What is Global Governance?

Global governance brings together diverse actors to coordinate collective action at the level of the planet. The goal of global governance, roughly defined, is to provide global public goods, particularly peace and security, justice and mediation systems for conflict, functioning markets and unified standards for trade and industry. One crucial global public good is catastrophic risk management – putting appropriate mechanisms in place to maximally reduce the likelihood and impact of any event that could cause the death of 10 per cent of humanity across the planet, or damage of equivalent magnitude. See here for a list of global catastrophic risks.

The leading institution in charge of global governance today is the United Nations. It was founded in 1945, in the wake of the Second World War, as a way to prevent future conflicts on that scale. The United Nations does not directly bring together the people of the world, but sovereign nation states, and currently counts 193 members who make recommendations through the UN General Assembly. The UN’s main mandate is to preserve global security, which it does particularly through the Security Council. In addition the UN can settle international legal issues through the International Court of Justice, and implements its key decisions through the Secretariat, led by the Secretary General.

The United Nations has added a range of areas to its core mandate since 1945. It works through a range of agencies and associated institutions particularly to ensure greater shared prosperity, as a desirable goal in itself, and as an indirect way to increase global stability. As a key initiative in that regard, in 2015, the UN articulated the Sustainable Development Goals, creating common goals for the collective future of the planet.

Beyond the UN, other institutions with a global mandate play an important role in global governance. Of primary importance are the so-called Bretton Woods institutions: the World Bank and the IMF, whose function is to regulate the global economy and credit markets. Those institutions are not without their critics for this very reason, being often blamed for maintaining economic inequality.

Global governance is more generally effected through a range of organisations acting as intermediary bodies. Those include bodies in charge of regional coordination, such as the EU or ASEAN, which coordinate the policies of their members in a certain geographical zone. Those also include strategic or economic initiatives under the leadership of one country – NATO for the US or China’s Belt and Road Initiative for instance – or more generally coordinating defense or economic integration, such as APEC or ANZUS. Finally, global governance relies on looser norm-setting forums, such as the G20, the G7, the World Economic Forum: those do not set up treaties, but offer spaces for gathering, discussing ideas, aligning policy and setting norms. This last category could be extended to multi-stakeholder institutions that aim to align global standards, for instance the Internet Engineering Taskforce (IETF) and the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).

In summary, global governance is essential but fragmented, complex and little understood. In this context, the key questions raised by the Global Challenges Foundation are, how to reform institutions, how to develop alternative institutions, and how to use the new possibilities of technology to improve governance.

You can read more about our partnerships, education and research work towards this goal.