The Case for Global Citizenship


By Julian Whiteley

“We stand at a critical moment in Earth’s history, a time when humanity must choose its future. As the world becomes increasingly interdependent and fragile, the future at once holds great peril and great promise. To move forward we must recognize that in the midst of a magnificent diversity of cultures and life forms we are one human family and one Earth community with a common destiny.”

The Earth Charter[1]


In his book High Noon: 20 Global Problems, 20 Years to Solve Them[2], economist and former Vice President of the World Bank, Jean-François Rischard, argues that there are two forces working to dramatically change our planet: population growth and the new world economy. Both of these are running ahead of our capacity to manage them and combined with environmental stresses, ageing societies and large-scale migrations are causing worldwide instability.


Rischard identifies 20 ‘inherently global issues’ all of which are failures of mankind and are unsolvable by individual nations. He places the issues into three categories: those involving the global commons such as global warming, water deficits, and biodiversity and ecosystems losses; those requiring a global commitment, for example, the fight against poverty, combating terrorism and infectious diseases, and those needing a global regulatory book which include intellectual property rights, biotechnology rules and 21C taxation.


All of these are issues we immediately recognise but at the moment the world seems powerless to address them. Yet all of them are solvable as long as we approach them globally, using new tools, skills, knowledge and especially a new mindset that puts global thinking first and local and national thinking second. Education is our greatest lever to achieving this.


Compass Education (Nature, Society, Economy, Wellbeing)[3] describes global citizenship thus:


“Global citizenship encompasses the constellation of principles, values, attitudes and behaviour that the people must embrace if sustainable development is to be realized. Global citizenship encourages a sane and legitimate sense of patriotism within the national populations of sovereign countries. Moreover, it insists upon a wider loyalty, a love of humanity as a whole. It does not, however, imply abandonment of legitimate loyalties, the suppression of cultural diversity, the abolition of national autonomy, nor the imposition of uniformity and homogeneity.  Its hallmark is ‘unity in diversity.”


It is unfortunate that some people consider themselves to be global citizens because they have travelled extensively or lived in a number of different countries, can speak two languages and are aware of global issues. This misses the point. Central to the concept of global citizenship is a responsibility to reduce social and economic inequality and refrain from actions that impact upon the wellbeing of others and to be prepared to make sacrifices for the common good. As Oxfam says, a global citizen is ‘outraged by social injustice’ and is willing to act to make ‘the world a more equitable and sustainable place’[4]. Being a global citizen is about taking appropriate action.


We cannot underestimate the challenges we face. For example a recent analysis by Carbon Brief concluded that if the world is to limit global warming to below 2 degrees Celcius, and ideally below 1.5 degrees Celcius, then over their lifetime Generation Z (1997-2012) will have a ‘carbon budget’ that is one eighth of their Baby Boomer grandparents (they do acknowledge that there are limitations to their analysis but the point is well made). Regrettably, at a time when the world is facing such extraordinary challenges requiring international co-operation, nationalism is on the rise and alliances are breaking down, but this is where education is our lever.


It is incumbent upon educationalists the world over to educate current and future generations of students in such a manner that they understand their global responsibilities and have the necessary skills, knowledge and attitudes to address these types of issues. In particular, for successful interdependent living in the 21st century it will require a high level of both forms of emotional intelligence – intrapersonal and interpersonal.


Developing global citizens cannot be an adjunct to the education provided in our schools, it must permeate everything we do, being reflected in our thoughts, words and deeds. We are evolving towards a wholly interdependent global society where political boundaries no longer limit the role we can play. We need to recognise that our interdependence means we must give priority to the collective over the individual if these are in conflict. This is based upon the recognition that in such an interdependent global society there can no longer be winners and losers. Now we can only all win together or we will all lose together.


So to action…..

If you haven’t already done so, we would encourage you to:

  • read Jean-Francois Rischard’s book, High Noon: 20 Global Problems, 20 Years to Solve Them, although you may be dismayed to discover it was published in 2002
  • place global citizenship front and centre in your school starting with a definition of what it means to you
  • consider Compass Education’s framework as a way of integrating many facets of developing global citizenship into your learning programme, and
  • explore becoming part of the Global Issues Network (GIN).


We remain optimistic that the young, with their ingenuity and a global mindset, and with us acting as their mentors and role models, will address the issues facing humanity.


We all need to adopt a global perspective and tackle these issues together: we all need to become true global citizens.


Our commitment to the development of global citizens


From September 2019, RSAcademics are funding a student through an IB Diploma education at a United World College.


In future years, the UWC RSAcademics Scholarship will enable more young men and women to benefit from the transformative experience offered by UWC, a global movement that makes education a force to unite people, nations and cultures for peace and a sustainable future.


Our request to you:

Please tell your friends, colleagues and students about UWC!



1 Earth Charter:

2 High Noon: 20 Global Problems, 20 Years to Solve Them by JF Rischard, New York: Basic Books, ISBN 0-465-07010-8

3 Compass Education:

4 OXFAM (2015) Education for Global Citizenship – A guide for schools



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“As a result of RSAcademics’ advice, the school has grown by 1/3.”

Anthony WallersteinerHeadmaster, Stowe School