The Doorstep: Can the United Nations Save the World? with Catherine Tinker

September 30, 2021

NIKOLAS GVOSDEV: Welcome to this latest issue of The Doorstep podcast. I am your co-host, senior fellow at Carnegie Council, Nick Gvosdev.

TATIANA SERAFIN: And I am Tatiana Serafin, also a senior fellow at Carnegie Council.

Nick, I want to tell you first, before we even talk about our guest or our topic, happy anniversary!

NIKOLAS GVOSDEV: Yes.

TATIANA SERAFIN: The Doorstep has been on for one year this week, so thank you, listeners. We welcome your comments and feedback. Sign up. It has been a year, and we are going to keep going.

Today we are going to keep going with Dr. Catherine Tinker, who teaches about the United Nations. The United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) was here in New York, where I am, all last week. It ended on Monday. Lots of speeches by heads of state, lots of meetings, finally in person after last year, and yet, not much news coverage. Dr. Tinker, who is from Seton Hall University's School of Diplomacy and International Relations, where she teaches courses in climate change, international law, and many other areas, and also works with the United Nations with an accredited nongovernmental organization (NGO), is going to speak to us about the United Nations and about civil society, and we can't wait to hear her take on something that was happening and didn't get enough attention and yet impacts our lives here and your lives at home, wherever you are.

We will be there in a minute or so, but first I want to ask you, Nick, are you surprised by the results of the German election?

NIKOLAS GVOSDEV: Not entirely surprised. I think that what you saw in this election was that while the Christian Democrats, who have been leaders of the coalition under Angela Merkel for the last 15 or 16 years, lost some ground, they were not completely wiped out, as some people were perhaps expecting earlier on.

What I found most interesting was the question of how climate played out in this election, both as a motivator for people to vote—concerns about the climate, concerns about the environmental shifts that are taking place—but also how at the end some concern about the doorstep costs, in other words that there is a concern about climate which was one of the things that helped propel the Greens forward, but at the last minute you saw voters also raising concerns about the possibility of energy shortages. Europe is going through an unprecedented period right now where the stocks, particularly of natural gas, are low, there is a bit of concern that companies and countries that have embraced the Green mantra have neglected the intermediate phase of making sure that before we get to clean and green energy you still need to have enough of the not-so-green and not-so-clean energy on hand. I think you saw that with some voters at the end perhaps shifting back to the Social Democrats and not voting for the Greens, not because they're not concerned about environment but because they are concerned about the doorstep implications of the green shift are going to be handled.

I think that has lessons, by the way, for the United States, for our own politics moving forward, that while there is concern about environmental issues, about how you make that transition is going to be front and center, and I think we have to deal with the realities that voters are contradictory. They want these issues handled, but they don't want to pay too high of a price in the pocketbook for the transition, and how politicians in Germany, the United States, and other countries around the world are going to navigate this I think remains important.

TATIANA SERAFIN: Absolutely. I want to mention one other thing. A lot of the energy comes from Russia, and Russia has been strong-arming states and companies recently. What caught my attention was that Russian officials went into Google and Apple offices in a show of strength to have them take down apps opposition leaders were using in Russian in the lead-up to Russian elections, and that stifling of press freedom and voices is really concerning to me from Russia, from China, and in other parts of the world. What effect do you think this silencing will have in terms of encouraging other leaders to maybe create the same policies? Are you seeing some of that as a result of what happened in Russia?

NIKOLAS GVOSDEV: I think that the Russian precedents are extremely troubling, and they also really expose some of the weakness of this argument about the strength of transnational networks of communications, so that we all have our devices and we all say, "Well, I can sit on this, and I can tap out, and I can reach to someone in Syria, China, or Ghana, and we can communicate," except these things still go through national governments. Your Internet providers, the ability, as you say, of providers like Apple and Google in terms of the apps that they make available or not make available, so it's a reminder that the nation-state still has some pretty impressive tools at its disposal to control information—less than they did obviously in the day of print and radio and television broadcasts, but, yes, it's a reminder. It's a reminder too that governments are adapting to these new technologies. If they feel that there is a threat to their power, they will find new ways to get around it. We have seen again this kind of running struggle in China and now in Russia between creativity to get information through and then ways to try to block that. But, yes, this really does raise the question.

