Policy Making at the Global Level - The Role of the United Nations

"Compromise is not weakness, but the internal grace of reason."

Interview with Richard Byron-Cox on the art of making necessary compromise and the concept of "One Health". On the occasion of his UN negotiation simulation with students of the Joint Master in EU Trade & Climate Diplomacy in April 2023 in Berlin.


Richard Byron-Cox
Dr Richard Byron-Cox is Head of its Capacity Development and Innovations Office at the Secretariat of the UNCCD (United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification).*

Dr Byron-Cox, what is your main responsibility at the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD)?  
Being Head of its Capacity Development and Innovations Office (CDIO), I coordinate the Secretariat’s activities designed to help enable country parties, civil society organisations, individuals and the public at large to take practical measures including the organisation of training, the exchange of experiences, knowledge sharing, the development of skills and expertise, both at the institutional and individual levels, all of which support the effective implementation of the Convention. Secondly, I am responsible for spearheading the Secretariat’s drive to ensure that we are constantly innovative and creative in our approach to the implementation process. 

Which current topics are you working on?  
My office by its very nature and the role it is called upon to play, works on a multiplicity of issues at the same time. All of these things are equally important, so for example we are at present implementing several innovative and exciting projects including: 

  • ‘Women and the UNCCD through the years’. Here we are highlighting the role of women around world in protecting the planet’s vital bio-productive land. 
  • ‘Children and the UNCCD’. Here we visit primary schools around the world introducing them to the importance of bio-productive land to their daily lives. 
  • A project to increase the capacities of Community-Based Organisations to play their role in the implementation process.

How did you come to teach in CIFE’s Master programmes? 
The Director General of CIFE and the Director of CIFE’s Master Programmes GEGPA and EUDIPLO came to the Secretariat seeking assistance in the further design/development of their teaching module dealing with policy making at the global level, including the role of the United Nations in the same. As Head of the CDIO, I was assigned to work with them. The result is that we developed a programme on policy making at the international level focused on the issues of sustainable land management and the role of the UNCCD in the realisation of sustainable development and Agenda 2030 as a whole. Being a university teacher in this subject and others, I was invited by CIFE to teach this discipline.

What excites you most about teaching in higher education? 
Oh, everything excites me. Everything! I love meeting the students from various countries and listening to their ideas. I love that I have the honour and privilege of helping these young people on their mission to becoming professionals. I love that many of them challenge my ideas on some issues. And I love that it really is a process of learning for me. Not just teaching. And then, we have these simulation exercises where the students become negotiators, i.e., policy makers at the international level, where they get a feel as to what really happens in that space. This is just fantastic!

When conducting a UN negotiation simulation, what are the key lessons that you want to convey to the students? Which skills should they acquire?   
There are many lessons they should learn such as:

  • Relations are impossible without compromise. 
  • Compromise is not weakness, but the internal grace of reason. 
  • The planet is one and we all have a stake in its betterment, and must work together to achieve the same. Global challenges require global responses and solutions. 
  • They are the future leaders and must understand that their first responsibility is to be able to contribute to finding common ground with other leaders in the defence of common interests.    

In practical negotiations there are a tremendous amount of things which are useful. However, it is important that one learns the art of making necessary compromises, how to be persuasive, seeing the issue from the position of the negotiator on the other side, coming prepared with various fallback positions, never seeing the others as opponents or enemies, but rather colleagues with different points of views, which not only can be reconciled, but which must be reconciled in the interest of all. They must be determined to play a constructive role in bringing about reconciliation of views and finding consensus.

What is the One Health concept that you will introduce to the GEGPA students during your course? Which challenges do you see with the implementation of this concept in UN agreements and strategies?  
Put in simple terms One Health is a concept which recognises that optimal health of all living things is connected. That is to say that the health of people, animals, plants and the ecosystem on which they all depend are intricately, wholly and indivisably  connected. We must understand and address this issue if we are to deal with the constant increase in zoonosis and other issues that challenge health on a global scale.   

It is quite often not easy to get people to accept new thoughts and ideas. This is usually even more difficult in terms of agreement at the international level. I, however, do believe that the objective reality of the increase in zoonist, the COVID-19 global pandemic and the speed at which these diseases spawn new variants, will dictate that world leaders must come to some form of agreement on this matter if the global community is to be protected in the future. 

What do you see as the role of tertiary education institutions in preparing the future professionals in the field of international relations and policy design?
In a world as globalised as ours, bringing different cultures and histories so closely together, where the threat of nuclear war is always shadowing humanity, where we face possible global ecosystem collapse and where climate change is on the rampage, it is imperative that the new diplomats and global policymakers must be informed of these realities in a profound manner. The place for them to attain this awareness is at tertiary institutions that insist that they think of, design and are determined to and will act in concertation with others in the interest of the protection of our common home and heritage, this planet.

* Richard Byron-Cox
Dr Richard Byron-Cox is Head of the Capacity Development and Innovations Office at the Secretariat of the UNCCD (United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification). He holds a PhD in public international law and is a trained and experienced diplomat, international relations specialist and linguist. As a writer and essayist, Richard Byron-Cox tackles subjects ranging from international law to sustainable development and global environmental politics.



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