vulnerable. With rapid polar warming, tipping points could make melting irreversible.

Another sustainability crisis is biodiversity loss. The extinction rate (species per million species per year) was 0.1 to 1 in preindustrial times, and is actually 1000. If we reach global warming of 2°C, we shall lose 20% of all species, while 4° of warming would wipe out half of all species on the planet. The annual cost of forest loss is $2-5 trillion. Studies show the loss of 80 percent of all insect biomass in Europe, and global wild animal biomass has been reduced by 82%, leaving the great majority of vertebrate biomass at the present time human bodies and the domesticated animals we raise.

The human population is often cited as a threat to sustainability. The world population has tripled in one lifetime, and is projected to rise to 9.7 billion by 2050 and 11 billion by 2100, although others predict an ageing population with a decline later in the century. The recent rapid growth in the human population has been caused by our economy increasing wealth without addressing poverty. It is the poor who have many children. Once girls are educated and basic needs are met, population growth falls, in many countries today below the replacement rate. So population growth is only a symptom of the underlying problem of economic inequality. Addressing the latter will solve the former. We are presently experiencing a classic ecological pattern of overshoot and collapse, where a population grows until it exhausts its food supply and dies off. The planetary carrying capacity depends on numbers versus standard of living; increasing one reduces the other. Science may find ways to increase carrying capacity, but only at longer time scales. At present, the combination of poverty and population growth produces refugees, economic migrants, and environmental displacement.

This then leads us to the sustainability challenge of food production. The Green Revolution of the 1970s postponed food supply as a limit to growth. Crop production has improved in the last 20 years from 1.8 to 2.5 t/ha. but such intensive agriculture requires high energy, fertilizer and petrochemical inputs, driven by multinational agroindustries maximizing their profits at the expense of farmers. In fact, world cereal production per person peaked in the 1980s and has decreased slowly since. Feeding the growing world population and reducing hunger by half will require doubling world food production by 2050, but hunger is increasing again. Water, phosphate and energy will all be limiting further efforts to grow more food.

On top of this is the present rate of soil degradation. Sixty-five percent of all arable soil has been degraded by erosion, desertification or salinization. Over 300 million hectares of former agricultural land can no longer produce food, and 10 million hectares more are degraded every year. We are well past "peak soil". FAO estimates we are 60 harvests from the collapse of the world food system if we continue as at present.

Water shortage is another immediate threat. Most freshwater from streams and groundwater is used for agriculture. Water use for crops will have to double by 2050 to halve the number of hungry. But, by 2025, 1.8 billion people will live in regions with absolute water scarcity, and two thirds of the world population could be subject to water stress as climate change reduces rainfall in these areas.

There are many other environmental challenges to sustainability, such as pollution. Man-made chemical pollutants and plastics have contaminated the entire planet, interfering with biological processes, upsetting hormonal balances and immune systems, causing cancers and other diseases, damaging the ozone layer, and having other as yet unknown effects.

One example of an economic challenge to sustainability is what might be called peak debt. The global credit orgy of last 50 years, especially since 2008, has kept economic growth in GDP going. Levels of global debt were already out of control, even before the pandemic, where countries are now ignoring all previous debt limits. Consumers at all scales in all sectors are saturated with debt. Quantitative easing by central banks purchasing government debt removed short-term pressure but created debt saturation of $300 trillion in financial claims. The growth of US government debt has been twice the economic growth rate over last 40 years, so that interest on its debt will pass defence spending in 2022 as the largest item in the federal budget. Growth in GDP is a debt-fueled mirage with industrial production per capita peaking, leading to a perfect storm (Nafeez Ahmed 4 Feb 2020…). We need smaller, simpler and more local and regional economies to be sustainable.

One way to look at this challenge at the planetary level is with the Ecological Footprint (, which measures the surface needed to supply the needs and absorb the wastes of an individual, community, or country. The global average ecological footprint is presently 2.3 global hectares/person. For the USA it is 8.1 gha/person, China 3.6 gha/p, France 4.4 gha/person, Switzerland 4.6 gha/p. Unfortunately, the global resources available only average 1.9 gha/person. We overshot the earth's capacity in 1970 and are living of the natural resource capital rather than its interest.

