Duncan Green on the global citizenship index

NOTE: This opinion piece has been republished from its original post on Medium.

Written by Duncan Green.

How are different governments performing as global citizens? Time for a new index!

Apologies. I get given stuff at meetings, it goes into the reading pile, and often takes months to resurface. So I have

just read (and liked) a Country Global Citizenship Report Card handed to me in New York in December. It’s put together by the Global Citizens Initiative, run by Ron Israel.

Time to assuage my guilt.

The ‘citizens’ in question are actually 53 governments, and the report assesses them against their signature, ratification and particularly implementation of 35 international agreements, conventions and treaties. These fall into 6 domains: human rights, gender equity, environment, poverty reduction, governance and global peace and justice. The implementation part is the trickiest, and the initiative seems to pull together a range of multilateral and academic scorecards for the various issues, eg environmental stewardship includes:

‘Reduce Pressure on Earth’s Resources

  • Ecological Footprint — Global Footprint Network
  • Ecological Reserve/Deficit — Global Footprint Network
  • Energy Use per $1,000 GDP — World Bank
  • Forests score — Yale University’s 2014 Environmental Performance Index

Reduce Air Pollution

  • Ambient (Outdoor) Air Pollution (PM2.5 ug/m3) — World Health Organization
  • Air Quality score — Yale University’s 2014 Environmental Performance Index
  • CO2 Emissions (metric tons per capita) — World Bank’

And so on — 116 indicators in all. Here’s the overall country ranking — not many surprises, with the Scandinavians top of the heap, as usual, and Iran, Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan at the bottom.

Some other findings jumped out:

The highest scoring domain by far is Gender Equity, with 26 countries signing all six selected international commitments, although implementation is much more patchy

‘Ratifying international treaties and conventions does not necessarily lead to measurable progress in those particular areas’. Argentina was the only country to ratify all 35 international commitments, yet came in 19th on implementation.

The report rather bravely sets out its theory of change (see diagram below) which begs a lot of questions — what assumptions lie behind the arrows? What else is required for publishing the card to galvanize all this advocacy? E.g. buy-in from powerful players, crises and scandals which open up decision makers to new ideas, grassroots movements to push for the same issues (see Htun and Weldon on violence against women)?

Which took me back to the Sustainable Development Goals. What is the SDGs’ theory of change? Is it any more sophisticated than this? I suspect not. In fact, it may not even be as good — for example merely assuming that government commitments + measurement will trigger some kind of change. So are we going to see a comparable SDG scorecard that ranks countries, shames foot-draggers and gives civil society something to shout about? Can we build on some of the interesting research out there about which international instruments get traction on national governments and why?

Because of its apparent lack of a coherent theory of change, I more or less gave up on the SDGs long ago, but would be happy to be proved wrong — what do the SDG watchers among you think? Are they generating traction on national decisions and if so, how and where? Is there a brilliant SDG theory of change that I am just not aware of?

Anyone know of other global scorecards on rights commitments and implementation?

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