It also raises the question, Tatiana, as you have been covering, about where people are getting news and information from, so the extent to which people and younger people are relying on online platforms and apps. Who controls the online platforms and the apps controls the news in a way. So I think that this is something that really bears some further watching down the road.

TATIANA SERAFIN: Absolutely, and we will keep watch over that topic and many more.

Now we head over to Dr. Tinker, and I am so excited for the conversation.

Dr. Tinker, thank you so much for joining us today to talk about the United Nations. We feel here at The Doorstep that this is a big topic. It's an organization which celebrated its 75th anniversary and should, I think, be in the news more for what its mandate was 75 years ago, but I don't think it has been.

Certainly over here in New York where we are, Nick, I want to tell you the only news the UNGA garnered was the traffic news.

NIKOLAS GVOSDEV: Of course.

TATIANA SERAFIN: What I think it deserves is some more attention as to content. What is the United Nations today? What is it succeeding at? What are the challenges? I am so glad to have you here today to help us understand the United Nations in 2021. Do you have some opening thoughts about what happened last week?

CATHERINE TINKER: Yes. I think it's hard to judge any institution coming out of the pandemic, if in fact we are coming out of it. We have all been under extreme stress in different ways and to different extents, and nothing is normal anymore. So this is a moment of transition, whether we are talking about schools, hospitals, universities, or workplaces of any kind, or the United Nations.

Just with that preface, I think there has been a lot of work being done behind the scenes, but a lot has been available online for those who have digital access and who have electricity. So in some senses the work of the United Nations has gone on in a more inclusive way. We could hear more voices from people who would not have been able to travel to New York to UN headquarters.

I remember 40 years ago, 30 years ago, you had to know somebody at the United Nations or one of the ambassadors to even get a document, and now we have much more transparency. Most is digitized, again for those who can get the access. We do have a digital gap, of course, in different vulnerable groups and communities, so that has to be addressed, but there is some participation, and the work hasn't stopped. So that's one message I wanted to give.

The second message, though, is that in September the annual meeting, the opening of the General Assembly, is a moment for heads of state and government to come and make their speeches. In 2020 it was all done virtually, prerecorded messages. In a way that was interesting, but it lost that moment of interaction and networking that is so important to diplomacy, and one of the functions that I think is most valuable of having the United Nations is that interaction, that kind of discussion, the side events, the moments of talking in the corridor, even a diplomatic reception, but a chance for people to just speak directly and gauge the message the speech is giving. Trust is built through personal relationships, and we know the value of that in all of our lives now with the pandemic. So we need this place, whether it's virtual space or actual face-to-face space, for the peoples of the world to meet.

Don't forget. The UN Charter in 1945 starts out with "We the people." That's what this is all about. It is the people's house. We have our governments represented, that's true, but we also have civil society through nongovernmental organizations represented at meetings of the United Nations. It has not been accessible to all of us with the pandemic and for COVID-19 reasons and safety precautions, but that week in September every year we're rarely there anyway. The test will be in October, now that we are starting the new month, bringing everybody back in, and that is a necessary part of the UN's work.

TATIANA SERAFIN: Can you speak a little bit about the plans in October? Is everybody going to be able to get in?

CATHERINE TINKER: We are waiting to see. Last week, as you asked, more specifically, the Global Compact, which is an organization primarily of businesses, it's a corporate entity, but they have ten principles. Large NGOs can sign on as well, and the principles are human rights and labor as well as economic and environmental. I think that was one thing that launched last week besides the head-of-state speeches at the General Assembly.

Then we had a number of meetings in the middle of civil society groups that I have participated in—I will talk about that if we have time. Then, on Friday all day was the UN High-Level Dialogue on Energy, and I think that was the most significant of all. If we have time to go into details, I would be happy to share some. But that is the kind of picture of what happens on the economic, social, and environmental side of the house. Seventy to eighty percent of the work of the United Nations is in those areas.

