Stakeholder Democracy: Represented Democracy in a Time of Fear  Available Now.


Sustainable Development and Governing the Global Commons

By Felix Dodds for the Global Democracy 2005 Conference

Executive Director, Stakeholder Forum for a Sustainable Future

Paper developed for the Global Democracy 2005 Conference and published as part of the WHAT Governance Programme of Stakeholder Forum

"Governance is the framework of social and economic systems and legal and political structures through which humanity manages itself"

World Humanity Action Trust (WHAT), 2000



In my presentation I want to give an overview of the world as I see it and to then address the three areas we have been asked to address.

It is striking just how much our map of the world has changed in the fifteen years since the end of the Cold War. In 1990, the United Nations (UN) had as members 159 states; now, in 2005, it has 191, roughly a 20 per cent increase. So many new nations have come into existence and even the older ones have undergone significant changes. Indeed, according to the Hoover Digest, in 1890 there was no country that would qualify as a democracy by today’s standards. As of January 2000, there were 120 democracies – the largest number in history (Diamond, 2000).

During the same period, two seemingly competing agendas have come into tension with one another – that of enriching society through sustainable human development and that of the security agenda – in exposing the very different nature of the threats and challenges the world now faces as compared to those prevalent at the time the UN was founded. Among these is the need for states to come to grips with the emergence and continuing dominance of the United States as the sole super power. The US accounts for something like 40 per cent of the world’s total military spending and currently displays a distressing ambivalence toward multilateralism in its international relations. But this is by no means the only or over-riding challenge, as the report of the Panel of Eminent Persons on UN-Civil Society Relations (hereafter the Cardoso Report) makes clear:

Nations are no longer as unified by the imperatives of preventing future world wars, rebuilding devastated states and making colonies independent. Now the challenges range from terrorism to unilateralism and war, from pandemics and climate change to economic crisis and debt, from ethnic or sectarian tensions to international crime, from the universality of rights to respect for diverse cultures

(UN, 2004a).






(Dodds 2004)

The first wave John argues is the Limits to growth wave: This is highlighted by Silent Spring (Carson 1962) or the outcomes from the Club of Rome (Limits to Growth Report) and peaked around the 1972 Stockholm Human Environment Conference in 1972 shortly followed by a recession triggered by the 1973 Oil Crisis.

John calls the second wave ‘the Green wave’. I think of it more as the regulation wave. The Montreal Protocol highlights this and the cluster of regulation developed around Rio. This peaked around the 1972 Earth Summit. Again, this wave has been followed by a recession in part triggered by the fall of Eastern Europe and the impacts of the first Gulf War.

John calls the third wave ‘the Globalisation and Governance wave’. Demonstrations in Seattle and the rise in bad [do you mean unaccountable, unsustainable] corporate activity, have led to the development of the World Social Forum. This movement peaked around the Johannesburg summit in 2002 and was followed by a recession triggered by the incoming Bush administration policies.

Before moving on to the fourth wave, I would like to underline that the principal focus of each wave isn't lost as the next wave comes along. The focus is actioned and internalised.

I haven't made a comment on the Governance side of the third wave and I would like to do that. As many of you know I have been a key advocate of the stakeholder approach. Rio gave us for the first time a UN document that recognised in the nine chapters roles and responsibilities for stakeholder groups (UN 1992). Rio+5 gave us the Multi-stakeholder Dialogues (Dodds 2002). Multi-stakeholder partnerships (Hemmati 2002) was about helping governments to make better informed decisions and recognising that stakeholders working together have a role in implementing the global agreements. This analysis though does not go far enough. Stakeholder Democracy is in essence a political approach to counterbalance economic liberalism with forms of transparency, accountability and democracy processes. It is too early to see how successful it might be but what I would say for the international institutions is it isn't just an add on. If they are serious about engaging civil society then there are things, which we will expect in the future. Those institutions that do not understand that will find their meetings not ones seen as a priority for us to attend - looking around here today where are the trade unionists, the farmers, the scientists, the local government representatives, the educationalists I could go on. (Dodds 2004)

The fourth wave I am calling the Human and Environmental Security wave. In 2001 Maurice Strong argued that Johannesburg should be about this area of work and perhaps in retrospect he was right. The Secretary General’s Report ‘In Larger Freedom’ makes a similar point. The Report also mirrors the new book we are brining out for the Millennium Development Goals review Summit in September – Human and Environmental Security An Agenda for Change (ed Dodds and Pippard 2005).


This changing geo-political landscape of the world coincided with the impacts of globalization, bringing with it new information technologies, low cost forms of communication, and an inevitable interconnection of global affairs. An obvious by-product of this development has been the rapid growth of global civil society, which has had a profound impact on the mechanisms of global governance and democratic practices. This point was recently emphasized by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan: "The UN once dealt only with governments. But now we know that peace and prosperity cannot be achieved without partnerships involving governments, international organizations, the business community and civil society. In today’s world, we depend on each other" (Annan, 1999).

Despite the increasing acceptance of democracy on a state level and the recognition of a multitude of actors on the international scene, the role of civil society – encompassing trade unions, professional associations, social movements, indigenous people’s organizations, religious, ethical and spiritual organizations, academe and non-governmental organizations – remains somewhat ill-defined. The reality is that the combination of factors outlined above have ensured that we are living in an uncertain world in which our embryonic participatory, stakeholder democracy faces numerous challenges. The precise nature of these challenges, and the state of our democracy in the first decade of the 21st century, is the topic of this conference. (Dodds 2005)

I went to an excellent talk a couple of years ago by John Elkington of SustainAbility who had an interesting slide which I have developed and I want to share with you now.As I believe that it puts a little perspective into where we are and what might be the challenge ahead for us.

This slide shows the upturns and downturns for the past thirty to forty years:



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