Our Duty of Care

A new social contract using United Nations Human Rights covenants and the UN Responsibility to Protect, to implement and ensure inclusive climate resilience and a sustainable future for humankind

Photo: Deutsche Welle

A note from Satya Brata Das and Colleagues at The Digital Economist Center of Excellence on Human-centered Global Economy

The Digital Economist works with the priorities for addressing the planetary climate crisis set by the Conference of Parties (COP) serving as the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the Glasgow Climate Pact reached at COP26, and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (Agenda 2030).

Our first policy brief in our series Meeting the Climate Challenge, a call for a global carbon levy on fossil fuel extraction, addresses the key question evoked in the Glasgow talks, which is at the heart of the climate question — financing.

In the second policy brief in this series, The Digital Economist sought consensus that transcends the differences that became evident in Glasgow, to seek common purpose and common ground using our 6-D vision.

In this third policy brief, Our Duty of Care, we propose establishing a new international agency– the United Nations Climate Resilience Agency (UNCRA) to implement all international agreements approved by the Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

To realize the new climate agency, we invoke both the spirit and the letter of international covenants on human rights, human security and the responsibility to protect (which are the customary laws of signatory nation-states) to provide a robust legal and philosophical framework to converge climate resilience to include the most vulnerable.

Indeed, the corrosive effects of planetary reliance on fossil fuels are brought into even sharper relief by the conflict in Ukraine, where Russia’s role as producer and supplier of energy in Europe tests these international covenants. In addition to protecting civilians in conflict, we propose a social contract addressing inequity and sustainable human development, to successfully build enduring climate resilience.

For collaboration opportunities with The Digital Economist Center of Excellence on Human-Centered Global Economy, please contact Senior Fellow Satya Brata Das on satya@thedigitaleconomist.com

Meeting the Climate Challenge: Our Duty of Care

As a devastating military incursion pounded Ukrainian cities in February and March 2022, the world came to rediscover a United Nations doctrine born of the conflicts of the 20th century: the Responsibility to Protect (R2P).

The doctrine of R2P promised a new way of dealing with conflict when the world was tormented by the 1991–2001 European wars sparked by the breakup of the former Yugoslavia, and the April to July 1994 genocide in Rwanda, when marauding militants massacred the Tutsi minority, and attacked the Hutu and Twa populations opposed to them.

Each of these calamities cruelly exploited the limits of United Nations peacekeeping. In Rwanda, vastly outnumbered United Nations peacekeepers with a limited mandate stood by helplessly in the face of the carnage.

And in the former Yugoslavia, UN peacekeepers themselves were captured and taken hostage. Mandated by a coalition of middle powers called the Human Security Network, the underlying spirit of R2P was to protect vulnerable populations, rather than nation-state boundaries.

Adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2005, the R2P foresaw the international community intervening to protect civilian populations trapped by conflict, particularly in areas where there was no effective governance. And more controversially, where the government itself was the predator on the weak and vulnerable.

Human dignity was central to this effort. The evolving definition of human security presented by the United Nations Development Program meant safety from chronic threats such as hunger, disease and repression. Above all, it meant protection from sudden and hurtful disruptions in the patterns of daily life.

Its principles and rationale remain compelling till this day. The generous, if so far rather uncoordinated, welcome afforded to Ukrainian refugees within the European Union in the wake of the Russian invasion is shaped by the principles of R2P.

Driven by the same spirit and aspirations, The Digital Economist revisited the doctrine of R2P in the context of the climate crisis.

We believe the responsibility to protect the most vulnerable must go beyond the plight of civilians in armed conflict, to protect global populations facing the existential crises of the planet: climate change, nature and biodiversity loss, pollution and waste (we call it the “triple crisis”).

Our greatest and most urgent responsibility is to protect our common home from the worst ravages of human-driven climate change, the linchpin of the triple crisis.

The Digital Economist believes the principles of Responsibility to Protect must be fully and comprehensively summoned to cope with the triple crisis, including a means of effectively uniting, implementing and executing the global response.

So far, international efforts have failed to protect the planet from the consequences of significant atmospheric warming.

The international consensus began in 1992 with the establishment of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), an international environmental treaty to combat “dangerous human interference with the climate system,” signed by 154 states at the United Nations Conference on Environment in Rio de Janeiro in 1992.

