I have been holding off writing for a few days as the UK awaited two key outputs from the coalition government: The public sector spending announcements and the Devolution and Localism Bill. We’re all still waiting and every week that passes will make brokering future arrangements more tricky. However, I am prompted to write as the Cancun summit concludes because its decision is a classic example of where a ‘common good’ response is needed from governments, communities and individuals.
It is interesting that faced with such huge issues, pressures and trade-offs governments find it so hard to put aside national interests and develop common-good approaches. In other words, when the ‘common good’ is at the national level governments manage to find a way of brokering decisions within their own sphere of responsibility, even if we don’t always agree with the decision.
At the global level we need to look hard at the authorising environment. Whatever authorises any future action needs to have a legitimacy that is above personal or group interest and which acts in line with a common agreement about the greater common good. Whilst there will be some action taken that will fulfil that common interest, it is clear that there will be some hard decisions avoided because there is no compulsion to make them.
We can therefore see that, in the absence of a global governance framework, individual countries do indeed act like an international community in their work together. In effect a very large ‘Big Society’. This reflects the point I made in earlier posts where I commented that Big Society, conceived of as a coalition of the willing, would find it difficult either to self-regulate or to regulate others. So whereas at the national level we need Big Soc to act like society and not government, and Government to act as government and not to try and be society, at the international level we need governments to agree a rather more toothful governance framework and to submit to agreement under international law.
At the national level, on environmental matters, there needs to be a discussion about what we are seeking to achieve, if we are to play our part in addressing climate change and our responsibilities towards environmental justice. Here we are not just considering immediate justice in the present day. we are should be agreeing what constitutes intergenerational justice for those who will come after us. Local Agenda 21 was set up to address some of this and failed largely through bureaucracy and vagueness.
Achieving global improvement will require responses at all three levels, there will need to be legislation and government action based upon the need to broker the common good. There will need to be encouragement and brokering of ‘Big Society’ actions by communities willing to come together to act responsibly on everything from recycling to car sharing and community allotments.Contained within each of these there will need to be mass individual action and change, and the recognition that a good quality of life can be achieved at low levels of consumption and waste, based on low food and product miles. The challenge for all governments, at a time of considerable economic uncertainty, is that this potentially flies in the face of economic growth and international trade. Which is why the agreements needed at Cancun are so hard to secure. Over the next few weeks this will be worth remembering when local government matters threaten to eclipse geopolitics.