‘At the G20, Brazil could be more emphatic about the urgency of global governance reform’, says Maiara Folly

Executive director of Plataforma Cipó is one of the authors of a document that advocates greater citizen participation in the reinvention of organizations such as the UN

By Eduardo Graça – São Paulo
Originally published March 21, 2024 in O Globo (Portuguese)

Released exactly six months before the opening of the Summit of the Future, one of the central events of the UN General Assembly this year, a document prepared jointly by the UN Foundation, Blue Smoke, Iswe Foundation, Southern Voice and Plataforma Cipó, advocates greater participation of citizens around the world in global decisions as a central measure for the reinvention of planetary governance. Its model is the unprecedented meeting of individuals from across the planet held in 2021, at COP26, in Glasgow, Scotland, focused on the climate emergency. A second incarnation of this Global Citizens’ Assembly, which will now also address issues such as conflict prevention and the protection of human rights, begins to take shape for the September Summit in New York.

“We have seen how dysfunctional global governance has been in the wars in Ukraine and Gaza, in the vaccine apartheid during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the inadequate responses to the climate emergency and artificial intelligence. It is impossible to restore institutions’ effectiveness without restoring their legitimacy, which will only happen through direct interaction with citizens. There is no other way to do it,” said Maiara Folly in a telephone interview from London, where she lives. She is the executive director of Plataforma Cipó, a women-led research institute focusing on climate, governance, and international relations issues.

Folly, who holds a master’s degree in international development from Oxford University and is one of the document’s authors, acknowledges that democratizing the institutions created after World War II is an uphill battle. But Folly believes that the current historical moment, marked by the rise of right-wing nationalism, xenophobia, criticism of globalization and the strengthening of autocracies, is ideal for highlighting the need to listen to the voice of the planet’s inhabitants in the discussion about reinventing the bodies responsible for the not always rhythmic political music of the 20th century (notably, the UN, the World Bank and the IMF). “In fact, as president of the G20 this year, Brazil can be even more emphatic in its defense of the urgent reform of global institutions.”

Read the main parts of the conversation here:

How does the document advance citizen participation in global decision-making?
Having identified the failures of global governance, we argue that citizen participation must be at the core of efforts to reform and renew these institutions. A more direct and substantive involvement of individuals in global decision-making processes can help reduce polarization and even resolve political disputes within countries. It will also ensure that the ideas, opinions, and experiences of individuals are incorporated into global decision-making.

However, if this is already a complex task at the local level, how can it be implemented at the global level in the face of rising nationalism, protectionism, anti-globalization sentiments, and xenophobia?
The growth of the far right around the world is linked to the citizens’ loss of faith in the institutions that represent them, including at the global level. There is a perception that they are not represented by these institutions and that their demands are not even considered. Ultimately, they don’t believe that these institutions will improve their lives; they don’t even know why they exist. Therefore, there is no other way to do this. It is impossible to restore the effectiveness of global institutions without first restoring their legitimacy. Indeed, it is through direct interaction with citizens that this aspect, which is currently missing from the debate, will be restored.

How can we increase the power of citizens to act globally without the support of governments?
This is not an easy task. And we know that, ultimately, we are proposing that states potentially give up certain spaces of power. For example, the UN is essentially run by member states. However, given the scale of the current crisis, it is also the right time to raise this issue. In September, the UN Summit of the Future will take place, with the specific goal of thinking about a global governance pact that seeks to guarantee the well-being of people. This is the best time to rethink the space, the citizen’s voice in making decisions that affect the whole planet. And one way to do this is through local mobilization.

For example?
Create a permanent global citizens’ assembly. Today, there is a huge gap between the UN and the individual. There are already local debate movements in several countries, and we want to expand them. The first attempt was in 2021, with the Global Citizens’ Assembly at COP26. With the support of the UN, one hundred citizens representing the demographics of the planet debated solutions to the climate crisis. This model inspires us; however, we now want to cover the major global emergency issues, including human rights and security.

What was the impact of the Global Citizens’ Assembly?
The purpose was to show that it is possible to bring a large number of people together in this format and create a space for listening and generating ideas that reach global leaders. We believe that the next step is to have a permanent mechanism to monitor the extent to which something has been implemented in practice. It is time for accountability. Of course, this is more difficult to do with authoritarian regimes. However, it is also important to underline the enormous contradiction of democratic countries that do not commit themselves to defending a model that is celebrated internally in global organizations. The need for greater geographical representation in the decision-making bodies of the UN and the Bretton Woods system (IMF, World Bank) has been discussed for decades. This is a core issue.

One of the three priorities announced by Brasilia for the year in which it holds the presidency of the G20 is specifically the reform of global governance. What is the country’s capacity to increase the pace of these changes?
The Brazilian government’s defense of the re-evaluation of the quota system in the IMF and the World Bank is extremely important. In addition, of course, to the review of the councils, boards, and bodies that need to be more representative of the global reality, which is currently monopolized by the United States and Europe. Brazil has the support of most developing countries in its push for more transparent, balanced, and geographically diverse processes, and has done so. But it could be more forceful. It could be more prominent in the discussions, including in the call to action that Brazil intends to launch during the G20 ministerial meeting, to be held on the sidelines of the opening of the UN General Assembly in September this year.

One of Brazil’s foreign policy pillars is to secure a permanent seat on the Security Council. Is it possible to reform a body that really makes a difference in the UN?
Historically, Brazil has taken a very consistent position in this regard, driven by national interests, but that is very well founded. And there is now a consensus among member states, including some permanent members such as the US and the United Kingdom, that the Security Council needs to be reformed. There are, however, different levels of ambition in implementing such a reform. There is an initiative by Liechtenstein to limit veto power (in cases such as genocide), and it is supported by several countries. The central issue is the transfer of power by the major powers (the victors of the Second World War). We hope that it doesn’t reach an unsustainable level, with more suffering, for this change to be put into practice.

How would Donald Trump’s return to the White House affect multilateralism?
It would be catastrophic for the multilateral system. The first time around, the UN and the WTO were weakened, the dispute settlement system was paralyzed, and the US suspended its contributions to various agencies, which had both a financial and a moral impact. There were unprecedented attacks against multilateralism by the world’s greatest power. On the other hand, this has rekindled the defense of multilateralism by the international community and is still in the process of recovery, exemplified by the Summit of the Future itself. A Trump scenario would be much worse, especially regarding the urgency of addressing the climate crisis.

In what way?
All the scientific data shows that the window of opportunity to reduce emissions is closing and that international cooperation is critical. A president in Washington who denies that this is even a problem has a devastating effect on the planet. Part of the Global South argues “Why should I reduce emissions without the financial support of rich countries?”. Trump would also directly impact COP30, which will take place next year in Brazil. With him at the helm of the US government, it would be very difficult for countries to announce new commitments and deliver results.