So when people talk to me about "The UN" as if it's a monolith, it's not at all. If there's news, perhaps a Security Council meeting is taking place, that's one important part. That's certainly one of the major organs of the United Nations, but so is the General Assembly, and so is the Economic and Social Council, and that's where the majority of the work—in sustainable development, in social commissions, in the Commission on the Status of Women in the international law area, every possible topic—really happens, and that is going forward. Very, very important.

NIKOLAS GVOSDEV: Could I ask you perhaps maybe to expand on some of that as you have offered, because one of the things that we have been tracking at The Doorstep is that there is definitely a growing concern with the question of how energy and environment relate, climate is very important, and obviously the pandemic and the strength or weaknesses of the global health system. So it seems that the United Nations is poised perhaps to become more, shall we say, "relevant" to the day-to-day lives of people in a way perhaps it hasn't been, given those concerns. Can you give us a sense of where this Dialogue on Energy is going, where the climate initiatives are going, and are countries finding that they are preferring to work through the United Nations to try to find common cause to solve these transnational issues?

CATHERINE TINKER: I think working through the United Nations on these transnational issues is the key and the necessity we have, the ability to set the norms, the framework, the common value, for example, in the Paris Agreement to accept that the goal to deal with global warming is to cap the emissions of greenhouse gases so that we do not exceed 2 °C but preferably below 1.5 °C to avoid catastrophe within a few decades.

In the broad goal-setting, the norms, the values that we can all share from every culture, from every legal system, and from every region of the world, there has to be that locus, that centralized place. The framework then sets the tone, the aspirations, and the ambition, and that's where the secretary-general's work is so important.

Within each nation then, given a framework such as we have in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which is the broad blueprint, or "roadmap" as people say, for national regulations, policies, legislation, and litigation, but within each national system it comes back together because then states report back into the UN system. This is true across the whole agenda. The secretary-general has also issued a report this year called "Our Common Agenda" and that's a document well worth reading, and then we have the whole body of international law that sets these kinds of norms and ambitions for the world community as well and has been since 1945. So that's the framework.

Now, where we come to today's crises, no one nation alone can solve climate change or create a system of energy that doesn't burn out the planet in the coming decades. How do we deal with that? I think we have some good models. The 2030 Agenda has the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), starting with "eliminate extreme poverty worldwide." If we don't deal with poverty, we're not going to get to peace, development, rights, dignity, and all the other things that have been enshrined, if you will, in things like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the covenants on rights or in any number of treaties through the decades. We have to remember that the framework is really important, and the framework is there, and the meetings at the United Nations provide that kind of monitoring and reporting function and a chance for states to get together.

I've seen this certainly in the last five years. Every July there's a meeting, something called the High-Level Political Forum, and states come, civil society is there, and it's a discussion of how states met their targets under each of the 17 goals, not only as public relations, not just political rhetoric, but, "Okay, here's a best practice. This is something we learned or we discovered that works in our special conditions in our country." That might be a model for someone else. Then another state might report, "Well, we tried, but we really couldn't get there because of these reasons: We lack capacity; we don't have trained personnel; we don't have the technology and the ability to generate the data that we need to do the kind of modeling and planning that's necessary," say, for resource management or to really address and to know what the problems are in society. Then other states can step up to the plate and offer capacity-building exercises or training.

That kind of interaction can't be replicated. If we didn't have the United Nations, where would that take place? In a few isolated capitals? No, it has to be a global framework for global problems like climate change or loss of biodiversity, and I think those two are the biggest threats we have facing the entire planet. If we don't get it right by 2030, science is telling us that it's due to human activity, so something has to change, and it has to change fast enough so that we can get into a better situation by 2030, or else we won't be there by 2050 when systems could collapse, natural systems could simply implode on us. The warming of the planet could become so severe that we won't be able to grow food. There will be vast migrations across the planet. Whole countries will be destroyed through sea level rise. Populations on the move and where to go.

