Thursday, 14 June 2018

COSMOPOLIS - Mobilising Citizens Globally to Save Humanity from the Brink of Self-Destruction

By: Helene Wolf & Burkhard Gnärig

Around the world, citizens are increasingly organising themselves to develop new ideas and solutions to the most pressing global challenges. As the traditional institutions of global governance show to be too ineffective and slow to produce appropriate answers to climate change, poverty, weapons of mass destruction or rising inequality, social movements of engaged citizens are emerging, both in the virtual space and offline, at local, national and global levels.

The idea presented in this proposal explores a process how to unleash the potential of citizens globally to discuss, decide and act on the key concerns that cannot be addressed solely in the national context.

Cosmopolis describes a people-powered and people–driven model of decision-making and implementation that connects local contexts with global action. Based on a set of strategic objectives and ethical principles, citizens will come together in small locally based groups that are globally connected through a participatory decision-making process to devise collective global actions. Making use of already existing technology, Cosmopolis will build on and further develop successful models of citizen’s participation to create the framework for global cooperation in parallel to the currently existing global governance structures with the aim to influence them and – over time – replace them securing a truly global approach of problem-solving. Rather than proposing new but again static governance institutions, this model introduces flexible, adaptive, and quick procedures that can respond to the fast-changing challenges and opportunities of today’s and tomorrow’s world.

Without a power shift no transformation of governance
Governance describes the structures and processes in which formal power is administered. Effective governance change is not possible without the change of underlying power relations. At present, countries and interest groups use their power to keep an outdated governance system alive at the cost of other countries, less privileged groups, and future generations. Any governance change that does not address the distribution of power will fail to provide answers to the immense global challenges we face as humanity.

Transformational change comes from the people
Whether Margaret Mead’s quote above is authentic or not, history shows that political transformation always comes from the people. This is no surprise as the elites are both a product and the beneficiaries of the status quo and thus tend to preserve rather than overthrow existing power relations. We need to mobilise and systematically empower citizens globally in order to transform global governance.

Participatory process rather than perfect model
The solution to today’s global governance crisis is NOT the perfect new model of reformed institutions but the widest possible process of people’s participation. We believe that a global participatory process that will lead to a much more effective global governance is the most important aspect of the transformative change we have to conduct. This process will eventually deliver a new more legitimate and more effective global governance.

All people world-wide are global citizens. Together they shape humanity’s future on our planet. On issues of fundamental importance for humanity’s survival global require-ments overrule national and local ones.

Establish a new citizen-based global governance system that initially exists in parallel with the old dysfunctional one and increasingly provides effective global leadership.

Manmade global challenges threaten the survival of humanity
For the first time in history, humanity faces a number of manmade global challenges that threaten the very survival of our own and many other species on Earth:
  • Industrialisation is causing global warming, threatening to disrupt the stable climate that has been the basis of humanity’s emergence.
  • Our over-exploitation of land, fresh water, and the seas is causing a mass extinction of species rarely, if ever, observed before at a comparable speed and depth.
  • The increasing global competition for fast shrinking resources will strengthen a “my family/community/country first” mentality: this will specifically hurt the most vulnerable, poor and marginalised people and increase the risk of violent conflicts.
  • The development and continued spread of weapons of mass destruction makes it ever more likely that humanity – by accident or mean intent – slides into a devastating world war at the end of which the basis for human survival will largely be destroyed.

We need to transform the ways in which we live on and use our planet
Only firm and bold transformative action will preserve our planet’s hospitable environment for future generations:
  • We have to transform the global economic system that is based on the (over-) exploitation of resources while externalising the costs for the damage done, into one of sustainable use of resources where those who cause environmental damage carry the costs.
  • We have to transform the global political order that allows powerful nations to prosper at the costs of less powerful ones, into one that secures a fair distribution of precious resources globally.
  • We have to transform the global security system that depends on an arms race, which produces more and more lethal weapons into a system furthering the peaceful coexistence of all peoples.
In short: we have to transform major parts of human civilisation in order to preserve a civilised future for all of us.

Today’s global governance is unable to conduct this transformation
These, and a number of other global challenges can only be resolved by consistent and well-coordinated global action. The global governance of today, in which close to 200 sovereign nations generally agree on common policies at the lowest common denominator with hardly any enforcement mechanism, is not suitable to bring about such action.

On the contrary, in a global community of nations confronted with the need to undertake painful and costly adaptations in order to secure the survival of our own species, in the short term, those nations fare best that continue to overexploit the planet and manage to shift the costs of that overexploitation to others. The first implementers of sustainable policies do not only carry the costs and the risks of failure of untested policies, they also create the space for others to continue or even increase harmful action without shifting the tipping points. In short: our global governance at present punishes those who shift to policies of sustainability and rewards those who continue to overexploit and destroy our planet.

We need to mobilise citizens globally to drive transformation
The inability of the current global governance system to bring about bold decisions and concrete action has undermined the trust and support of citizens for our global institutions. Only an in-depth transformation of our global governance can restore trust and secure effective global decision making. Committed citizens are the only ones who can bring about this transformation.

