Global Institutions losing relevance
by Ashwani Mahajan on 25 Mar 2023 0 Comment

Recently Prime Minister Narendra Modi while addressing the conference of Foreign Ministers of G-20 countries has given a significant statement that multilateralism is in crisis today.  Foreign Minister Jaishankar has also echoed the similar sentiments. Significantly, ever since India took over the presidency of G-20 countries, discussion on many issues including global institutions is gaining momentum in the world.


Global institutions, mostly from the UN system, have been recognized to have a formidable role, earlier in the first bi-polar world after World War II and even later in the uni-polar world led by the United States. In time of conflicts, natural or man-made disasters or even in normal times on issues faced by humanity, the countries of the world have been looking towards the United Nations and its several bodies. The International Labor Organization, World Health Organization, World Bank, International Monetary Fund, UNESCO, United Nations Development Program (UNDP) etc. have had a special role in the world. GATT before 1995 and later WTO have been known as rule makers for governing world trade.


But today, questions are being raised on not only the functioning of these organizations and institutions, their capacity for global leadership, but also on their intentions. The capacity of global governance of these institutions have come under scrutiny amidst pandemics, conflicts, climate change and global warming, increasing food insecurity in the world and increasing and unsustainable debt on many countries. At the same time, sovereignty crisis, regional imbalances, conflicts and wars in the world are becoming a serious threat to the existence of independent nations, and global governance has failed miserably to deal with the emerging situation.


From the beginning of the pandemic to its management, the World Health Organization has not only proved to be a failure, but has also been seen to be blatantly biased in favour of China. From ILO to UNDP, all the other organizations of the United Nations, rather than being institutions of global governance, are turning out to be no more than talking shops. Today, member nations also have no high expectations from these institutions.


For example, the World Health Organization, which was expected to fulfil its responsibility of protecting people’s health at the time of the pandemic, could not even give an unbiased opinion about the origin of the Covid19 pandemic. Regarding vaccination, let alone ensuring the universal vaccination, it was not even able to curb the greed of big multinational companies.


When there was a natural expectation in the world that patents on medicines, vaccines and medical equipment needed for the treatment of people during the Corona pandemic should be suspended, and all types of treatment and vaccines should be available free of royalty, then the WTO’s Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Council first failed to take a decision on the matter. Later, when a decision of relief was made, it was too late and too little, limited only for vaccines, and that too with conditions attached, so it didn’t serve any purpose. This has exposed the gross insensitive functioning of the World Trade Organization towards humanity, amidst dominance of MNCs and developed countries.


Every year United Nations Climate Change Convention (COP) is organized by the UN, which discusses issues related to climate change and its solutions thereof.  Significantly, in the context of global warming in the world, a target has been set that by the year 2050, the average temperature of the world should not be allowed to increase by more than 2 degree Celsius from the average temperature at the beginning of the century. For this, at the climate change conference in Kyoto, Japan, it was agreed that by the year 2012, countries with high emissions of greenhouse gases will have to reduce their emissions, some others were expected to keep their emissions at the same level and some others were allowed to increase emissions keeping in view their growth needs. This agreement is also known as ‘Kyoto Protocol’.


Though this treaty was honoured by member countries, many conferences held after Kyoto, could not make any headway including the latest UNCCC, COP27, which concluded in November 2022. A few years ago, an agreement was reached that the world’s rich countries would provide US$ 100 billion every year to the developing countries so that they could build capacity in their respective countries to manage issues related to climate change.


Reality is that while there is need for huge investment and usage of modern technology to overcome global warming, the developed countries have so far failed to discharge their responsibility and the United Nations and its conventions and Institutions are proving to be no more than talking shops in this regard, organising conferences and discussions. Leave aside financial support, developed countries are not even willing to provide their technology to meet this challenge. The United Nations, which is supposed to be the pivot of global governance, is proving to be ineffective in persuading the rich nations to rise to the occasion.


Most of these global institutions are more than 75 years old. Once considered part of global governance, they are fast losing relevance in terms of their influence in the changed global scenario. Concerned leaders internationally are discussing a new global governance system. Today, when India has assumed the presidency of G-20 countries, the need of the hour is to underline the need for new thinking and new global governance system to find solutions for challenges before the world. In the constitutions of the present global institutions, ideals like international brotherhood, peace, development, mutual cooperation are highlighted, but only on paper; the reality is that the big countries are not following these principles.


Significantly, the G-20 is the most powerful group of big nations today, from where 85 percent of the world’s GDP comes, where two-thirds of the world’s population lives and from where 75 percent of the world’s total trade comes. India has chosen the theme of ‘One Earth, One Family, One Future’ in its year of presidency of G-20.


To realise this theme, we will have to motivate the world towards a new global order, with an objective of global consensus to solve problems like financial instability, terrorism, conflicts, and food and energy insecurity in the world. It remains to be seen how far we move in this direction in the coming months at various level meetings and conferences of the G-20. We have to decipher what Prime Minister Narendra Modi has said about the failure of the current global governance and institutions to deal with the global financial crisis, climate change, pandemic, terrorism and war. G20 nations are expected to make meaningful efforts, to restore peace, deal with the impending crises of humanity and bring prosperity in the world.


The author is Professor, PGDAV College, University of Delhi, Delhi

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