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A True Green Foreign Policy: From Advocacy to Human Empowerment

By Alfredo Sfeir-Younis

Today, we witness an anachronistic pattern of foreign policy: incoherent, homocentric, far removed from the reality of people, and dominated by economic and political interests (the neoliberal system). The EU needs to become a driver of change. The ultimate goal should be a Global Government with direct global citizens’ participation, with a form of governance that is truly democratic, cooperative, and transparent.

Global citizens demand and experience a completely new form of life without the political frontiers of the past: they live in a planet with no borders. There are no borders for the problems of climate change, ozone layer depletion, destruction of biodiversity, pollution of our oceans, conservation of our global public goods (including culture, arts, music, stability, and security), transmission of diseases, effects of an external economic crisis, pressure of migration, global security, peace or conflicts.

Transport and communications have significantly contributed to humanity’s inter-dependent form of existence. We have become a human collective. However, this must be understood as being within a life collective, which includes all forms of life on the planet. This is what must redefine the core of a country and of a global foreign policy-making.  We have to consider the welfare of all living beings.  The key tasks of foreign policy today are to include all forms of life and to make “global welfare” greater than the “sum of its parts”.

The above raises important demands at the institutional level – on both bilateral and multilateral activities and organisations. This implies a foreign policy that evolves and responds to the realities we will face in the 21st Century.

Today, we witness an anachronistic pattern of foreign policy: it is incoherent, homocentric, far removed from the reality of people, and dominated by economic and political interests (the neoliberal system), a cold war mentality, governments’ egocentric global views (including military concerns), and a notion that we need to be governed by a ‘super power’, and not by people’s individual and collective interests.

We must revise drastically the content of this foreign policy. For the moment it is biased and not aligned with the interest of the collective, nor does it represent the regular citizens of the world. This is a huge democratic deficit and demands a structural change in the international organisational architecture, diminishing the excessive power we are subject to from international organisations. This situation is happening as we see the strengthening of private corporate power at the global level (a move away from a citizens-based foreign policy and an accelerator of inequalities), the ever weakening power of the state, and the blooming of citizens’ global activism. Certainly, environmental and human rights issues have been part and parcel of this activism.

We see that the greatest challenge today is to live as a human collective, as “one world” on this smaller and smaller planet.

The true meaning of foreign policy

In this context, people are asking about the true meaning and purpose of a ‘Green Foreign Policy’ (GFP).  What is it?  Which are the real differences between traditional and green foreign policy? What are the thematic and strategic issues that should become central to GFP, that are not yet included in existing frameworks? These are very important questions to ask, even if we do not know the full answer to them. I have asked them a hundred times, with no satisfactory answers coming back to me.

While the answers are not easy to portray, it is fundamental that GFP embraces the abovementioned dimensions and goes far beyond issues of the environment and ecology. It is understandable that the beginning of a GFP be defined and oriented by ecological issues and concerns. But today, we must also acknowledge many other issues, like human development and health (ecological depletion and diseases), ethnic inclusion and self-determination (the rights of indigenous peoples and our natural capital), social integration and development (clean environment and family cohesion), macro-policies for sustainability (environmental macroeconomics), anthropological and cultural issues (understanding motivation, behaviour and welfare), inter-generational concerns (the rights of our children), spatial externalities (trans-boundary pollution), public-good-based conservation and management (our common heritage), energy conservation and management (new and renewable energy sources), and many others. These are all dimensions of the new GFP.

The new state of play

We are living in a world where the major constraints are ecological, notwithstanding the importance of the social dimensions of human transformation. We are witnessing the important role that civil society plays in world affairs, in contrast to the traditional role played by governments. We know that material welfare alone is not enough to attain higher levels of human advancement. Non-material welfare has become equally important.

We are fully aware that technology is not the answer to all our questions. Neither is it the solution to all our problems. The key to change is the level of our human consciousness. We see that the greatest challenge today is to live as a human collective, as “one world” on this smaller and smaller planet. However, the incentives to do so are not there, and existing foreign policy insists on defending individual national positions (as on climate change). The world’s citizens perceive that a sustainable society is not just another option: it is our only destiny.

A GFP is not just about governments, it is also about citizens. This brings to the table the limits we observe in material, socioeconomic, and human development: ecological constraints and the level of our collective consciousness. These are accompanied by population growth and density, migration, city expansion, pollution of all sorts, destruction of biodiversity, etc., creating an ever more complex global scenario.

Green values are collective values: justice, cooperation, solidarity, love, compassion, inter-connectedness, inclusion, interdependence, peace, security, and more.

Democratic deficit and international institutions

Today, we need a Global Government, more than ever, with a global form of governance. Today none of the international organisations are truly “global” in scope. Not even the United Nations System, where national interest still is the main driving force. This applies to the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the World Trade Organisation. They were all founded nearly a century ago under rules of engagement that no longer apply.

