Moving Through Humanity's 'Stormy Adolescence' with Effective Governance and Leadership
Remarks made by international lawyer Maja Groff at the Annual Parliamentary Reception of the APPG on the Bahá'i Faith, in Westminster on Tuesday 24th October 2023.
The founder of the Baha’i Faith, Baha'u'llah, in a tablet to Queen Victoria praised her for the British system of parliamentary democracy and commended her for abolishing the slave trade. He called on all leaders at the time to turn to peace and reduce armaments.
The programme this Annual Reception focuses on the theme of leadership and governance. The Baha’i Faith has rich resources on both of these subjects, and indeed, the Faith inspires me on a daily basis in the work I do, because of the great support I find in the Baha’i writings for finding transformative and healthy new pathways for our societies on both of these topics.
I have been working intensively for several years now in particular on the topics of international climate governance and grand corruption, at the global level. In the case of climate governance, we are now at a very grave crisis point. The latest scientific analysis has shown that we may have as few as 6 years – as an international community - to catalyse the needed action to avoid the worst affects of climate change. We have now over-stepped six of the nine scientifically-identified planetary boundaries, one of which is climate, that are necessary to keep humanity in a “safe operating space”. That is, operating in the conditions of the “Holocene” geological epoch– which we have now dramatically disrupted, entering into the Anthropocene; marked by a new, highly volatile human-induced geological epoch.
Various other planetary boundaries which are crucial to “buffer” the effects of human-caused climate change, and have to date absorbed a great deal of heat and greenhouse gases, have started to show signs that they are reaching capacity for these buffering effects. We are increasingly running risks of dramatic and catastrophic tipping points. We are moving very quickly into uncharted territory, which has no precedent in human history.
We are working with Mary Robinson and other members of The Elders, founded by Nelson Mandela, and other former heads of state and thought leaders to propose urgent and sensible measures that the international community could take in light of the circumstances in which we find ourselves. For example, enhanced planetary Scientific Assessment capacities to cover all planetary boundaries, an international Emergency Platform (a version of which suggested by UNSG in 2021), increased accountability mechanisms under PA, among others.
On the topic of Grand Corruption, I have been working with other experts to develop a treaty for a novel International Anti-Corruption Court or IACC. We are collaborating with governments, eminent international lawyers and judges (such as Goldstone, Wolf), and civil society around the world. It is unknown how much is lost each year to corruption, but we know that it very likely dwarfs all development aid flows, crippling struggling democracies, and efforts to combat climate change, to achieve social, education and development goals. Of course, this poses very serious international security risks and compromising the integrity of the whole of the international financial system.
I have written on general international rule of law upgrades that we are long overdue for. For example, the International Court of Justice has not been modernised for over 75 years (by the way, the UK is the only member of the UNSC member which has accepted the compulsory jurisdiction of both the ICC and ICJ; which is very admirable). I cannot help but look at current brutal armed conflicts based on unresolved and festering issues, that perhaps could have been handled and prevented by timely upgrades to our international peace and dispute settlement architecture.
But what is evident to me is that now, we have serious crises which are truly at the planetary scale. The science could not be more categorical about this. But there are also intensified sociological developments, like the nature of cross-border financial flows and commerce, which must be met with adequate governance to protect the public interest. I feel that we are locked in a path dependency, or in Amartya Sen’s words, "locked into adaptive preferences" where we are often not able to see past our outdated international governance approaches, lacking the imagination to move forward to solutions which would make us all much better off.
The Baha'i Faith clarifies the spiritual and conceptual underpinnings of this planetary reality that we are now in the midst of. The Writings say:
“It is not for him to pride himself who loveth his own country, but rather for him who loveth the whole world. The earth is but one country and mankind its citizens.”
And: “So powerful is the light of unity that it can illuminate the whole earth.”
We are called on to “promote the interests, and exalt the station, of all nations and just governments.” This echoes recent words of the UN Secretary General: that we will have to act together as one human family to successfully tackle the problems before us.
That is the big picture, and some of the issues that colleagues and I are wrestling with at the moment that, I am convinced, will also have to become the concern of every serious-minded person and responsible leader sooner than we think.
There are many more Baha'i values and principles relevant to leadership and governance that give me great hope, and indeed great optimism, that we will as a human family rise to the challenge, and make the necessary transformations and adjustments for our common well-being.
Truthfulness and integrity - inner and outer in harmony, the great pleasure in altruism, in fully serving the public good.
The importance of consultation - disinterested, collective pursuit of truth through dialogue and open exchange, and collaborative leadership rather than focusing on individuals.
The abolition of extremes of wealth and poverty, voluntary economic sharing, generosity, and ensuring that all are cared for, but at the same time, all of us contributing, working hard and sharing of our talents and capacities.
The duty of individual discernment, independent investigation of the truth, rather than repetition of the biases and mistakes of the past.
That unity needs justice and that we need well-designed and well-educated institutions of justice, including at the international level.
The importance of the abolition of prejudice – race, gender, economic, national, political, religious (and that religions are one – the same light from different lamps).
Universal participation of all in our communities and societies, in line with the democratic spirit of the age.
That human diversity is a blessing, a richness, and a contribution to unity.
The necessary balance of material and spiritual civilisation; we are tipped now towards the material, but we must have both to see a flourishing civilisation.
Finally, the very positive vision that a much wiser era awaits us; the Baha'i Faith likens the current time to a “stormy adolescence” that we must navigate and push through, to the next phase of development.
Indeed, we of course look around us and see this stormy adolescence, and often a lack of such qualities in leadership and governance across diverse societies. But my impression, working in the field, is that humanity is ready for a range of paradigm shifts – clarifying what we really value – across a range of aspects of societal life. I see the trend lines in various influential communities of practice, and I do believe we have the capacity to be a successful species on this planet.
I look forward to working with any and all of you on projects to serve humanity at this important time in our shared history.