The consequences are dire if we don't get this right, but the opportunity is there to do so by really using this function of the United Nations as a meeting place, as a place for dialogue, as a place for setting norms and accountability but in a positive way, not just pointing out weaknesses but doing that in a spirit of helping one another.

NIKOLAS GVOSDEV: I find what you just laid out here is actually very compelling because it speaks to the fact that these transnational challenges, if left seriously unaddressed, will overwhelm state capacity, will have direct and immediate negative impacts on people, particularly when you talk about the question of climate migration, which I think we have seen accelerating. Did you feel that this start of the Assembly, the kickoff for this year of the United Nations, do you think we're on the right course? Do you think steps were taken, or is it still too early to tell whether or not this is the start of a year for the United Nations where we might see some movement forward or further progress on what has already been built?

CATHERINE TINKER: I think there was a sense, especially in the High-Level Dialogue on Energy, of progress. Many of us are worried about the inequalities exposed by COVID-19, and the world system has to do better than we have done in distributing vaccines fairly and equally all over the globe. We can't replicate what happened there.

I think with Energy, the energy in the room was very high, and the solutions brought forth and the reports from states from regions all around the globe were encouraging in ways that—for example, you would imagine the Scandinavian states would be doing pretty well, that's a given, but they are also dedicating funds as well as training to help others, and those pledges were announced on Friday at the Dialogue on Energy.

There were some examples of start-ups. BrightGreen Renewable Energy in Africa, just to name one that stuck in my mind, aims to create clean cooking for perhaps a million cases a year of primarily women dying from inhaling charcoal smoke by cooking over fires that also lead to environmental degradation and deforestation. So there are alternative fuels, not ones that people in small villages and rural areas necessarily could afford, but biomass, projects like this startup to create clean cooking fuel and energy. This topic came up over and over and over. Surely the world can get together and solve that one. This is one example.

Then we had other examples of high-technology solutions, carbon removal and carbon sequestration, much emphasis on renewable energy, and a lot of discussion over and over about shifting subsidies away from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources—wind, solar, green hydrogen power, for example—so major states are dealing with that, including ones that have fossil fuel industries. Russia talked about its hydrogen. There was some talk about nuclear energy being in the mix as well for many states, hydro power, of course, and geothermal energy. So the solutions are out there. We know what to do. We just have to do it.

There was talk about electrification. That's in the news, electric vehicles. The transport sector, of course, is extremely dirty, and that's one that has to be dealt with, and in major urban areas buildings—New York City, of course—create a lot of the problem, so that has to be dealt with.

Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed in closing the morning session on Friday said: "People and planet must be at the heart of all initiatives. We have the 1.5 °C pathway, but to get there we have to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 45 percent." This was a new report that just came out from the secretariat of the Treaty on Climate Change, building up to the large Conference of the Parties (COP) in November in Glasgow, Scotland, where the world is going to meet to work on the climate change issue and the Paris Agreement pledges from each state.

She said there were four points, and I just thought I'd share this with you because it seemed particularly well said: "Close the energy access gap by 2025" for people who don't have it, and there are billions of people around the world who lack electricity. We have seen even in the United States—Texas going off the grid, New Orleans after Hurricane Ida—people without power for weeks and people dying, not because of the storm but because of the consequences of not having electricity at home to even use elevators to get out, to have refrigeration or air conditioning. For those lucky enough to even have those things in the first place, they couldn't use them. The wildfires in the West, the flooding in the East, all of these extreme weather events point out the need to act now.

What else did Amina Mohammed suggest? Her second point: Decarbonize. No new coal plants, and shift these subsidies, as I mentioned, to renewables.

Mobilize at scale was the third point, transfer of technology, but that would take $5 trillion a year in investment, and there we are falling short. In 2015 under the Paris Agreement developed countries pledged $100 billion a year starting in 2020, annual contributions collectively, for these climate change measures. The target hasn't been met, and even though 2020 was postponed to 2021 due to the pandemic, we're still short. Now we have next year's contribution to think about as well. So we have to get up to the mark on the financing.

