Center for Governance and Sustainability

at the University of Massachusetts Boston

Issue Coverage

How one defines a problem often defines a good deal of its potential ‘solution’.

The World Economic Forum set out to respond to the 2007/2008 financial crisis and all its unexpected and unwanted consequences. Not surprisingly therefore, the central thrust of the GRI was on the macro-economic and social fall out from the financial crisis. They also, as noted earlier , took the opportunity of the GRI project to examine an impressive range of other issues. A summary of the issues is in Readers' Guide section entitled “From traditional governance to a new global governance through the eyes of the GRI.

There are other global structural crises that the current global governance system cannot seem to manage. Each of these issue areas on their own could justify a new -- and a different --  form of global governance. 

The three of these other crisis are the prospect of passing a number of irreversible planetary-wide ecological tipping points from human-induced activities; the destabilizing and destructive effects of unrestrained militarism; and the overly rapid increase in global economic and related inequities.

In the first instance, human activities are now recognized as a cause of systematic ecological threats to our planet’s ecosystems. However, the nation-state departments assigned  to ‘manage’ the environment and international agency assigned to work with these departments are relatively weak governmental and intergovernmental organizations. In short, the scale of anthropogenic impacts on the planet is out of proportion to the governmental, corporate, or community governance systems which could possibly mitigate these impacts. In the climate governance area, there is simply not sufficient national or global public policy tools to move the global economy and all the related business systems away from a system that generates a vast amount of greenhouse gases to one that has a low carbon based energy system. Without some new form of global environment governance, there is little likelihood that the global community can prevent the human-driven climate change and ecological mismanagement from passing a number of irreversible tipping points.

In the second instance, the unrestrained NATO wars of choice in non-Western countries means that the Isaiah message inscribed on the wall across from the UN headquarters – the one about turning spears into plowshares-- remains far from reality. The Security Council, with its five permanent members and the militaries of those countries, have restrained armed conflicts in many places of the world. However the Security Council and other governance Actors are unable to restrain military engagements and threats of military intervention by the Permanent Five members themselves nor curtails arms exports from these countries. The consequence is a series of deliberate regional/global wars where one or more of the P5 are central combatants or suppliers of military hardware. 

This level of ‘acceptable’ militarism by P5 members and their immediate allies means there is no end to continued militarization of international relations between other neighboring states and no end to intelligence operations, invasions and the like in other relatively weaker non-Western countries. Militarism also causes very significant economic distortions in domestic economics of a number of major countries from ‘wasteful’ levels of military expenditures. In a number of countries, these military-related distortions make it difficult to recover from the current global financial crisis.  

In the third instance, the current globalization process has increased global, regional, and national inequalities to such an extent that the underlying structures of global society is at risk. WEF partially recognizes this structural threat by their concern about the perceived illegitimacy of globalization. In 2000, the Heads of State at the Millennium Assembly and the Secretary General's office developed the Millennium Development Goals as a way to focus attention on the need to rebalance global economic, social, and health inequalities. However the lack of a global governance structure focused on human equity, as naïve as that sounds, meant that MDG project floundered. 1 There simply was no governance force -- be it a nation-state, a corporation, a civil society organization, or a combination of these institutions -- that could get the other actors to move on reducing the maldistribution of education, health, water, housing, and related basic needs. 

Leaving aside all sorts of other factors, the continuing Northern financial crises alone would now mean these MDG goals could not be met with the current governance system. And many of the interventions taken to contain the current financial crises have increased economic inequalities in assets, income, and living standards. When increasingly large proportions of population cannot see any way that the global institutions are likely to bring significant health, education, employment, and housing to them in their lifetimes, the fabric of society is at risk.  

None of these issues were properly covered by the GRI project. If these other systematic crises were given a more attention, then the recommendations may well have taken quite a different direction.

 

The Readers' Guide welcomes comments with alternative examples or counter examples and commentary – critical or otherwise – of the above interpretation of GRI’s perspective.

  • 1. ^ The national departments for official development assistance and the various multilateral organizations assigned to focus attention on development are also relatively weak components of the current governance system. The exception is the World Bank and the regional development banks.

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