Does it seem to you that world environmental politics is dominated by a series of high-level summits that never seem to accomplish anything? Do you feel like the impeding expiration of Kyoto and the inability to formally restart climate treaties holds back progress on other issues? Does it ever feel like that UN “mega-meetings” are largely becoming neither mega nor even meetings? Do you feel like the media and analysts present global summits as a damp squib where summits are nothing more than talking shops? Do you ever get the impression that multilateral solutions on a range of issues like nuclear security are achieving less and less?
If you have any of these symptoms, you may have global summit fatigue or GSF.
Global summit fatigue is a disorder that affects the inner workings of international negotiations and the media presentation of those negotiations. It is defined largely as a point where summits are considered simply additional meetings which produce few results and not considered potential solutions to the collective problems confronting humanity but maybe even a distraction. With the upcoming Rio+20 Sustainable Development Summit approaching, GSF has been mentioned many times as an impending problem. GSF can be potentially debilitating and can be one of the most serious self-fulfilling prophecies in international environmental politics. When delegations enter with the belief in impending fatigue, the disorder quickly sets in and can impact the entire range of discussions. In addition, summit fatigue can spread to other issues as people begin to lose general hope in collective solutions.
Traditional treatments have included ratcheting up high-profile attendees to participate in summits (Ahem…President Obama), developing politically focused declarations that claim to be groundbreaking, and the emergence of leadership from powerful countries. This treatments all offered hope, but never seemed to solve GSF in all cases.
But Now…extensive laboratory tests have revealed a new treatment for Global Summit Fatigue. Ignoring the Fatigue. GSF can be effectively treated largely by not raising the hope to impossible standards for the summits. Fatigue is only a problem when we expect them to produce the solution to our whole problem in three days of meetings. Summits are work opportunities, not make or break deals. While high profile attendees participating, nice declarations and accords, and leadership are great and we could use all of them, summit fatigue may be a problem caused by focusing on the summit at the pinnacle of international cooperation.
The ongoing United Nations negotiations leading up to the Rio+20 summit are crucial sites of argument and development of ideas. Any reform that comes out of Rio+20 summit are likely to be less about big decisions and more about setting the ground for the world to take more collective actions over the next decade. Fatigue about the summit is fine, but keeping an eye on the bigger picture might help us deal with it. Focusing political pressure and attention on the summit does not require getting fatigued about its less than ideal results.
Side effects of Ignoring the Fatigue may include dry mouth from all the talking that goes on, decreased appetite for big efforts that are an essential part of solving global environmental problems, and increased possibility of the entire summit process being ignored. Consult your favorite blogger before Ignoring the Fatigue.