We must construct the Global Government with direct global citizens’ participation, with a form of governance that is truly democratic, cooperative, and transparent. We must carry out a democratic election of the UN Secretary General, where billions of global citizens participate in the nomination. We have to create a Global Organisation for peace and environment, as the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) does not have the stature to govern our global public goods and services. We need to drastically change the goals, structure and activities of the World Bank and the IMF, which must be managed by the Global Government and not be, as they currently are, a system of self-government or institutions that follow their own interests.

It is crucial that the Greens not only advocate for ecology and environment, but that they present to world citizens another socioeconomic model for human transformation. Thus, we must change the impressions of what constitutes the boundaries of Greens. In order to achieve this, we have to make clear to the people what it means to be Green. The meaning of the word Greens needs to be extended. It has to embrace all aspects of life, including macroeconomic, institutional, cultural, ethnic, and spiritual issues. People need to see that sustainable development is not just another option or just another topic, but the only destiny of humanity. This understanding is not yet widespread in most countries. People are still bonded to the neoliberal views and practices. People still think that Green proposals are not real, that they will not promote growth and employment, and that a paradigm shift of that nature will demand too many structural changes they are unwilling to go through. A GFP has to prove them wrong.

A new superpower?

The notion of a superpower has dominated the foreign policy framework of developed and developing countries. Today, it looks like a new superpower is rising, and we have to know what type of superpower it will be in relation to a GFP. Superpowers create political dependency, alliances or their opposite, a social and political grammar that dominates world views and institutions, and unique patterns of economic growth and human development. Today’s crisis is the mirror image of the existing superpower(s). This is the context within which the EU role must be defined.

The EU is fundamental, particularly in the transition to a new GFP, a new superpower and the formation of a Global Government. We know that, if taken together (votes/resources supplied by the EU) it has a significant power in most international organisations. Several EU countries are listened to; thus, they are essential to forming new coalitions for change at the global level.

Nevertheless, we see an EU moving inwards rather than outwards. The Greens may play a critical role in fostering the formation of a new Global Government with EU support, not as an advocacy but as a unique view of life on this planet. The Greens may enrich and nurture new values, aims and horizons for Europe and the whole globe. A GFP may become its immediate instrument.

Private sector responsibilities

The private sector is as responsible for the state of global affairs as governments are. For centuries it has been the major cause of environmental destruction. Thus, today, it must become an organic part of the processes described above.

For once, it is essential that the private sector makes a contribution to the collective welfare of humanity, and not just to itself. Job creation is insignificant in relationship to other components of collective welfare. We need a new industrial revolution that passes from the steam engines to human consciousness. It is not possible to have a foreign policy that chases free trade agreements only. We ought to create the necessary spaces for production and consumption systems that do not destroy human lives or any other form of life in the planet.

Green empowerment: ‘We, the people’ not ‘We, the governments’

The fight for global change must transition from advocacy to human empowerment. This is a fundamental change, which is far from trivial in its implementation. This model is not just an economic model of a sustainable development society. Sustainability must be accompanied with an empowered citizenship. These two dimensions are one. Today’s economic system focuses only on expanding material opportunities and not on creating a space for empowerment, active participation, human security, and democratic citizenship. The engagement of civil society in GFP is fundamental. GFP must not be top-down; and the EU has a unique opportunity to lead this shift in paradigm.

We must construct the Global Government with direct global citizens’ participation, with a form of governance that is truly democratic, cooperative, and transparent.

Greens should play an important role in the process of empowerment. A true GFP is the framework needed to pass from advocacy to human empowerment. But in order to achieve this, Greens should not only advocate values (green values), they need to actively empower the people. “Values” are not words, they are “states of being” that must be self-realised. Human empowerment is born out of the self-realisation of those collective values. One important green value is “interdependence”. It is essential in order to understand the true meaning of sustainability. Also, sustainability is not just a word. It is an experience, a human right, and a state of consciousness. If the value of interdependence is not self-realised, there is little we can do to save the planet.

Green values are collective values: justice, cooperation, solidarity, love, compassion, inter-connectedness, inclusion, interdependence, peace, security, and more. All these values are to be self-realised, which implies thinking of new forms of education, civil engagement, and spirituality. People will truly understand the meaning of ecological justice when it becomes something real in their consciousness! This is a justice that involves all living beings.

We are to decide

This is a time of deep and structural change; not of marginal change. GFP is not another suit of different economic interest. Thus, a sustainable society is not a well-behaved and nice child of the neoliberal system. It is something completely different. Will the EU lead the shift in paradigm, or will it be caught on more of the same? A Global Government is not just about economics. A Global Government is not about governments but citizens. This is not a marginal adjustment. Only a new collective consciousness will create a new GFP.

A True Green Foreign Policy: From Advocacy to Human Empowerment