The 1972 report to the Club of Rome on The Limits to Growth already provided scenarios of the global system hitting planetary limits and collapsing in this century. The reality has been following these predictions quite closely, so without rapid action, a crisis seems inevitable.

Early this year, a study warned that multiple eco-crises could trigger 'systemic collapse'. The five top risks in likelihood and impact are: climate change, extreme weather events from hurricanes to heatwaves, the decline of life-sustaining ecosystems, food security and dwindling stores of fresh water. These risks have the potential to impact and amplify one another in ways that might cascade to create global systemic collapse (Marlowe Hood, 6 February 2020,…). This was just before the pandemic, which is only adding another risk.

We could ask if we are beginning to experience the promised apocalypse? We have a pandemic with many deaths and a society in chaos, with a growing climate catastrophe and biodiversity crisis, facing a coming financial crisis due to overwhelming debts, and widespread famine on the horizon. The only thing missing is war (for the moment).

The immediate impact of the pandemic has been to slam the brakes on the economy with massive unemployment, bringing the consumer society to a halt. We found we really could live without all those “necessities”. The social dimension has taken on new importance, with solidarity appearing everywhere. This is the opportunity for a fundamental transformation.

Systems experience crises and renewal. Our global system is facing institutional inertia, and the power of multinational corporations and other vested interests to block change. But perhaps they are like the dinosaurs. Just as environmental change and an asteroid strike led to their extinction and replacement by mammals, so the global environment is evolving rapidly and major shocks may be coming. The old system must collapse to make way for a new one to take its place. To get through this quickly, we need governance at the scale of the problem.

Governance for sustainability

Faced with all these existential challenges, how do we find a way forward? Fortunately, the Universal House of Justice, the international governing body of the Bahá’í Faith, and the Bahá’í International Community have recently explored the need for global governance to achieve peace and sustainability and provided guidance on what we need to do now. Also with two colleagues, we have prepared proposals for global governance for the 21st century and United Nations reform that could finally manage the necessary transition to sustainability while embodying the principles of world federalism and the oneness of humanity. The following sections summarize these initiatives.

First it may help to defining the governance problem. Our present system is founded on national sovereignty, which still implies that war is the final recourse to impose one state's will on others. At the global level we have international anarchy, with no binding rule of law. Each government can do what it wants with no outside interference. This is still a world where the major powers struggle for power and world domination. There is even a push-back against multilateralism. Meanwhile, with continuing technological innovation, warfare is increasingly dangerous to the survival of the human race. People may fear war and long for peace, but cannot to anything about it. The world is filled with ego, corruption and aggression, and we see the rise of reckless political leaders and frequently a retreat from democracy.

The Universal House of Justice, in a message of 18 January 2019, has addressed the challenges of achieving world peace through global governance. It noted that after the First World War and the Paris Peace conference, the Guardian of the Bahá’í Faith, “Shoghi Effendi could discern ‘the progress, however fitful, of the forces working in harmony with the spirit of the age’. These forces have continued to move humanity towards an age of peace—not merely a peace which rules out armed conflict, but a collective state of being, manifesting unity.”

It describes this as a long journey in fits and starts, when there were three historical moments reaching for real, lasting peace but always falling short: 1. the Paris Conference and the establishment of the League of Nations; 2. the United Nations Organization formed from the ashes of the League, a system of international economic institutions, and historic advances in human rights and international law; and 3. the end of the cold war and explicit calls for the establishment of a new global order, when universal peace seemed to be within grasp.

“These various advances—despite their many limitations and imperfections and the horrifying conflicts that continued to unfold during this time—stand nonetheless as signs of a widespread, gradual but inexorable rise in global consciousness on the part of the earth’s peoples and their attraction to universal justice, to solidarity, to collaboration, to compassion, and to equality.”

However there are new challenges in this century, with a retreat from the promising steps forward. Many of the dominant currents in societies everywhere are pushing people apart, not drawing them together. These currents include:
- exorbitant wealth
- intransigence in thinking
- religious fundamentalism
- a decline in public trust
- vested interests seeking to undermine the credibility of all sources of knowledge
- resurgent forces of racism, nationalism, and factionalism.

“Thus do the forces of disintegration regroup and gain ground. So be it. The unification of humanity is unstoppable by any human force...”

