This report brings together a set of diverse perspectives from independent thinkers on implementing changes to global governance. The views expressed here will be of interest to those who, like us, have become concerned about the ability of decision-makers to concretely address global risks in what seems like a new era of nationalism and populism. This Quarterly Report is also designed for those who have answered the Global Challenges Foundation call to explore and articulate new models for governing those risks. It provides background on ideas and reflections about some of the key challenges encountered when re-thinking global cooperation – whether cognitively, rationally, historically or otherwise. The report in no way seeks to lay out a prescriptive path on what reforms should be prioritized, nor prescribe how decision-making systems should work. Rather, this issue of our Quarterly Report invites its readers to consider looking back over elements of our collective wisdom that may help us re-imagine our future.

The report opens with two pieces reflecting on our current historical moment and the dangers that it holds. In “From ashes to ashes? Learning from the past to protect the future”, David Held & Kyle McNally from Durham University take us back to the birth of the United Nations. After the terrible destructions of the Second World War, the nations of the world came together and developed a new global governance system designed to provide lasting peace. Recent political developments, however, show signs of a return to the tremors of the past: ineffective institutions, growing xenophobia, and the rise of authoritarianism. Our individual fate may be no more than ashes to ashes, but societies can and must learn from the lessons of history – their future depends on it.

The second contribution "Sino-American relations under the Trump administration and implications for global governance", by Professor Yang Yao from Beijing University, focuses more directly on a major recent geopolitical shift: the simultaneous retreat of the United States from global governance leadership and the rise of China as champion of the globalized world. Growing protectionism in the US, withdrawal from trade agreements, and appointment of anti-China figures in key cabinet positions signal danger for the bilateral relationship, and beyond, for our entire international economic system. Further degradation of the relationship between those two powers is one of the major risks facing the world in the coming years.

The second part of the report looks into more details at the challenges and opportunities of implementing change in global governance, under three main angles: the role of the United Nations, practical tactics for systemic change, and new governance models called for by new technologies.

The Honorable Kevin Rudd, 26th Prime Minister of Australia and current President of the Asia Society Policy Institute, opens this section of the report. His piece, “Multilateralism in the age of uncertainty”, directly draws on his experience as chair of the Independent Commission on Multilateralism, which conducted a wide consultation of UN members over 2014-2016 to develop a practical reform agenda. On the basis of this consultation, ten core principles were identified to lead the reform of the United Nations. These include greater importance given to prevention and delivery, simplification of senior management, better partnership between government and non-government entities, and priority for women and young people. Renewed commitment from member States, along the lines proposed above, should then be cemented at a new San Francisco conference commemorating the 75 years of the UN.

The second piece in this section, “Institutional innovation: what alternatives to top down design?”, invites us to look at the question from the angle of institutional theory. Reflecting on lessons learned from the reforms of the former socialist world, Katharina Pistor, Professor of Law with Columbia University, articulates potential alternatives to top down design in reforms of global governance. Institutions have been defined as the ‘rules of the game’ that we choose to play by. Institutional change by design typically fails to deliver on its promises: institutions taken from one context rarely work when transplanted to another. However, there are alternative solutions. Existing sources of authority, whose actions already serve as coordinating devices, can become leading agents of change. In addition, change institutions, developed on the model of existing parallel decision-making structures, can bring about transformation by modifying access and participation rules.

In “Overcoming our tribalistic nature”, