The clothes have no emperor

I recently heard Al Gore use the phrase “The clothes have no emperor” to describe the current situation in global governance. A book with that title catalogued the presidency of Ronald Reagan accusing the American public and the media of “conspiring to pretend that an actor wasn’t playing the role of President of the United States.”

In the aftermath of the recent G-20 summit in France and the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Australia – both noteworthy for the continuing lack of substantive action on financial sector reform, climate negotiations, trade and the reform of international institutions – the description seems increasingly apt. And nothing in the prognoses for the 4th High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness in South Korea and the 17th Conference of the Parties (COP17) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in South Africa, scheduled for later this month, suggests that the characterisation will need revision in their wake. Despite the fervent words of UN Secretary General Ban-Ki-Moon to the leaders of the G-20 to “not overlook the most vulnerable people, live up to past pledges, recognise that pro-poor investment is smart investment, for all” and his reiteration of the need for “concerted international action of the same scope the G20 took in 2009 in London,” the summit produced little coherent action on his specific pleas for innovative financing for development to supplement Official Development Assistance or policies that address rampant, structural unemployment.

COP-17, originally billed as the People’s COP and the African COP, now appears unlikely to live up to either label. Nor does it appear likely that disagreements on the design of the new Green Climate Fund or on a second commitment phase for the Kyoto Protocol will be resolved in time for the conference.

What will it take to break the deadlocks and spur leadership capable of responding to the crises, current and impending? As this year’s revolutionary movements in the Middle East and North Africa have so vividly demonstrated, a vital first step may well be for civil society to challenge the legitimacy of the institutions charged with global governance and demand their radical overhaul or replacement. The needs and global dynamics of the 21st century are far different from those of the mid-twentieth century when most of the currently influential global governance institutions came into being.  It is time for humanity to upgrade from the obsolete and the outmoded.  The issue is too important to neglect any longer as the lives and livelihoods of millions are being impacted by institutions that have far exceeded their shelf life.

To go beyond the child in the original story who recognised that the emperor had no clothes, stop pretending that the current institutions can discharge their mandates to deliver meaningful solutions and recognise that the clothes have no emperor.

P.S. Also check out this article (http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2011/11/20111114131340415929.html) and its reference to neo-liberal economics as a shell game.

Ingrid Srinath

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