Do we need an Earth Constitution?

Guest blog by Jon Cohn: Jon is the Managing Editor of the Great Transition Initiative. He is responsible for coordinating the on-going editorial, production, moderation, and dissemination process. 

The world is a failed state. The people of Earth share risks and a common destiny without a governance system able to mute dangers and pursue ambitions. As global crises mount, the need for a supranational basis for policy and action becomes ever clearer. The question of world government and how to get there—the focus of the Great Transition Initiative’s new GTI Forum, “An Earth Constitution: Has Its Time Come?—deserves a frank, thoughtful, and deep exploration.

 Scholars, activists, and dreamers long have espoused the idea of a constitutional world federation. As strands of global connectivity stretch and thicken, the vision of a more unified world exerts a strengthening pull. How else, one must ask, can we address the interlocking crises gestating in our interdependent social-ecological system? How else can we advance the democratic ideal and a resilient planet?

 Lacking full legitimacy and reflecting an outdated world order, the United Nations stands as an imperfect and incomplete facsimile of the global political arrangements we need. For much of its history, it has been primarily an arena for adjudicating Great Power politics. Before the UN was established, bolder alternatives were proposed, such as the World Federalist Movement’s call for a democratic world government to prevent war (and its root causes), manage collective affairs, and ensure a more just global order.

 The vision of a world federation faded from the spotlight but did not disappear. Today advocates for a world commonwealth pursue divergent strategies. Some, who believe political pragmatism demands that we build on what we already have, devote their energies to transforming the UN. Others argue that the UN is unreformable and instead advance designs for a new constitutional basis for world government. Still others prioritize bottom-up efforts to generate new political arrangements.

 The Forum’s three panels reflect these different strategies. The first, anchored by an essay by Glen T. Martin of the Earth Constitution Institute, advances the Earth Constitution, which is perhaps the most evolved proposal for a post-UN political order. These authors stress the urgency of acting amidst spiraling crises and make the need for binding world law. As the clock ticks, are gradualist strategies enough?

The second advocates alternative approaches. Some authors stake out a path for democratic world government through reform of the United Nations or the greater integration of democracies; others stress the need to focus on governance, bioregions, or the practical foundation of interstate cooperation. 

The third spotlights inclusive processes on the path to a democratic Earthland. The means matter just as much as the ends, these authors argue. Indeed, success for any new institution or governing structure depends on securing the widespread buy-in of people who see a place for themselves in it and are ready to fight for it.



  1. This article and the GTI Forum, at least at first glance, appear to be rather disappointing - in that they seem to ignore current political realities and organizing challenges. That said, the essay by Anneloes Smitsman within the second panel seems promising and worth considering or participating in.

    The problem with trying to enact or adopt an Earth Constitution though is that most of the UN Member States or governments staunchly oppose enacting even binding and enforceable agreements - much less any type of global rule of law. The draft Constitution looks to be quite exemplary - if it could ever be enacted; however I told Glen Martin and other advocates that the only way it would be likely to ever be enacted would be if they could convince a solid majority of the world's people that it was necessary - a large challenge indeed - but that they should concentrate on building such a movement if they wanted to succeed. Unfortunately they chose to go in other directions and no such movement has been shown to be arising to date.

    A similar situation exists with Paul Raskin's call for a World Citizens Movement. Paul had a number of opportunities to help create such a Movement many years ago, but failed to develop the core group of effective organizers, organizations, and organizational supporters and leaders that would be needed to carry something like this out. I know because I was trying to work with Paul and others on such efforts ten or fifteen years ago; but then gave up when it became apparent that as the self appointed leader Paul was not taking the effective steps needed to succeed in his efforts. And it doesn't appear from scanning thru his book that Paul is any closer to understanding and presenting what it would actually take to create such a World Citizens Movement nor to exploring how such a movement could actually help create the changes needed in the real world.

    However, I think that Anneloes Smitsman is on to something when she talks about creating a SEEDS Constitution and joining with like minded others to begin the make the changes needed in our own lives; and if this could be coupled with developing more support for the change-makers that are enacting the needed changes within existing institutions and sectors of society, then perhaps we will be able to make the required changes in time to stave off many of the urgent challenges that we are now facing. Fortunately, there are many within the existing institutions and many initiatives that are emerging that are taking us much closer to the changes that will ultimately have to be made.

    And it is thus somewhat disappointing that the GTI Forum does not seem to be exploring how we can do more to support such efforts as this. Of course we need an Earth Constitution; but even moreso we need to make the changes needed in the real world that will enable humanity to continue to prosper and thrive well into the future. And that is what we really need to focus on now.

  2. exploring a world Constitution is certainly thought provoking but having followed the development of the World Federalists, the Planetary Citizens, World CItizens and other developments over the past thirty years I concluded that the best opportunity is to reconstruct the United Nations. Why do I say this

    simply put the UN while it is an unweildy group of 32 agencies there is an entry point that can shift the whole organization. That is the position of the United Nations Resident Coordinator. The UNRC. This position does not exist in the donor countries. Imagine how that came about. there is no one in the donor countries coordinating the distribution of funds. Rather it is the World Bank that ditributes funding after applying its formula to contributions - that is 30% off the top for outside consultants and 30% again for inside consultants - amost inefficient method of distributing funds. If we had an individual in each ccountry taking responsibility for the co-ordination of UN Agencies in that country and connecting with the receiving countries we could save upwards to 50% off all funding constructs. We at the UN Office of the Future are building this infrastructure and will be using digital currencies, block chain technologies, and Beiyond Triple Bottom Line Accounting terminology and reporting systems to track performance.

    If you think we can build a world system without using the UN I would like to hear about it. I think we need to revamp the best that we have but use our collective intelligence to deliver the solution. To date the UN Itself does not demonstrate that capacity - nor does any one nation state.

    1. Rob - address what I have written and include in your thinking the TOPS Program, the ISO 26000, and UNDRIP, trusting you are familiar wit these cnstructs. If not, I might say why not - certainly we have know each other long enough. Emembering we walked across the Golden Gate Bridge togeher on the 50th Anniversary of the UN.

  3. OK well been working on this for a long long time, under-prioritised issue. Dont like the word constitution, and wish you joined our work on this, if i was to voice my positive criticism :)


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