“...there is no reason to doubt that the world’s current state of disorder and confusion will worsen—possibly with catastrophic consequences—until a chastened humanity sees fit to take another significant step, perhaps this time decisive, towards enduring peace.” (Universal House of Justice, 18 January 2019)

In September 2020, the Bahá’í International Community issued a statement for the 75th anniversary of the United Nations, entitled “A Governance Befitting: Humanity and the Path Toward a Just Global Order”. The following are some selections from that statement about the way forward on global governance.

“...rapidly shifting global realities prompt a deeper appreciation of humanity’s interconnection and interdependence. Amidst the disruption created and accelerated by a world-engulfing pandemic, numerous possibilities are opening for marked social change that can bring stability to the world and enrich the lives of its inhabitants. Throughout history, periods of turbulence have presented opportunities to redefine collective values and the assumptions that underlie them.”

“A growing chorus of voices is calling for decisive steps forward in our collective trajectory toward enduring, universal peace.”

“The human family is one…. Its profound implications for our collective behavior must now give rise to a coordinated movement toward higher levels of social and political unity. As Baháʼu’lláh declared over a century ago, ‘True peace and tranquility will only be realized when every soul will have become the well-wisher of all mankind.’ The perils of a global community divided against itself are too great to countenance.”

“...recent events demonstrate that current arrangements are no longer sufficient in the face of cascading and increasingly interconnected threats. Integration and coordination must therefore be extended further. The only viable way forward lies in a system of deepening global cooperation.”

“In recent years, reasoned critique of multilateral arrangements has, at times, been eclipsed by rejection of the very idea of a rules-based international order. Yet this period of pushback is embedded in broader historical processes carrying the global community toward stronger unity. At each stage in human history, more complex levels of integration become not only possible, but necessary. New and more pressing challenges emerge, and the body politic is compelled to devise new arrangements that address the needs of the time through greater inclusivity, coherence, and collaboration.”

“We therefore find ourselves at the threshold of a defining task: purposefully organizing our affairs in full consciousness of ourselves as one people in one shared homeland.”

“What is needed today is a settled consensus that, while preserving the various systems and cultures around the world, embodies a set of common values and principles that can attract the support of every nation.”

There is a measure of agreement around these shared principles and norms, such as the universality of human rights, the imperative to eradicate poverty, or the need to live within environmentally sustainable limits.

“A framework that accommodates a diversity of approaches, built on a commitment to unity and a shared ethic of justice, would allow common principles to be put into practice in countless arrangements and formulations. Within such a framework, differences in political structure, legal system, and social organization would stand not as points of friction but as sources of potential insight into new solutions and approaches.”

“True acknowledgement of global interdependence requires genuine concern for all, ...for the welfare of any segment of humanity is inextricably bound up with the welfare of the whole.”

“Whatever benefits have accrued from past conceptions of state sovereignty, present conditions demand a far more holistic and coherent approach to analysis and decision-making. What will be the global implications of domestic policies? What choices contribute to shared prosperity and sustainable peace? What steps foster nobility and preserve human dignity?

“As awareness of the oneness of humanity is increasingly woven into processes of decision-making, nations will find it easier to see each other as genuine partners in the stewardship of the planet and in securing the prosperity of its peoples.”

“...progress for all is not attainable if material advancement is divorced from spiritual and ethical advancement.”

“...economic growth over recent decades has indisputably brought about prosperity for many, but with that growth unmoored from justice and equity, a few have disproportionately benefited from its fruits and many are in precarious conditions. Those living in poverty are at the greatest risk from any contraction of the world economy, which exacerbates existing inequalities and intensifies suffering.“

“Every effort to advance society, even if concerned with material conditions alone, rests on underlying moral assumptions.”

“Only by ensuring that material progress is consciously connected to spiritual and social progress can the promise of a better world be fulfilled.”

“Movement toward more coordinated and genuinely cooperative international relations will eventually require a process in which world leaders come together to recast and reconstitute the global order. For what was once viewed as an idealistic vision of international cooperation has, in light of the obvious and serious challenges facing humanity, become a pragmatic necessity.”

“Objectives incompatible with the pursuit of the common good will need to be set aside. Until this is the dominant ethic, lasting progress will prove elusive.”

