Why do we need global governance?

Global governance is necessary because humanity increasingly faces both problems and opportunities that are global in scale. Today, transnational problems such as violence and pandemics routinely reach across borders, affecting us all. At the same time, the increasingly integrated global system has also laid the necessary foundations for peace and spectacular prosperity. Effective global governance will allow us to end armed conflict, deal with new and emerging problems such as technological risks and automation, and to achieve levels of prosperity and progress never before seen.1

The most important challenge for humanity to overcome is that of existential risks. One way to look at the danger of an existential risk is to quantify the level of global coordination needed to deal with it. While best-shot risks, at one end of the spectrum only require that a single nation, organization or even individual (i.e., superhero) has the means and the will to save everyone, weakest-link risks, at the other end of the spectrum, are dangers that might require literally every country to take appropriate action to prevent catastrophe, with no room for failure.2 3

We’ve always been at risk of natural disaster, but with advances in our level of technology the risk we pose to ourselves as a species becomes ever greater. Nuclear weapons are a well-known risk that we still live with to this day. The progress of technological research exposes us to new dangers such as bioengineered superbugs, nanotechnological menaces, and the risk of an out-of-control artificial intelligence with ill-intent. Increased levels of global coordination are needed to combat many of these risks, as described in our article on the cooperation possibilities frontier.

There are other problems that don’t necessarily threaten the species or even civilization as we know it, but which are holding back the development of prosperity and progress. Armed conflict, around since the dawn of history, still haunts us today. Even though wars between great powers appear to be a thing of the past, regional conflicts still account for tremendous human suffering and loss of life in parts of the world without stable governance.4

Other problems have emerged precisely because of our successes in the past. The unprecedented advancement of human wellbeing and prosperity over the past century has been based in large part on the use of fossil fuels, thus exposing us to climate change. Widespread automation, already a stressor on society, will put increased pressure on the social and economic fabric of our societies over the next few decades. Global governance can help alleviate these issues in various ways – we refer the interested reader to the very detailed work in Ruling Ourselves.

Finally, global governance will increasingly be judged not only by the extent to which it prevents harm, but also by its demonstrated ability to improve human wellbeing.5 Progress has let us set our sights higher as a species, both for what we consider to be the right trajectory for humanity and for our own conduct.6 Major advances in human wellbeing can be accomplished with existing technology and modest improvements in global coordination.

Effective global governance is global governance that tackles these issues better than the regional governments of the world can independently. Global governance is key to solving global problems. Without it, we may not be able to avoid weakest-link existential risks or regulate new and dangerous technologies. With it, we may be able to prosper as we never have before. The next step is to determine how effective global governance can be achieved.

  1. For a good primer on the subject of Global Governance, we suggest Hale, T., Held, D. and Young, K., 2013. Gridlock: why global cooperation is failing when we need it most. Hale et. all frame global governance as the solution to the issue of major world power’s inability to coordinate []
  2. Hirshleifer, J., 1983. From Weakest-Link to Best-Shot: The Voluntary Provision of Public Goods. Public choice, 41[3], pp.371-386. []
  3. Barrett, S., 2005. The Problem of Averting Global Catastrophe. Chi. J. Int’l L., 6, p.527. []
  4. Pinker, S., 2012. The better angels of our nature: Why violence has declined. Penguin Books. []
  5. Harack, B., Laskowski, K., Bailey, R., Marcotte, J., Jaques, S., Datta, D., and Kuski, S., 2017. Ruling Ourselves: The deliberate evolution of global cooperation and governance. Available online: http://rulingourselves.com  []
  6. United Nations, 2000. Millennium development goals. Available online: http://www.un.org/millenniumgoals [accessed on 21 July 2017]. []

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