The fourth point is really key, and it echoes what I was saying about values and norms, created, negotiated, and agreed upon through the United Nations meetings: Just and people-centered transition for the energy transition.

I just think those four points sum up a lot of the work and a lot of the thinking.

There was enough unanimity on these points in the course of Friday's meeting that it was surprising. Some states did, of course, talk about the necessity to more or less "go it alone" according to their own national priorities, but those at least who spoke on that point were few and far between. Most were onboard with the idea that we know what to do here globally, and we all have to try to do it consistent with the capabilities of each state. And we have a legal principle for that, "common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities." That has been in treaties since 1992, so that has been part of international law for a long, long time. We have seen it in practice with ozone in the Montreal Protocol, a big success story. We have protected the holes in the ozone layer and solved a lot of that problem, not all of it, but we are really there on that one.

With the Climate Change and Biodiversity Treaty and now the Paris Agreement the frameworks are in place, and most important of all, this Policy Agenda for the world in the 2030 Agenda in the SDGs. People may glaze over hearing these terms. It may not be household conversation around everyone's dinner table, but governments all over the world are actually implementing these 17 SDGs, and the targets are helpful. Each of the 17 might have three to five or six targets and then statistical indicators under every one.

So, if I were a minister of the environment, health, education, or whatever sector it might be in my country—which I'm not, but that's all right—I would look to these SDGs and say: "Oh, now I understand. It's not just this vague, amorphous goal that 'Oh, that sounds very nice, but we can't do that here.'" No, they're very practical, they're very pragmatic, very specific targets telling a country, "Okay, just go for this." Maybe they will become more ambitious in the future if we meet these goals.

The statistical part of it is significant because for management, whether it's natural resources, companies, or whatever it is, you can't manage what you can't measure. So this is another major initiative of the United Nations, to get baseline data from every Member State of the United Nations of where they are on each of these targets under each of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, data that will be reported back to the United Nations, analyzed, reported by the United Nations, and available then for policymakers.

Again, part of it is to say, "Okay, where are the gaps? What do we need to better?" And then go forward on that level. So there is so much happening that is really good that people don't know about.

Tatiana, when you said we don't hear about it in the news, we really don't.

TATIANA SERAFIN: No, and to follow up on that, what do we hear? We hear Tuesday's remarks by Greta Thunberg: "This is all we hear from our so-called world leaders, words. Of course, we need constructive dialogue, but they have now had 30 years of blah blah blah, and where has this led us?"

And all the papers led with the blah blah blah. I adore Greta Thunberg, I am just going to put it out there.

CATHERINE TINKER: Oh, yes.

TATIANA SERAFIN: Because I do think that there is a branding problem that the United Nations has, a relevancy problem, to the younger generation, who, around the world, is going to overtake all the current policymakers sitting at the United Nations.

CATHERINE TINKER: Oh, yes. Oh, yes. But I must say, first of all, the voices of youth are so welcome at the United Nations, and this has been for a number of years now. In fact, one of my students spoke at a UN meeting, well, virtually, in the opening panel with the secretary-general of the United Nations, António Guterres, and the president of the General Assembly. My amazing, wonderful student is now at the Harvard Kennedy School, starting her master's degree there.

It is necessary. We have to keep the door open. We have to bring more people in, but I think there is energy there, there is a will to do something about it, and there is an impatience with the rest of us that we haven't done more and that it's time to act and stop talking all the time. That's what I get from young people today, and I suppose in the fields that the three of us are in, in our classes we're maybe preselected, but they get it. They understand. We don't have a lot of time left to get it right, and we need everybody onboard, and they have the passion, they have the energy and the ability to work collaboratively.

In my experience the young people that I deal with regularly don't see these petty divisions. They don't worry about where somebody is from or any of the discriminations that societies have endured for too long, and they are not going there. They are working forward, they are going to start new things, and they have ideas. I think our job is in part to stand back and listen.

But we have to get the right information out there, and we don't have enough students collectively in our classes to do that or in all other programs around the world. So, yes, education to me is really, really important.

