Published 2022-05-17

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Mistra Geopolitics contributes to a report for Stockholm+50

On 18 May, SEI’s and CEEW’s scientific report, Unlocking a Better Future, will be launched prior to the high-level Stockholm+50 meeting. Three of Mistra’s research programmes have contributed information for the report. One deals with the legitimacy of international organisations and how they can work to increase citizen trust in them.

The Swedish Government asked the Stockholm Environment Institute, SEI, to produce an independent scientific report for the high-level Stockholm+50 meeting, to be held on 2-3 June. The report, Unlocking a Better Future has been written with the policy-focused research institute, the Council of Energy, Environment and Water, CEEW, and will be launched on 18 May to help participants at the UN meeting in Stockholm. The report is based on several background papers, and includes four contributions from Mistra research programmes: Mistra REESMistra Sustainable Consumption and Mistra Geopolitics.

Lisa Dellmuth, Professor of International Relations at Stockholm University.

One contribution from Mistra Geopolitics was written by Lisa Dellmuth, Professor of International Relations, and David Fornberg, Master’s student at the Department of Economic History and International Relations, both at Stockholm University. Their contribution deals with multilateralism and how different types of international organisations and governments can work to increase citizen confidence in them, an area that is currently very relevant.

“Climate change, conflicts, epidemics, and refugee flows – these are expressions of the cross-border nature of major contemporary problems, and they all emphasise the need for international cooperation. Without joint efforts, our ability to manage global challenges such as these will be limited. If international cooperation is poor, there is a risk that cross-border problems are tackled using ineffective national solutions, or that vulnerable groups are not included in decision-making,” says Dellmuth.

Citizens display lower confidence than leaders

The background paper presents the primary conclusions drawn by Lisa Dellmuth and her research colleagues in their work on this topic at Stockholm University. Researchers in Mistra Geopolitics and the Legitimacy in Global Governance (LegGov) programme have systematically compared attitudes to global institutions among leaders and citizens. Their data show that leaders in politics and society have a different opinion to citizens as regards the legitimacy of global institutions, and that these groups also differ in their trust in global institutions. While societal and political leaders tend to have relatively high levels of trust in global institutions, that of citizens is generally much lower.

Legitimacy is an important factor for these global political institutions, says Dellmuth and refers to how legitimacy is highlighted as one of the main challenges of our time in the FN’s “Common Agenda” and its theme, “Build trust”.

“Legitimacy means the perception that a political institution has lawful power and exercises it appropriately. Previous research has found that legitimacy is of vital importance, not only for political institutions at national level, but that it is of even greater importance for global institutions. They usually lack the compelling force of national institutions and are therefore more dependent on consent for agreement on their policies. Global institutions that are perceived as having greater legitimacy probably find it easier to obtain political support for ambitious targets, receive the necessary resources and to ensure that common regulations are followed.”

International organisations lack the necessary support

Lisa Dellmuth hopes that the background paper and the report from SEI and CEEW will increase awareness of how legitimacy is a challenge, but also that it is absolutely relevant to solving all cross-border problems. International solutions should thus not only be discussed based on their effectiveness, but also on how they affect people’s trust for international organisations.

“Legitimacy has complex consequences for the functioning of global institutions. In some circumstances, crises can have negative effects. This is particularly true if an institution’s legitimacy is questioned by its member states which, in the short term, can have negative consequences for resource allocation and the efficiency of decision-making. In other circumstances, crises can instead result in positive consequences for global institutions and improve democracy and efficiency within the organisations.

It doubtful whether the current levels of legitimacy in international organisations, such as the UN, are adequate to support the global cooperation necessary for countering climate change, food uncertainty, and other cross-border challenges,” says Dellmuth. She does not believe that they are suffering from “a broad crisis of legitimacy”, but neither do they have the support that is necessary for further strengthening global cooperation.

“This is why the build trust theme in the UN’s Common Agenda is an important step forward in work to improve citizen confidence in international organisations.”

Mistra’s contribution to the scientific reports

The background paper from the Mistra REES research programme was written by Carl Dalhammar, Senior Lecturer at Lund University, and Mistra REES’ Programme Director Mattias Lindahl. Their contribution covers the circular economy, barriers in our current linear economy and opportunities to remedy these.

Carl Dalhammar has also written the contribution from Mistra Sustainable Consumption, along with Programme Director Göran Finnveden, This document examines the policies surrounding sustainable consumption. According to Carl Dalhammar, a great deal of current policy is located in a paradigm that can be characterised as green growth. This contributes to us not being successful, due to rebound effects and the difficulties of decoupling economic growth from resource consumption and carbon emissions.

The second paper from Mistra Geopolitics was coordinated by Claire McAllister at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, SIPRI, and focuses on the role of disarmament in the Stockholm Declaration of 1972 and its links to ongoing international environmental cooperation.

Read more about the Unlocking a Better Future report and register for the release here.