Expert: UN needs to address "democratic deficit" and "include the voice of the citizens" better

25. april 2014

Chair of the Earth System research alliance addresses UN General Assembly at Interactive Dialogue, supports proposal for a UN Parliamentary Assembly

At an interactive dialogue organized by the United Nations General Assembly on the occasion of "Mother Earth Day" on 22 April in New York, the chair of the

Professor Biermann speaking at the UN General Assembly
Image: UN

international Earth System Governance Project, Frank Biermann, urged the international community "to engage in a process of serious reform of international governance and institutions" in order to achieve "new types of multilateralism." The professor of political science stressed that humanity is faced with "a fundamental transformation of core elements of the entire earth system" and that existing international arrangements are not sufficiently effective to cope with this challenge.

Decision-making, accountability and equity need to be improved

According to Mr Biermann, research reviewed by the Earth System alliance indicates that "the decision-making rules in multilateral negotiations and in the UN system are largely outdated. They are not effective, and generally not fair," he told the audience. Instead of consensus rule majority voting could speed up decisions. "We could think about different majority and voting rules for different issue areas. We can think about multiple, complex, combined, or layered majorities. And surely, we need to clearly define institutional guarantees that protect smaller countries," the professor suggested.

Referring to a "democratic deficit" of the UN that is felt in "many parts of the world," the scientist said that "When we want to strengthen the United Nations in order to help with our overarching goal of planetary stewardship, we have to address this potential lack of trust or understanding among citizens."

As examples for better including "the voice of the citizens in UN processes" that are discussed in the academic community he highlighted "global deliberative assemblies of citizens of all countries and regions," a "parliamentary assembly as a second chamber in the UN system, bringing in the direct representatives of the people," and "upgrading the major-groups in the UN system through a forum of civil society organizations."

Finally, Mr Biermann voiced concern the unequal division of wealth in the world. "There is no doubt that equity and fairness must be at the heart of a durable international framework for sustainable development," he said.

Bold proposals like that for a UN Parliamentary Assembly are needed

In a comment made after the presentation, Mr Biermann told the international Campaign for a UN Parliamentary Assembly that personally he supports "the general idea for a Parliamentary Assembly in the UN system because, as I highlighted in my speech to the UN General Assembly earlier this week, there is an urgent need to address legitimacy and accountability concerns in global institutions."

In addition he stressed that "General support for the UNPA proposal is growing, and I hope that bringing the topic up in bodies such as the UN General Assembly can help to increase interest among policy makers. However, incremental reforms of the UN System will be insufficient to deal with the problems of the 21st century and the democratic deficit at the global level. Bold thinking, and bold proposals like that for a Parliamentary Assembly at the United Nations, or the proposal for qualified majority voting decision-making in the UN, which I also mentioned in my speech, are needed to inspire and set in motion transformative change."

UN webcast of the interactive dialogue

Full text of Professor Biermann's speech

Read more

28 November 2012: Interview with Frank Biermann: 19th century global governance not fit to tackle climate change

20 April 2012: Debate on global parliament at Earth System Governance conference

Top image: Panel during the interactive dialogue, screenshot of webcast, source: United Nations