At a closed-door retreat in a Long Island mansion late last October, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and his topmost aides brainstormed about how the global organization could benefit from a "unique opportunity" to reshape the world, starting with the Rio + 20 Summit on Sustainable Development, which takes place in Brazil in June.
A copy of the confidential minutes of the meeting was obtained by Fox News. According to that document, the 29-member group, known as the United Nations System Chief Executives Board for Coordination (CEB), discussed bold ambitions that stretch for years beyond the Rio conclave to consolidate a radical new global green economy, promote a spectrum of sweeping new social policies and build an even more important role for U.N. institutions “ to manage the process of globalization better.”
At the same time, the gathering acknowledged that their ambitions were on extremely shaky ground, starting with the fact that, as Ban’s chief organizer for the Rio gathering put it, “there was still no agreement on the definition of the green economy, the main theme of the [Rio] conference.”
But according to the minutes, that did not seem to restrain the group’s ambitions.
Its members see Rio as the springboard for consolidation of an expanding U.N. agenda for years ahead, driven by still more U.N.-sponsored global summits that would, as one participant put it, “ensure that the U.N. connected with the roots of the current level of global discontent.”
Among other things, the CEB heard Ban’s top organizer, a U.N. Under Secretary General from China named Sha Zukang, declare that the wish list for the Rio + 20 meeting, already being touted as a landmark environmental conclave on the issue of “global environmental governance,” included making it:
- “the catalyst” for solidifying a global economic, social and political agenda, built around “green economy” goals
- a means to “reorient public and private decision-making” to make the world’s poorest people the new economy’s “main beneficiaries,”
- a method of also reorienting national decision-making in countries around the world to put the new agenda “at the heart of national ministries,”
- the occasion to create new bodies, like a U.N. Sustainable Development Council, similar to the U.N. Human Rights Council, to help guide the global process further in the years ahead, or give additional responsibilities to the U.N. Environmental Program (UNEP), the world body’s chief environmental agency..
Other participants chimed in with additional ideas, including the notion from one key organizer that “the U.N. in Rio should be the voice of the planet and its people.”
At the same time, conference organizer Sha noted, “2012 was not the best year” for driving new environmental bargains, due to the global financial crisis walloping the world’s rich economies, a prevalent “atmosphere of general trust deficit” between the world’s rich and developing countries and that many countries (notably including the U.S.) were holding national elections that left their future policies up in the air.
Those realities had already stymied the latest attempt to forge a multi-trillion-dollar bargain to transfer wealth from rich nations to poor ones in the name of controlling “climate change,” at a meeting last December in Durban, South Africa.
As one of the participants, Achim Steiner, head of the UNEP, put it, according to the minutes: “In framing its role and mission, the U.N. not only had the preoccupations of the financial and economic crisis, but also had to grapple with the phenomenon of a geo-economically transformed world that was not yet geopolitically articulated.”
Translation: One of the U.N.’s challenges is that the world had not been globally reorganized in political terms -- yet -- to the same extent that it had been globally reorganized in economic terms.
But in general, the members of the CEB saw that as an opportunity for the world organization, which they clearly hoped to make central to that global re-articulation.
Citing a CEB high-level committee report entitled Moving towards a fairer, greener, and more sustainable globalization, a top CEB staffer, Elliot Harris, told the gathering that the issue was not to reverse globalization, “but rather to harness it to generate better outcomes.”
Among other things, the clearly left-leaning report underlined that “inequity” was the “single greatest challenge and threat” to the world, and that “any new approach needed to address the root causes of the imbalances,” which the report associated with the “liberalization of trade and finance.”
Among the “opportunities” that the current global crisis had provided, Harris said, was “a renewed recognition of the role of the State,” and “an appreciation of the value of collective and coordinated action at the global level.”
When it came to global issues, the U.N. chieftains were encouraged to think well beyond the environment and the international economy into a wide variety of social spheres, from human rights to health and education, where there was a “need for a global framework and national frameworks” for the development of new policies. The national policies “should be derived from the core values and norms that the U.N. system embodied, to ensure coherence between national level and global goals and aspirations”
For some of those present at the gathering, those values seemed to include a heavy reliance on populist methods to push the U.N.’s Rio message to a global audience, bypassing member governments along the way.
Rio conference coordinator Brice Lalonde (a onetime Green Party candidate for the French presidency), according to the minutes “stressed that Rio + 20 was not a routine conference but one of few opportunities to hold a real People’s Conference.” He informed Board members, intriguingly, that “the U.S. Government was working on the virtual conference angle,” the document reported.
(In fact, on Feb. 2-4, 2012, U.S. State Department, EPA and other officials took part in a conference at Stanford University, entitled Rio + 2.0, which examined, among other things, ways that the latest “connection technology”—from Facebook to mobile phones—could be used in furthering global sustainable development.)
Lalonde added that “a conceptual move was also needed toward much more redistribution and much more equity around the world,,i.e., One Planet,” the minutes said.
But whatever other values the CEB’s internal report, and its deliberations, were supposed to embody, transparency was apparently not one of them. According to the confidential minutes, UNEP head Steiner said that the high-level committee report, and the CEB’s feedback about it, are never supposed to become public.
Instead, they are apparently to circulate within the CEB and its high-level program committee, “and help the system rally around an agenda that guaranteed the future of the U.N.”