In the statement, the Bahá’í International Community makes specific proposals for reforming the United Nations that would contribute to planetary sustainability. For example, “A world council on future affairs could institutionalize consideration of how policies might impact generations to come and give attention to a range of issues such as preparedness for global crises, the use of emerging technologies, or the future of education or employment.” “Strengthening the legal framework relating to the natural world would lend coherence and vigor to the biodiversity, climate, and environmental regimes and provide a robust foundation for a system of common stewardship of the planet’s resources.”

“Progress toward the goals enshrined in global agendas... calls for a conscious orientation toward experimentation, search, innovation, and creativity.”

“Respect for international law, upholding fundamental human rights, adherence to treaties and agreements—only to the extent that such commitments are honored in practice can the United Nations and its Member States demonstrate a standard of integrity and trustworthiness before the people of the world.” “Barring this, no amount of administrative reorganization will resolve the host of long-standing challenges before us.” “As Baháʼu’lláh declared, ‘Words must be supported by deeds, for deeds are the true test of words.’”

“Collaboration is possible on scales undreamt of in past ages, opening unparalleled prospects for progress. Yet failure to reach an arrangement supporting effective global coordination risks consequences far more severe—potentially catastrophic—than those arising from recent disruptions.” And they quote Bahá’u’lláh: ‘Let them take counsel together and, through anxious and full deliberation, administer to a diseased and sorely afflicted world the remedy it requireth.’”

In the light of this positive perspective, how do we respond? This year, the Universal House of Justice has helped us to see what we can do to contribute to a path to a just and sustainable global order.

“Seldom has it been more evident that society’s collective strength is dependent on the unity it can manifest in action, from the international stage to the grassroots… The world stands more and more in need of the hope and the strength of spirit that faith imparts.”

“However difficult matters are at present, and however close to the limits of their endurance some sections of societies are brought, humanity will ultimately pass through this ordeal, and it will emerge on the other side with greater insight and with a deeper appreciation of its inherent oneness and interdependence.” (Universal House of Justice, Naw-Ruz 177 – 20 March 2020)

“Leaders, prominent thinkers, and commentators have begun to explore fundamental concepts and bold aspirations that, in recent times, have been largely absent from public discourse. At present these are but early glimmerings, yet they hold out the possibility that a moment of collective consciousness may be in view.” (Universal House of Justice, Ridvan 2020 – 20 April 2020)

"World unity is finally possible. A global order that unifies the nations with the assent of humanity is the only adequate answer to the destabilizing forces that threaten the world. However, though world unity is possible—nay, inevitable—it ultimately cannot be achieved without unreserved acceptance of the oneness of humankind...” “Fostering unity, by harmonizing disparate elements and nurturing in every heart a selfless love for humankind, is the task of religion.”

“No matter how bleak conditions may appear at any given time, no matter how dismal the immediate prospects for bringing about unity, there is no cause for despair. The distressing state of the world can only spur us to redouble our commitment to constructive action. ‘These are not days of prosperity and triumph’ cautions Bahá’u’lláh. ‘The whole of mankind is in the grip of manifold ills. Strive, therefore, to save its life through the wholesome medicine which the almighty hand of the unerring Physician hath prepared.’ ”

“Consider Bahá’u’lláh’s words:
Address yourselves to the promotion of the well-being and tranquillity of the children of men. Bend your minds and wills to the education of the peoples and kindreds of the earth, that haply the dissensions that divide it may, through the power of the Most Great Name, be blotted out from its face, and all mankind become the upholders of one Order, and the inhabitants of one City.’ “

“Sensitized as they are to the importance of harmony and the fruitlessness of conflict, the followers of Bahá’u’lláh seek to cultivate those conditions that are most conducive to the emergence of unity in any setting. We are heartened to see the believers expanding their efforts to participate in the discourses of society—especially those friends who, in their professional capacity, are able to contribute to discourses directly related to peace.” (Universal House of Justice, 18 January 2019)

Global Governance and the Emergence of Global Institutions for the 21st Century

Inspired and encouraged by that last call, three Bahá’ís, economist Augusto Lopez-Claros, international legal expert Maja Groff and myself, prepared proposals for reforming global governance in response to a call from the Global Challenges Foundation in a competition for the New Shape Prize. When we heard how many people had applied for the prize, we gave up and decided to write a book instead, Global Governance and the Emergence of Global Institutions for the 21st Century. It was nearly finished when we learned that we also did take first place in the prize competition. The following section summarizes the main points in the book published in January 2020 by Cambridge University Press and available in open source as a pdf as well as in hard copy from the publisher.