When we talk about that—putting a price on carbon, changing the economics of how we measure growth, not just quarterly profits, but counting the externalities, subtracting the damage to the environment, the irreversible harm behind caused to achieve a short-term gain—we have to think long-term, and we have to think about future generations. That's where the youth get it. That's who is bringing litigation in national courts all over the globe relating to climate pledges, holding their governments to account, saying, "Oh, it's nice that you said these things, but you haven't done anything about it." That's a pretty compelling argument because they are going to inherit this world, and they have a right to have it be at least as good a world as we had, and then their responsibility is to leave that to the next generations in as good condition as they found it or that they were able to improve it to a higher condition, and good environmental quality is an important part of that.

TATIANA SERAFIN: I think what you say about this idea that youth have this transnational view that perhaps nation-states don't have, and even our current foreign policy as articulated under Biden, under Trump, is very similar: "Listen to our domestic voices. Foreign policy has to be meaningful to the middle class."

Just this morning on National Public Radio they were discussing how this post-Cold War mentality doesn't work today, this idea that foreign policy has to be driven by public opinion, doesn't work. I don't know what you think of that because I think part of this discrepancy is that you have these transnational problems, maybe a new generation looking at transnational solutions, and yet nation-states kind of getting more entrenched in, "Well, we have to worry about ourselves and our points of view and what our problems are."

CATHERINE TINKER: I think the world that we inherited and the traditional world since the peace of Westphalia in the 1600s is this state-centric model, and that just isn't the whole story anymore. So I think if we step outside that box and see—I'm very encouraged by things going on in local communities, and if we look at cities primarily, where the majority of the world's population already lives and in another decade or so with demographics, the majority—90-something percent—of the world's population will be urban.

Let's see what they're doing, and it's amazing. The mayor of Los Angeles spoke on Friday at the Energy Dialogue, representing 40 big cities around the world who are in a coalition and what they are doing for the energy transition, and that is enormously encouraging, sustainability plans and pledges just like the nation-states have made their commitments through the Paris Agreement or under the Sustainable Development Goals, and they voluntarily report periodically back to the United Nations on their progress.

Individual cities are doing it. New York has a voluntary local review. Los Angeles does. Major cities in every region around the world are doing this, and that's where a lot of the work happens because that's where people live, and that's where we can have some direct impact too, but it feeds back into the multilateral system through the United Nations, and it is a way for neighborhoods, individuals, local governments, and subnational governments to connect, maybe within their own region but certainly within the world, and that can happen not necessarily through national governments, which is one of the tensions about whether the Member States at the United Nations actually want all of us there or not.

We'll see how that plays out, but voices can't be still, so I think these other mechanisms—for example, if you think about cities, and I was just going to remember there was the president or prime minister of Barbados who spoke about what renewable energy means in her country, in a small island state, and what they are doing, and how they are even ahead of meeting their own targets, although there are gaps, and they are working on that, transport being one of the big ones. But it was very impressive and very positive, and I didn't know a thing about this. That's the kind of example I believe of what's valuable about multilateralism and why we need it.

I don't know. Sometimes I despair about nation-states, and on the other hand I think, It's pretty difficult to be all things to all people, and when there is so much jockeying, partisanship, and power plays going on, being a government official is not an easy job these days, and it's amazing that people are willing to do it.

Given the pandemic, the economic challenges, and certainly the environmental damages just growing around us and the need to act, there are proposals—we have several big ones pending right now in our country, for example—but is there unanimity? And where are the blocks?

That brings me to a question about last week that seemed very apparent, and that was the new role of the private sector in every aspect of the work of the United Nations. This is something that worries me, having seen decades of the work of the United Nations with these shared goals and motivations, government officials rising above their own national priorities necessarily to be part of it, international civil servants doing amazing work in UN agencies and the Secretariat, NGOs, often volunteers, dedicating themselves to the values and to making a better world.

While many corporations have their corporate, social, and environmental responsibilities policies and some are making funding and contributions, it's still an investment mentality and return-on-investment thinking. So financing, even for sustainable development, is using this kind of model.

