- We are entering the Anthropocene era with an outdated international governance framework.
- A new phase of global law is needed that includes the institutions and mechanisms for achieving a sustainable world system.
- The new global sustainability framework would be broken down into six key segments.
Our civilization is entering an era of seismic changes, challenges and opportunities. Many call it the Anthropocene, an unofficial unit of geologic time, used to describe the most recent period in Earth’s history when human activity started to have a significant impact on the planet’s climate and ecosystems. The driver of these changes is a new phase of globalization and technological progress with a tremendous impact on our ecosystem. Global processes affect different spheres of life in different ways, but the current fragile world order is threatened by the imbalances they are introducing – as shown in a range of rising threats across the planet.
The third era of international law
It is unlikely that we will be able to govern in the era of the Anthropocene through old norms and institutions. International law has already gone through two main stages: international law as the law of interstate relations and then as the law of international relations (regulated or mediated by supranational institutions, or nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). As we work out how to face the challenges of coming decades at COP26, now is the time for international law to enter a third phase: global law, truly governing sustainable development as a world community and providing solutions to planetary-level challenges.
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Regarding sustainable development, the Montreal Protocol of 1987 laid the foundation for climate diplomacy, while the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change of 1992 (UNFCCC) set guiding principles for the Conference of the Parties (COP) forum. More recently, the Kyoto Protocol of 2005 dealt with the reduction of emissions among developed countries, before the Paris Agreement of 2015, which outlined the consequences of climate change as a universal human problem and the need to set emission targets for all countries. But now the international legal framework has become stuck, with countries setting their own goals without transparent accountability mechanisms.
What is global law?
Global law – as defined by the Global Law Forum – is a system of principles, norms and technological solutions aimed at the formation of global governance for sustainable development and the realization of global human rights (including digital rights). Global law is not a parallel third system of law (to domestic and international legislation); it aims to take into account all current subjects of international law, based on international laws, as well as the domestic legal systems of all countries.
The principles of global law are based on the interdependence of our social planetary ecosystem and include:
- The realization of human rights
- Giving priority to solving global threats through the creation of global governance
- Unification of legal norms and the creation of digital mechanisms for their implementation (with the development of govtech, civtech and legaltech)
- Open, transparent, decentralized global law-making with a multistakeholder element
Making sustainability a global reality
The classic concept of sustainable development combines three different components: environmental, social and economic, all reflected in the United Nations' Sustainable Development Agenda 2030. UN Secretary-General António Guterres has stated that: “The global community is at a critical moment in its pursuit of the sustainable development goals (SDGs)."
But despite this realization, the modern global sustainable development framework is failing to prepare institutions to respond to current threats – otherwise, the COP26 meeting currently underway in Glasgow, Scotland, would not be so fraught with argument about whether we can keep to a 1.5°C temperature rise. A new phase of sustainability, underpinned by reinforced global law, is required.
Therefore, we propose a move to a global sustainability framework, which includes the balanced development of global processes in six key segments: legal, managerial, educational, environmental, social and economic. This presupposes building sustainable development not only from the perspective of setting goals but also including the tools for achieving them from the outset. This means the development of global sustainable development norms should be followed by management institutions for their implementation; ones that harness the technology of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, and in parallel, a system of global education that will teach a generation of lawyers, internationalists and politicians to be guided by common human interests, not just national ones.
It is important that the modernization of the law will establish responsibility for climate and other threats in the form of specific obligations for states and transnational companies, create a unified information system for tracking global threats and form responses to them, and oblige countries to include global goals in their strategic documents. In addition, we will be able to revise many areas of global concern: disarmament, human rights (including digital rights), tax and economic systems, health systems and others. Sustainability must be a key component of all our future global strategies and achieved not through self-regulation by companies, but through global legal obligations.
What’s the World Economic Forum doing about climate change?
Climate change poses an urgent threat demanding decisive action. Communities around the world are already experiencing increased climate impacts, from droughts to floods to rising seas. The World Economic Forum's Global Risks Report continues to rank these environmental threats at the top of the list.
To limit global temperature rise to well below 2°C and as close as possible to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, it is essential that businesses, policy-makers, and civil society advance comprehensive near- and long-term climate actions in line with the goals of the Paris Agreement on climate change.
The World Economic Forum's Climate Initiative supports the scaling and acceleration of global climate action through public and private-sector collaboration. The Initiative works across several workstreams to develop and implement inclusive and ambitious solutions.
This includes the Alliance of CEO Climate Leaders, a global network of business leaders from various industries developing cost-effective solutions to transitioning to a low-carbon, climate-resilient economy. CEOs use their position and influence with policy-makers and corporate partners to accelerate the transition and realize the economic benefits of delivering a safer climate.
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One thing is clear. Companies, institutions, governments that do not include sustainability components in their future planning are a bit like stars whose light still reaches us, but that have been long since extinguished. Our civilization can respond to the current crisis and subsequent ones – but for this we must completely reformat our view of global legal regulation and governance in order to achieve greater harmony in development.