Global Governance

There are fatal flaws in the UN Charter that prevent it from being an effective instrument for world peace. In order to ensure its approval by governments in 1945, political compromises gave the victors of World War II a veto power in the Security Council, making them permanent members above the law. They also have refused to give the Security Council the necessary independent means to enforce its decisions. The provisions in the UN Charter for its review and revision have been ignored. The whole concept of national sovereignty makes international agreements voluntary; conventions and other agreements are only binding on the states that sign and ratify them, and with little to enforce them, a country can ignore them or even withdraw.

Our approach can be summarized as follows: effective governance requires legislative, executive and judicial functions. Nations will only give up the right to make war in exchange for effective mechanisms of collective security and the peaceful settlement of disputes. This will require the gradual development of relevant international institutions and processes, allowing time to build confidence in their effectiveness in reducing national insecurity. We shall need carefully coordinated disarmament, with trust that justice will be done. States also have to become trustworthy, with a collective sense of moral responsibility.

One necessary step is to address the widespread fear of global governance, since many think that if national government is bad, than global governance could only be worse. What if a despot seizes power? Obviously this means planning for stronger democratic control, with increased representativeness and accountability in decision-making. There needs to be a bill of individual human rights, as well as a declaration of national rights and responsibilities. The system needs checks and balances, with judicial control, and clear ethical foundations for governance.

It is also necessary to limit the scope for international governance, addressing only those issue that require a coordinated global approach, such as peace, security, and dispute settlement; human rights; and protection of the global environment and areas and resources beyond national jurisdiction, such as the atmosphere and the high seas. The system should be founded on principles of subsidiarity, meaning that responsibility should be placed at the lowest relevant level close to those most concerned, and unity in diversity, leaving wide room for many different approaches adapted to each local situation.

A revised UN Charter would activate the provisions for charter revision to allow future flexibility and adaptability. It would replace the principle of national sovereignty, which is less and less meaningful in a globalized world, by national autonomy, which should be protected. It would give primacy to the global common interest in peace and sustainability.

The General Assembly would be reformed as a legislative body representing people as well as governments, with membership weighted by the size of the population and the economy, as well as the fact of being a state, so that no one country would have a de facto veto. It is necessary to ensure balanced representation of regions, states of different sizes, and the variety of cultures and peoples. It would be empowered to adopt legislation in the global interest binding on all countries. This legislative institution would be supported by advisory mechanisms including a Chamber for Civil Society, scientific advisory bodies, an Office of Technology Assessment, and an Office of Ethical Assessment to ensure that the basic principles of the UN Charter and other global covenants are considered in every legislative act.

The Security Council would be replaced by a broader Executive Council of 24 members, with both permanent and collective seats so that all countries have a voice. The veto and the consensus rule would be eliminated. The new Council would have broader management functions, including developing the executive functions of the UN Secretariat and the UN Specialized Agencies and Programmes, chaired by the Secretary-General. It would be supported by enforcement mechanisms, including a standing International Peace Force under UN control, plus a Reserve Force, larger than any national force. There would be a Disarmament Commission responsible for organizing the phased disarmament of all countries, and a Mediation and Conciliation Commission to settle all disputes peacefully.

The binding rule of law would be applied by the International Court of Justice by giving it jurisdiction over all states, and the authority to interpret international legal texts. In addition to the International Criminal Court, it would be complemented by an International Human Rights Tribunal and an International Anti-corruption Court, supported by an Office of the UN Attorney-General.

The reformed UN would require its own funding mechanism, which might start with an automatic contribution of 0.1% of the GDP of each member. This would raise US$ 70 billion, twice total UN funding and five times the present regular budget. It could be complemented by a possible tax on global financial transactions (Tobin tax) or other revenue collection. The global system would make it possible to eliminate opportunities for the wealthy and private enterprises to escape from taxation in tax-free havens.