I think it's the wrong economic model, and therefore, even the United Nations needs the money because Member States are strapped, so we need the corporate presence and we need to work hand-in-hand because private-sector solutions can help to put us over the top in achieving some of our goals in the SDGs certainly. Public-private partnerships have been the mantra for a number of years and can work very, very well.

But what I'm saying is, who is paying, even for the events at the United Nations last week? Corporations. And how does that change the UN Charter? Civil society and nongovernmental organizations are named in the Charter since 1945, Article 71 of the Charter. It doesn't say anything about businesses.

I think this brings a whole new challenge for multilateralism and for the system, but if we look there, we even have some inspiration from John Ruggie and the principles that he elaborated on business and human rights. And, as I say, some of the Global Compact principles, the ten principles are worth looking at too. I think there is hope but concern as well.

TATIANA SERAFIN: That's such an interesting point. I just read a piece in The Washington Post that Facebook should be considered a nation-state and dealt with as a nation-state because of the power they wield and not as a corporation, and that we are not looking, as you say, at private companies and their effect on multilateralism enough. So it's a really interesting topic.

CATHERINE TINKER: Thank you. And where's the accountability? If it's a Member State of the United Nations, at least we have these mechanisms for reporting, analysis, discussion, and various commissions or Special Rapporteurs who can look into various things, or treaty obligations, where one state can even bring a claim against another state for breach of treaty duties. But where's the accountability for the private sector if they are coming into the public arena?

So, yes. New challenges.

TATIANA SERAFIN: New challenges.

I'm going to leave off with our last challenge, though, and my question to you: Is the United Nations—and the UN system that was set up under where the United States was the lead and is still the lead funder—a system that doesn't work anymore as we change into more of an Indo-Pacific world, where other states like China and India should be more active and play a more active role in the United Nations? How can the United Nations respond to this shift because there is a change in world order, whether we like it or not?

CATHERINE TINKER: Yes. I think, first of all, Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa are very active in my part of the United Nations, and there is too much attention paid to the permanent five on the Security Council that is coming out of the post-World War II architecture.

Well, yes, Security Council reform and adding more veto powers or getting rid of the veto powers of the permanent five, that's one small fraction. India, Brazil, China, amazing actors, South Africa. These countries are part and parcel of everything that is happening at the United Nations and big players.

In fact, I was just looking to see if I had noted—yes. On Friday at the Energy Dialogue the Indian minister of power spoke about "sensitivity to national circumstances," saying that there can't be one size fits all. I think that's important, but that's back to my point about you can still agree on the ultimate goal of getting to renewable energy and capping global warming at the 1.5 °C limit, but scientists are clear through the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report—another one that just came out in August—that that is the target we have to meet as a planet or we implode.

India is part of that. They said they are going to have access to electricity in India, making the largest gains of anywhere in the world as they have expanded that out across the country, and 49 percent of all their power by 2030 will be renewable energy sources, which is a big thing, because they are burning a lot of coal right now. So if they can make that transition in India, surely the rest of the world can do it. That's pretty interesting.

Also, they are working on hydrogen production. So there are technological solutions. That's all to the good too, but we have to be careful even there. The precautionary principle, a bedrock of international environmental law, says if there is scientific uncertainty, just wait. Don't act. Because we don't know what could happen. When we can do a real risk assessment and weigh the benefits against the risks and see how catastrophic it could be or how many might be harmed, then policies can be set, and projects can go forward.

But here, well, let's see. Do we really want to be doing geoengineering and seeding clouds? Do we know what would happen? Do we want to bury carbon in the ocean when we know how crucial ocean health is to the whole planet? What are the consequences? So it's always this weighing process, and policymakers have a very big job.

TATIANA SERAFIN: Thank you so much. This has been such a great discussion and such a great reminder of the opportunities that the United Nations gives to the world to, as you say, have dialogue, be in a shared space, and have a voice in the room in a post-COVID-19 world. I think that over the next year we will see a lot of this, and we hope to have you back to dissect more of it as we go forward.

Thank you so much. 

NIKOLAS GVOSDEV: Thank you very much.

CATHERINE TINKER: Thank you, both.

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