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GTI Forum

Global Identity Is Real
Contribution to GTI Forum Think Globally, Act Locally?

Andreas Bummel

Collapsing the global into the local, as Arturo Escobar does in his comment, is neither necessary nor useful. It is true that everyone has a local position in space and time which is the starting point for any action. However, this position is not fixed and, in fact, can move quite frequently. In addition, technology and interdependence have intermeshed positions and scales so that actions have impacts beyond the local. Even without such tangible interdependence, philosophical thought across the world's regions—ancient Greek Stoic philosophy, the Tamil Sangam literature, the Hindu Upanishads, the Confucian thought of the "Great Unity,” and so on—has stressed the inherent connection of all human beings wherever they may be. Humans may be rooted locally, but their minds may embrace a global perspective based on inclusion. Clearly, solidarity and empathy can and do often expand beyond the immediate locality and identity. Recent surveys show that large majorities across the world accept the notion of global citizenship that carries global rights and responsibilities. Identity is built upon many different loyalties, layers, and outlooks that have different weights, priorities, and reaches for each individual. This often includes a global identity.

If people feel and express a global identity that makes them part of the larger human family, this cannot be undone by simply stating that the global does not exist. This is an odd claim in light of the existence of international law, international institutions, international relations, and global decision-making. Then, there are global public goods such as the atmosphere. There are formal governance structures at different levels from the local to the global: municipalities, cities, counties, provinces, states, federal states, subregional and regional international communities, continental agreements and bodies, and finally all of the institutions of the UN system and global governance.

I agree that local action is key, but it is not exclusively so because local action in many important areas is determined by governance and decision-making structures that are beyond the local. Consider nuclear disarmament and collective security as two examples. The principle of subsidiarity offers useful guidance. Decision-making should be located at the lowest possible level of governance that is still able to deliver effective solutions. Subsidiarity in many cases may imply decentralization and moving decision-making closer to the local. However, in other cases, it may also imply the necessity to move beyond the nation-state upwards to global decision-making structures. All structures must be as democratic, accountable, transparent, and inclusive as possible, and this applies especially to those that are global. These structures already exist, but they do not meet such criteria.

It is necessary to build stronger connections between the local and the global. This is one of the reasons why we need a UN Parliamentary Assembly so that UN members will be accountable to their local constituencies. Soon we will launch a campaign that promotes the instrument of a UN World Citizens' Initiative that will allow a number of global (sic!) citizens to formally present proposals to the UN General Assembly.

Andreas Bummel
Andreas Bummel is co-founder and Executive Director of Democracy Without Borders and the co-author of A World Parliament: Governance and Democracy in the 21st Century.

Cite as Andreas Bummel, "Global Identity is Real," contribution to GTI Forum "Think Globally, Act Locally?," Great Transition Initiative (August 2019),

As an initiative for collectively understanding and shaping the global future, GTI welcomes diverse ideas. Thus, the opinions expressed in our publications do not necessarily reflect the views of GTI or the Tellus Institute.

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