In a time of COVID-19 pandemic, anthropogenic climate change-related extreme events, and declining biodiversity, IDDRI celebrated its 20 years of existence in October 2021, inviting leading international scholars and practitioners to a conference on “Planetary governance for a sustainable recovery: Next generation multilateralism” to take stock of the plurality of analyses and visions for the future of multilateralism and the role of sustainability as a critical cooperation issue in this regard, and to identify key questions to look out for. This issue brief is IDDRI’s interpretation of some of the controversies and key messages identified.

Key Messages

  • The planet is in ill health and current multilateral institutions are not up to the task to cure it. There are glimmers of hope, but progress depends largely on unilateral and bilateral actions and global solutions are lacking. Trust in multilateral institutions is at a low point and the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed long-standing asymmetries.
  • Reforming international economic governance is a central priority, but considering the necessary, urgent transformation to sustainability, it should also be pragmatic, not trying to rebuild new institutions. The debates triggered by the responses to the impacts of the COVID-19 crisis (Special Drawing Rights for instance) open avenue for such pragmatic progress, and could also open up the space for more profound reforms.
  • As illustrated by COP26, claims for more justice, rights-based approaches, and solidarity within multilateral institutions become louder and a non-response could be damaging. They should not only be looked through the lens of justice between governments but also within societies. They are becoming more credible strategies, as civil society for instance has gained competence in putting climate justice on the agenda via national courts, and plays an increasingly important role in ensuring compliance. Beyond the climate regime, concrete proposals have been made to operationalize a right-based approach for social protection. Academia also puts alternative approaches and concepts on the table such as moving from a narrow definition of security and national interest towards human or global security.
  • Expectations on the role of Europe in this multilateral crisis are high and ambiguous. The Green Deal has been cited as a leading example, but concerns–regarding the Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism more specifically–have been expressed as to its international implications. These tensions could be mitigated by a clear narrative about the use of the taxes collected that could benefit a global transition towards green and just economies.
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