While today’s challenges are of a magnitude never experienced before, they are not totally dissimilar to some global challenges of the past. The abolition of slavery also disadvantaged the first movers who had to pay more for labour than those who continued exploiting slaves. However, as citizens in the UK and other countries managed to shift public opinion, slavery became unacceptable – and carried higher costs.

There are many other examples of how groups of committed citizens, rather than the governments in power, brought about societal progress through their dedication and courage in pushing for change: the fight of the European colonies in Africa, America, and Asia for their independence, women’s struggle for suffrage, the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the ban on landmines are some of the most notable examples.  We need to build on these experiences in driving global citizen mobilisation into a new dimension to match the magnitude and dynamics of the challenges we face.

A large and fast growing number of people around the world are becoming aware of the threatening global challenges we face. They understand that in their own interest and, even more so, in the interest of their children, grandchildren and many future generations we need to embark on urgent and bold action in order to secure humanity’s future on our planet.

Many of these people come together in popular movements to demand changes in their societies or join civil society organisations to address issues such as climate change or poverty. Others complain that they are willing to act but cannot find an appropriate global basis for delivering their contributions. A new global governance system has to provide mechanisms for them to influence and be part of the implementation of decisive action towards more sustainable and equitable societies. 

We need to create a global framework for all people who are ready to act
We need to build a global citizens’ movement for all people aiming to preserve our planet for future generations. We need to bring as many as possible of these people together in order to
  • unleash people’s power towards the preservation of an inhabitable planet;
  • establish new forms of political intervention that are more effective towards global challenges;
  • provide the change makers with a platform, tools and encouragement to help them drive the transformation;
  • provide evidence for the sceptics that transformation is possible and bring more and more people on board;
  • develop the political climate for national governments and international institutions to take bold and courageous steps to secure humanity’s future.
The framework will serve as a global governance system shaped and run by global citizens. In the beginning, it will run in parallel to existing global governance structures as defined by the community of national governments. The framework will aim to influence decisions and, where possible, take and implement decisions at local, national and global levels. Eventually the global citizens’ governance will replace or partly replace the existing multi-national one.

We want to work with all those people who
  • are concerned that humanity may destruct the basis of their own survival on this planet;
  • understand that we need more urgent, bold and consistent action at local, national and global levels in order to prevent this self-destruction;
  • are willing to engage on the basis of a global strategy and to contribute to achieving global objectives.
We want to reach these people through
  • international civil society organisations (such as: ActionAid, Amnesty International, Greenpeace, Oxfam, Save the Children, etc.);
  • digital civil society organisations (such as:, Avaaz,, etc.);
  •   local, national and global movements;
  •   leading activists and celebrities.
We propose four strategic objectives to start the transformation
We want to achieve by 2050:
  1. Limit global warming to max +1.5ºC;
  2. Abolish all weapons of mass destruction;
  3. Guarantee a minimum standard of living to all people
  4. Secure the sustainable use of critical resources – starting with the oceans.
We propose four ethical principles to support our work
  1. All people living today as well as future generations have the right to leading decent, peaceful and dignified lives on a sustainable planet.
  2. All people should enjoy their human rights as laid down in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international conventions and agreements.
  3. All people have the right and the duty to participate in shaping their own local and national and our collective global communities.
  4. The transformation of our global community will only be possible based on collective insights and non-violent interventions.

We propose the forming of a global network of Citizens’ Councils that are
  • committed to the objectives and principles stated above;
  • free to choose whether they want to work on all four strategic objectives or on a smaller number;
  • self-selected – e.g. in the work place, neighbourhood, social, political or religious community, family, etc.;
  • consisting of max. 12 people working on a voluntary basis (as soon as this maximum number is reached a new Council will be set up);
  • connected digitally at local, national and global levels;
  • supported by a lean professional structure funded by voluntary contributions.

We propose the following agenda for the Citizens’ Councils
  • each member commits to leading their personal lives in a way that promotes the four STRATEGIC OBJECTIVES and respects the four ETHICAL PRINCIPLES;
  • the Council to approach political, social and economic decision makers lobbying for one or several of the STRATEGIC OBJECTIVES;
  • the Council and its members to liaise with other COSMOPOLIS Councils/members to share information on successful activities and strategies and join forces for larger advocacy initiatives (e.g. taking positions in communal or national elections);
  • the Council and its members to promote the idea of COSMOPOLIS and bring new members on board/ form new Councils.
We propose to run COSMOPOLIS as an open platform
  • made up primarily of Citizens’ Councils but also open to established institutions that explicitly subscribe to all four STRATEGIC OBJECTIVES and all four ETHICAL PRINCIPLES (e.g. civil society organisations, labour unions, city councils, companies, etc.);
  • with regular digital – and where possible personal – meetings that review the progress of COSMOPOLIS and chart the way ahead;
  • with global days of action that promote the STRATEGIC OBJECTIVES and grow the membership;
  • with major global campaigns that drive progress towards the STRATEGIC OBJECTIVES;
  • with a small group of (initially: the founders / later: elected) global and regional guardians who make sure that the platform is only used for the four STRATEGIC OBJECTIVES and in line with the four ETHICAL PRINCIPLES.