Making Rio 2012 Work:Setting the stage for global economic, social and ecological renewal (2-2)
The world faces old and new security challenges that are more complex than our multilateral and national institutions are currently capable of managing. International cooperation is ever more necessary in meeting these challenges. The NYU Center on International Cooperation (CIC) works to enhance international responses to conflict, insecurity, and scarcity through applied research and direct engagement with multilateral institutions and the wider policy community.
CIC’s programs and research activities span the spectrum of conflict insecurity, and scarcity issues. This allows us to see critical inter-connections and highlight the coherence often necessary for effective response. We have a particular concentration on the UN and multilateral responses to conflict.
Third, Rio 2012 should improve system coherence through making current organizations work effectively together, not creating new ones. However the global organogram is drawn, the problem of fragmentation will remain for as long as agencies lack incentives to work effectively with each other. Creating new silos, as opposed to getting actors to come out of them, cannot solve this.
Interoperability in the international system rests on three foundations. First, organizations need to commit to, and invest in, the development of open and shared data platforms, providing the basis for a common analysis of complex problems, and for a common language around possible solutions. Second, leaders in the multilateral system need to develop cross-cutting, thematic mandates that can be used to incentivize joint working on issues such as food, energy, and climate security. The development of joint international mechanisms for responding to volatility in food markets provide one example of where existing shared analysis could be translated into a multi-agency response.14 Third, strategic intent needs to be backed up by operational reconfiguration, especially by opening up career paths to ensure that staff work on multiple sustainability issues and across a number of organizations, and by setting up pooled budgets for priority cross-cutting missions.
One immediate priority should be for member states to use Rio 2012 to commission a World Resources Outlook, produced jointly by a range of international organizations. At present, various different agencies produce various Outlook reports on various aspects of sustainable development: the IMF on the global economy, the IPCC on climate, the World Bank and UNDP on development, FAO and WFP on agriculture and food security, IEA on energy, UNEP on environment and so on.* But there is no single report that pulls all these strands together and highlights the links and feedbacks between them.
If member states commissioned these agencies to work jointly to produce a single World Resources Outlook – as proposed in the 2011 World Development Report – this would provide policymakers with a valuable source of information that they currently lack, and create substantial new interoperability between agencies, by forcing them to talk to each other and work together.
Rio 2012 will take place during a tough time for multilateralism. Even as the need for international cooperation grows, political space for it seems to be closing down rather than opening up. This is especially so on issues of sustainable development and managing globalization, where the brief moment of international unity seen at the height of the financial crisis appears to be dissipating rapidly.
Rio 2012 cannot reverse this dynamic. But it is, even so, a timely summit. The issues that it will be examining are rising up the global agenda, as the price of inaction grows and globalization’s ‘long crisis’ deepens. While this era is likely to see intensifying competition for dwindling resources, it could also prove to be a catalyst for a decisive shift towards the cooperation needed to sustain global interdependence.
Rio 2012 can play a pathfinding role, helping nudge international politics towards new types of collaboration. It can be part of rethinking of the nature of multilateralism itself, towards a more collaborative and distributed approach that recognizes the power-shift underway between states, as well as away from states and towards non-state actors.
Realizing this potential will require leadership, and a considerable degree of luck given the headwinds facing the summit. Probably the gloom-mongers will be right, with their predictions that Rio 2012 will be a damp squib. But that outcome is not written in stone. Rio 2012 could still emerge as the turning point the world needs.
*Or, to spell them out in full, the International Monetary Fund, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, World Bank, UN Development Programme, UN Food and Agriculture Organization, World Food Programme, International Energy Agency and UN Environment Programme.
By Alex Evans and David Steven, New York University, 13/06/2012