What It Means to Be a Global Citizen Today

Special Focus : Educating Global Citizens for the 21st Century
Access and Inclusion July 14, 2017

Global citizens see themselves as part of a world community. Such a community is rapidly emerging as a result of the growing inter-connectivity and inter-dependence of people and their countries. A global citizen’s actions support the political, social, economic and moral values of this community which have also been espoused by global leaders for the past hundred years. These values include human rights, gender equity, environmental stewardship and sustainable development, the reduction of poverty and income inequalities, good governance, and global peace and justice. Such values are reflected in the expanding number of international agreements, conventions, and treaties that countries have signed since the end of World War II.

The personal, moral values of our world community can be found throughout humanity’s great philosophical traditions. Sharif Abdullah, in his book Creating a World that Works for All comments that these traditions share universal values such as love, peace, nonviolence, justice, forgiveness, tolerance.

A global citizen has rights and responsibilities in relation to his or her membership of our world community. The rights of global citizenship are contained in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights signed by many countries in 1948. They are spelled out in the Declaration’s 30 articles grounded in the values of liberty, equality and equity. Of course, you can still be unjustly arrested and punished for upholding the rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration. But there is an increasing body of international law that you can call upon in your defense, and a growing array of international legal institutions willing to hear your case.

A global citizen also has certain responsibilities to our world community, just as citizens do to their local and regional communities and countries. Citizens at all levels need to fulfill these responsibilities if they want healthy sustainable communities. At a global level their responsibilities include: the responsibility to understand one’s own perspective and those of others; to protect the principle of cultural diversity; to make connections and build social and working relationships with people from other countries and cultures; to understand the ways in which the people and countries of the world are inter-connected and inter-dependent; to understand leading global issues and their national impact; and to advocate the practice of global citizenship in their own countries, especially for their implementation of international agreements, conventions, and treaties.

Global citizenship does not preclude having citizenship in one’s own country. In fact, given that there is no world government, almost all global citizens are dual citizens – of their countries and the planet.

It is important to note that individuals are not the sole bearers of global citizenship. The growing inter-dependence and connectivity between countries means that organizations, especially governments, also need to be global citizens. National leaders need to support the practice of their country’s global citizenship by collaborating with leaders from other countries in efforts to address global problems that no single country can solve on its own: problems such as climate change, human rights, poverty. income inequality, global peace and justice.

Unfortunately, at the moment many countries are retreating from global engagement. They are led by a new set of national populist leaders who conjure up a fearful image of the outside world and decline to recognize the existence of a world community.  These new nationalist leaders blame the forces of globalization, free trade, and immigration for social and economic problems that beset rural, poverty stricken parts of their countries. For them, it is every country for itself.

It is true that free trade agreements need to do more to protect workers’ rights, and that immigration policies need to strengthen a country’s workforce and not take away jobs. However, this does not mean that we do away with free trade and the benefits it provides to millions of people or that we close borders to those displaced from their own countries by civil conflict, extreme poverty, and climate change, and who can add value and skills to our countries.

The countries and peoples of our planet are increasingly interwoven. Our destinies are inextricably linked with one another. Today’s national populism is bound to wither on the vine in the face of this reality. The most important need now is not to erect walls of protection, but to respond to the reality of global connectivity and build a sustainable world community for all. This is the mission of global citizens and why we need to build global citizenship.