This was followed by the Kyoto protocol in 1995, committing state parties to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. These noble initiatives have yet to achieve coordinated and collaborative climate resilience for all who share our common home.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) assessment report released at the end of February 2022 laments a fragmented and incremental response to climate change. The dismaying future it evokes makes it all the more imperative to implement an inclusive climate resilience master plan in the face of planetary peril.

The Digital Economist proposes two avenues to mitigate the impact of the previous failed attempts:

First, we believe the international community must be encouraged to find common ground and unity of purpose in applying R2P principles to coping with the climate crisis.

Essentially, we propose that all the agencies, programs, legal frameworks and conventions of the UN relating to conflict resolution, peacekeeping, peacebuilding and inclusive societal development, must be adapted to address the climate emergency.

In effect, this would be a new social contract, ensuring that all populations and all societies, particularly the most vulnerable and the most marginalized, draw equitable resources, protection and benefit from the global pursuit of climate resilience.

Second, to execute this social contract, we call for the creation of a new international body, the United Nations Climate Resilience Agency (UNCRA).

The underlying rationale behind a new climate agency lies in the insufficiency of conventional views of human security, focusing primarily on nation-states and the conflicts within and among them, while failing to mitigate and eliminate the existential threat to our biosphere and our imperilled common home.

This is amplified by the official report of COP26 released on March 10, 2022: the Glasgow Climate Pact is indeed an advance, but how are its goals to be implemented and enforced as effectively as possible?

This is the role The Digital Economist foresees for UNCRA, as the action arm to take the outcomes of COP meetings and the newly-formed climate change global innovation hub of the UNFCCC, and ensure their robust and well-funded application.

The new social contract we propose, to be realized by UNCRA, already has strong foundations.

We are heartened by the steady progress achieved by the Conference of Parties (COP) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

We welcome with great interest and enthusiasm the creation of the The UN Climate Change Global Innovation Hub (UGIH), which promises human-centered coordination in mitigating climate change.

Yet we believe in a formal global capacity to coordinate our collective efforts in climate resilience, to fully enact the principles and philosophy of R2P.

Building on the foundations already established, UNCRA’s mission and mandate should include everyone: including the investors and capital pools already committed to funding climate resilience, who already are leading the energy transition, decarbonisation, as well as technologies and installations to pursue net-zero economies.

Indeed, robust public-private partnerships will be needed to overcome the limits of international consensus that evoke disappointment at each COP summit, and the constraints faced by private capital, which requires a predictable path charted by rule of law to govern investment.

We believe a new social contract should bring together the funding streams, expertise and collective will of all nations and all societies — mutually dedicated to enacting and emplacing effective solutions and best practices in adaptation, mitigation and inclusive climate resilience. We believe this can be achieved through the empowerment of UNCRA.

The new UNCRA is intended to create an enabling environment and operating framework to foster local innovation and investment. Ultimately, it will enable the shifts needed for effective action: behaviour change among global citizens, community-driven adoption of new technologies and investment models, cross-sector investment into sustainable business practices. All of these elements are needed to fulfill our duty of care.

Essentially, the UNFCCC, with its drive to enact effective climate policy, would now gain an empowered and focused implementation capacity through the creation of UNCRA. It would be the enforcement arm of our global collective will.

Key Recommendations

Apply the principles of R2P to a coordinated international effort to cope with the climate crisis, based on the cumulative decisions reached in international agreements and conventions on climate change.

Apply the United Nations Charter, particularly its provisions on collective security and economic and societal development, to the climate crisis. Take the transnational view embodied in the 2005 adoption of the R2P and the 2005 creation of the United Nations Peacebuilding Commission and apply them to the climate crisis.

Ensure robust funding of the Paris Agreement to establish inclusive climate resilience, using the Global Carbon Levy proposed by The Digital Economist, and applying The Digital Economist’s 6-D vision to identify priorities and sustainable approaches to inclusive climate resilience.

Establish a United Nations Climate Resilience Agency (UNCRA) to coordinate the enactment, delivery, execution and establishment of all cumulative agreements approved by the Conference of Parties (COP) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

Populate UNCRA with expertise, procedures, governance and enabling structures within the UN ecosystem. These include, but are not limited to, the UN Environmental Programme, UNFCCC, UN Peacebuilding Commission, UN Peacekeeping Operations, UNESCO, World Health Organization and UNICEF.



Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Satya Brata Das

Satya Brata Das

Grandfather blessed with open heart and open mind. Champion of dignity and inclusion. Journalist, strategy guru, author. Polyglot, global citizen, optimist.