Over the past year, two ideas have increased their power in global governance in radically different ways: the ‘Responsibility to Protect’ and the ‘Green Economy.’ Are these two ideas part of a growing cosmopolitan ethics, are they hollow buzzwords which will rise and be replaced soon with other terms, or simply unrelated streams of ideas?
As opposed to all these articulations, I find that the Responsibility to Protect and the Green Economy are different international governance attempts to deal with a similar problem: Precariousness. The power in both ideas is that they can gradually push our conceptions of responsibility to one where each of us holds responsibility for those populations in precarious situations around the world.
Responsibility to Protect
Simply stated, the Responsibility to Protect is the idea that the protection of civilians against mass human rights abuses is to be guaranteed by the political institutions of the world. Ideally, this is through protections provided by their sovereign state; however, when these protections cannot or are not provided by that institution, the responsibility for protection moves to the international community.
The Responsibility to Protect (RtP or R2P) as a specific articulation in international law developed in the 2000s as a response both to the failures, inconsistencies, and need for redefinition of humanitarian intervention in the 1990s.
Most clearly articulated by the United Nations General Assembly in 2005, the Responsibility to Protect contends that:
138. Each individual State has the responsibility to protect its populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. This responsibility entails the prevention of such crimes, including their incitement, through appropriate and necessary means…
139. The international community, through the United Nations, also has the responsibility to use appropriate diplomatic, humanitarian and other peaceful means, in accordance with Chapters VI and VIII of the Charter, to help protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. In this context, we are prepared to take collective action, in a timely and decisive manner, through the Security Council, in accordance with the
Charter, including Chapter VII, on a case-by-case basis and in cooperation with relevant regional organizations as appropriate, should peaceful means be inadequate and national authorities manifestly fail to protect their populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity…
The provision is that states primary responsibility is to protect their civilians from mass murder and, if they fail to meet this responsibility, the international community will step in to secure the population.
This abstract principle saw its most dramatic articulation in the response to the Libyan civil war in 2011. Security Council Resolution 1973, passed on March 17, 2011 expressly stated that:
Reiterating the responsibility of the Libyan authorities to protect the Libyan population and reaffirming that parties to armed conflicts bear the primary responsibility to take all feasible steps to ensure the protection of civilians…
Authorizes Member States that have notified the Secretary-General, acting nationally or through regional organizations or arrangements, and acting in cooperation with the Secretary-General, to take all necessary measures…to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, including Benghazi, while excluding a foreign occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan territory
However, the concept reached both its furthest articulation in 2011 and its deepest crisis in the same year. Stewart Patrick reflecting about the deepening crisis in Syria without international action that: “The doctrine of the Responsibility to Protect is in major crisis. The mission in Libya did not pave the way for some of the changes that its advocates hoped for.” In regards to the worsening human rights situation in Syria, Navi Pilay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, has consistently pushed state leaders to remember their responsibility to protect Syrian civilians. Others implore civil society to prevent the doctrine from falling into disrepair.
Simply stated the idea of a green economy in international law is a system of economic trade and development which improves the environmental condition and aims toward equal distribution of environmental benefits. Leading up to the Rio+20 Summit, whose major issue will be creating the infrastructure for efforts towards a green economy, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) devised the following “working” definition for a Green Economy:
a green economy as one that results in improved human well-being and social equity, while significantly reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities. In its simplest expression, a green economy can be thought of as one which is low carbon, resource efficient and socially inclusive.
The idea of a green economy developed as one of the nine UN Joint Crisis Initiatives aiming to help the world not simply survive the 2009-ongoing global financial collapse but to improve key goals while coming out of the crisis. In its initial development then the articulation of the Green Economy aimed to show that “investing in green sectors has a better chance to bring about recovery and sustainable growth, increase competitiveness, save and create jobs, improve the quality and decency of jobs, and reduce poverty, while tackling acute environmental problems.”
One acute problem is that this initiative and the goals of the Rio+20 conference are unwieldy large and complex. Trade and the environment, sustainable development, UNEP reform, access to technology, carbon control, reducing risk, and the other topics could each form their own unique conference. The ‘green economy’ as a issue in international affairs then is a comprehensive and large project aiming toward changing the basics of economic and development priorities (although not changing the motivations in either field).
Precarity: A Shared Zone of Attention
One possible shared pathway for the Responsibility to Protect and the Green Economy lies in reducing the precarious situation of individuals around the world.
Global environmental problems (and solutions) are not equally distributed around the world. Whether these are climate refugees, people who are exposed to toxic wastes, the billions who live with constant food insecurity, the reality of the situation is that the global economy has created new forms of environmental precariousness.
Similarly, the reasoning behind the Responsibility to Protect is the precarious state of civilian populations around the world. Precarious situations for civilians in Libya, ethnic minority groups in some countries, and regime opponents in other countries are the primary focus of the responsibility to protect.
The question is then what is the responsibility of the world to precarious populations? The Responsibility to Protect is explicit on this question, the Green Economy is currently vague on this point. However, if we take the idea of reducing risk seriously in the green economy, then the answer may be very similar to that of the Responsibility to Protect: it is everyone’s responsibility.
This is the power in both The Responsibility to Protect and the Green Economy: They assert a different relation and responsibility to individuals around the world in precarious situation. Reducing environmental risks and reducing political shirking are part of the same political attempt: establishing shared responsibilities for global issues. The shared responsibility to ensure that people no matter where they live have the right to human rights and a clean environment. Whether these ideas last is up to all of us: civil society, state actors, experts, individuals, etc.
However, the potential opportunities presented by both concepts are quite profound and the offer of developing a shared responsibility may very well lead to improved conditions of the world we share.