Amid the war, political uncertainty, and unprecedented threats to democracy that abound in today’s world, our greatest challenge is still being overlooked. The latest International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) climate report spelled “code red” for human life and that of most other species if immediate and drastic climate action is not taken by the international community. The report outlines how climate change is, at a rapidly increasing rate, magnifying the impacts of unsustainable land use, resource extraction, pollution, and social inequities. The findings are bleak. In short, the report states that we have a “narrowing window of opportunity” to prevent catastrophic climate collapse.
Despite its ominous warnings, the IPCC report does outline how we can still reduce the impacts of climate change and adapt to those already with us. It states, for instance, that coastal communities need to make immediate preparations for storm surges and outlines the necessity for areas susceptible to drought to improve their water management systems.
The authors also reiterated previous warnings about maladaptation – changes made to combat climate change that actually make the problems worse – stating that: “Maladaptive responses to climate change can create lock-ins of vulnerability, exposure, and risks that are difficult and expensive to change and exacerbate existing inequalities.” They highlight a point that is often overlooked – that successful adaptation strategies are centered around community decision makers who understand local customs. The world’s population, not only its leaders, has a crucial role to play if we are to avert disaster.
Arab voices are a key contingent in the Global Assembly.
Arab voices are a key contingent in the Global Assembly. The Middle East and North African (MENA) region stands to be one of the areas most affected by results of climate breakdown such as crop failure and water scarcity. Citizens of the region are becoming more aware of the facts around climate change and, as a result, more politically engaged.
In this near untapped resource – the global population – there may yet be hope amid such dark forecasting. Around the world, indigenous people, working class people, and grass-roots organizations have been at the forefront of demanding real action on climate change, often presenting proposals far ahead of their elected or unelected political leaders. The Global Assembly is a shining example.
The Global Assembly is the first ever global citizens’ assembly, composed of individuals from all walks of life and from every corner of the globe. The aim of the Global Assembly is to create a new international governance structure to tackle the climate crisis. This structure will work in parallel with existing bodies while giving an essential platform to the often-overlooked voices of ordinary men and women from around the world (those the assembly terms “the unusual suspects”). To this end, they are committed to direct action and a bottom-up, democratic internal structure that gives a full voice to members as indispensable aspects of averting the impending climate disaster.
The first session of the Global Assembly took place in November 2021 to coincide with the COP26 summit in Glasgow. The 100 members – known as the Core Assembly – who directly took part in the session were chosen from a pool of 675 potential participants to be representative of the global population. According to Global Assembly literature, members of the Core Assembly hail from some 49 countries, range in age from 16 to 76, and collectively speak in 39 languages. Around 70 percent of the 2021 Core Assembly were living on $10 or less a day, 18 percent were from China, 50 percent were women, and around 13 percent were Caucasian. Of the 100 members, nine are illiterate and around a third describe themselves as not fully-literate. “The members ranged from a gold miner in Myanmar to a seamstress in Brazil, from a student in China to a forester in Thailand,” Jamie Kelsey, a member of the Global Assembly’s communications team, told Inside Arabia.
“How can humanity address the climate and ecological crisis in a fair and effective way?”
The stated goal of the Global Assembly is to address the question: “How can humanity address the climate and ecological crisis in a fair and effective way?” The response took the form of the People’s Declaration for the Sustainable Future of Planet Earth, a document named and deliberated upon by the Assembly’s members at multiple meetings.
The People’s Declaration demonstrates what opinion polls have often shown: that the world’s public is far ahead of its leaders on climate policy. The document declares the climate crisis to be a “crisis of governance: not an absence of solutions but a failure of political will to act on them.” The declaration’s proposals include the call for ecocide to be enshrined in binding legal international legislation, the demand for comprehensive programs of education on climate issues around the world, and detailed proposals for the just and equitable phasing out of fossil fuels.
Fatima Zamba, from Morocco, runs a team at the “School of Collective Intelligence,” which is a member organisation of the Global Assembly. She also works as a recruiter and facilitator of community work in Africa, France, and the Middle East. Zamba spoke to Inside Arabia about the Global Assembly’s work and what needs to be done in order to tackle the climate crisis.
“I like to think of the Global Assembly as being a complementary solution to the shortcomings of our current global governance system,” she told Inside Arabia. “One doesn’t have to be an expert to realize that the systems we’ve been operating internationally for nearly 100 years are not capable of addressing the global challenges we are facing collectively as a species right now, especially on issues of climate change.”
Ordinary people are those most impacted directly by the effects of the climate crisis.
For Zamba, direct democracy is an indispensable part of the effort to combat climate change. Ordinary people are those most impacted directly by the effects of the climate crisis. Therefore, the collective global population is in a superior position to world leaders to act with the urgency required to take the necessary radical action.
“Decision makers are often too constrained to respond to urgent long-term matters and make courageous decisions that are most needed,” said Zamba. “We, the people, on the other hand, are free from every constraint. We have no agenda to serve, nor personal interests to protect. Instead, we have loved ones to care for, a community to keep safe, and a planet to preserve. And we’re willing to do whatever it takes to bring about change.”
The lack of collective involvement is behind what the Global Assembly considers to be the failure of last autumn’s COP26 Climate Summit in Glasgow, according to Zamba. “Perhaps what is really necessary here is for the voice of the Global Assembly to be brought into the entire process in a way where leaders are forced to hear close-up the voices of the people they lead,” Zamba told Inside Arabia.
She went on to explain that the Global Assembly not only represents a wider range of views than those of world leaders, but as they answer only to their members – who are taken from the general population – organizations such as the Global Assembly are not subject to the same political influences as governments, which often find themselves under pressure from public opinion and powerful lobbyists.
“The Global Assembly is able to make decisions that have long term impacts.”
“The Global Assembly is able to make decisions that have long term impacts at the heart of what they decide and do not have to pander to the need for short term results that boost popularity,” Zamba continued. “What is missing in the structures for humanity making these critical decisions about our future is us – you and me – everyday people who are not hampered by the complexities and restraints of the existing structures. The Global Assembly is only just starting, but already it is showing that the people are way ahead of the politicians.”
Zamba regards direct democratic action not only as necessary to change the world, but also as the most natural and organic way of doing so. Indeed, she believes that it is our systems of representative government that represent a departure from true human autonomy. “I find it to be intriguing how such democratic practices have long existed throughout the history of our species, from ancient Greece to our modern world, and yet, they’re still regarded by some as alien to us,” she said. “There is nothing as natural as people coming together and coming up with decisions collectively.”
For the Arab world and human society at large, it now appears that our remaining hope for survival rests with ordinary people engaged in real democracy.