During the past year, climate change, corruption, street protests, polarization and disarray in the West dominated the global agenda.
Frequent fires are part of California’s natural state but since the 1970s, the amount of area burned in the state has increased by a factor of five. As the National Geographic has reported, climate change’s stamp is evident in many of the fires, scientists say, primarily because hotter air means drier plants, which burn more readily. Australia too has always had devastating bushfires, but experts say climate change can and does makes bushfires worse. Despite the evidence, however, the UN climate conference in Madrid could only achieve modest results.
The CCPI (Climate Change Performance) Index 2019 is an independent monitoring tool of countries’ climate protection performance. It aims to enhance transparency in international climate politics and enables the comparability of climate protection efforts and progress made by individual countries. In this year’s index, Sweden leads the ranking, followed by Morocco and Lithuania. No wonder Greta Thunberg, the sixteen-year-old environmental activist is a Swedish national. Hopefully, the world would start to listen and act. Otherwise, with climate change and the head-spinning advance of technology, today’s futuristic disaster movies may prove to be more than entertainment.
A telephone call between presidents Trump and Zelensky brought corruption in Ukraine once again to world’s attention, a most unfortunate development for the latter who emerged as a ray of hope for his people. In reality, corruption is not endemic to Ukraine but it is an epidemic, if not pandemic.
Gretta Fenner, Managing Director of the Basel Institute on Governance, describes the following as some of the root causes of corruption[i]:
- Greed for money and power,
- A normalization of corruption,
- Rampant bribery,
- The failures of democracy,
- Use of anonymous shell companies, money laundering, illegal tax evasion,
- International cooperation system largely defunct,
- Lack of level playing field among financial centers,
- Social acceptance, and
- Whistleblowers unprotected with or without laws.
In other words, “corruption” is not only a huge problem in itself but also an error-free indicator of the sum of all failures of a country.
December 9 was “International Anticorruption Day”. For now, at least, a day of outrage rather than celebration.
Anti-government protests from one end of the world to the other continued throughout 2019. Most street protests witnessed in the Middle East were triggered by frustration with corruption and lack of political reform. Protests in some countries resulted in great loss of life like in Iraq. Will the inevitable fate of the region’s gone corrupt leaders and Ukraine’s corruption problem being put on global display have a sobering effect on others? Let’s hope so.
In October, Thomas Carothers and Andrew O’Donohue of Carnegie Endowment for International Peace spoke about their new book “Democracies Divided”[ii]. Among the countries they mentioned were Brazil, India, Poland, Turkey and the US.
They said, “Once a society becomes deeply divided, it is very difficult to heal… Polarization tends to escalate at a dizzyingly fast pace, often in the span of just a few years… Polarization then entrenches itself and becomes self-perpetuating. Polarizing actions and reactions feed on each other, dragging countries into a downward spiral of anger and division…”
And, this is how they responded to the question, “what happens to democracies when polarization intensifies?”:
“Severe polarization damages all institutions essential to democracy.
“It routinely undermines the independence of the judiciary, as politicians attack the courts as biased or pack them with loyalists. It reduces legislatures either to gridlock or to a rubberstamp function. In presidential systems, it frequently leads to the abuse of executive powers and promotes the toxic view that the president represents only his or her supporters, rather than the country as a whole.
“Perhaps most fundamentally, polarization shatters informal but crucial norms of tolerance and moderation—like conceding peacefully after an electoral defeat—that keep political competition within bounds.”
Ali Tuygan, Ambassador (Ret’d) and former Undersecretary of the Turkish Foreign Ministry. The article is also published on his blog.