In addition to maintaining, and possibly consolidating, the present UN Specialized Agencies, Programmes and Convention Secretariats, some new specialized agencies would be required for global risks. A reformed International Monetary Fund (IMF) could provide protection from financial collapse. New organizations would be needed to address inequality, provide for regulation of multinational corporations, and harmonize tax systems. To control climate change, a mechanism is required to set binding limits on greenhouse gas emissions and to allocate them among countries. The planetary environment, biodiversity, and natural resources management are also areas where global legislation and management are required. A reformed International Organization for Migration (IOM) would be charged with managing with equity the inevitable population displacements already under way and to come.

Such a reformed system of global governance would require supporting measures such as education, both of those working as representatives, civil servants, and peace force members within the system, and wide public education to prepare ultimately for democratic elections to the global institutions. It should be founded on the principles and values already enshrined in existing declarations and covenants, such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the international rights conventions.

Global governance will only perform effectively if it is founded on trust and trustworthiness. States must trust that decisions are really taken in the common interest. People must trust that their human rights will be protected. Everyone should be able to develop their full potential to contribute to society. Governments must be trustworthy. Everything should reflect justice for all, and sacrifices should be shared equitably. No one should be left behind.

We also address possible ways to move forward to adopt this ideal of global governance. How do we get there? There are the general scenarios, where the new system is adopted in an act of consultative will at a conference of all states, or where each crisis is leveraged to advance step by step towards the goal. The ultimate alternative is to wait for a catastrophe to force the transformation, as occurred for the creation of the League of Nations and the United Nations. We could start with the creation of a World Parliamentary Assembly subsidiary to General Assembly, as this could be done without Charter revision, since the GA can create its own subsidiary bodies. An alternative would be the step-wise approach to supranational authority that was used to create the European Union, which began with a Coal and Steel Community and gradually developed its regional institutions. Globally, we could start with an institution to regulate climate change as a pressing existential threat requiring immediate action by all states.

If the great majority of nations want to move forward with UN Charter reform, with only a few hold-outs such as the permanent members with a veto preventing Charter revision, another option is to do as we did with the League of Nations and hold a conference for Charter replacement to create a new organization and abandon the old United Nations. Its assets and subsidiary bodies could be transferred, leaving the hold-outs with an empty structure until they decide to join the new one.


It should be clear from all of the above that improvements in global governance adapted to the needs of the 21st century are both practical possibilities today, and inevitable if we are to avoid unthinkable catastrophes. Such change will not be easy and will require agreement on shared principles and norms, and courageous leadership to overcome the inevitable resistance of the powers that be. It will also require widespread public support, and this is where everyone can play a role, build communities based on spiritual principles. As the Universal House of Justice has put it: “The devoted efforts that you and your like-minded collaborators are making to build communities founded on spiritual principles, to apply those principles for the betterment of your societies, and to offer the insights arising—these are the surest ways you can hasten the fulfilment of the promise of world peace.” (Universal House of Justice, 18 January 2019)

The pathway to sustainability will be one of empowerment, collaboration and continual processes of questioning, learning and action in all regions of the world. It will be shaped by the experiences of women, men, children, the rich, the poor, the governors and the governed as each one is enabled to play their rightful role in the construction of a new society. As the sweeping tides of consumerism, unfettered consumption, extreme poverty and marginalization recede, they will reveal the human capacities for justice, reciprocity and happiness. (Bahá'í International Community, Rethinking Prosperity: Forging Alternatives to a Culture of Consumerism, 2010).

For further reading

Bahá’í International Community. 2020. A Governance Befitting: Humanity and the Path Toward a Just Global Order.…

Universal House of Justice. 1985. To the peoples of the world (peace message).…

Universal House of Justice. To the Baha’is of the world (message on world peace). 18 January 2019.…

Augusto Lopez-Claros, Arthur L. Dahl and Maja Groff. 2020. Global Governance and the Emergence of Global Institutions for the 21st Century. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 545 p.…

Arthur Lyon Dahl. 2019. In Pursuit of Hope: A Guide for the Seeker. Oxford: George Ronald. 194 p.…. For reading on smartphones:

A powerpoint version of this presentation is available here

Last updated 7 December 2020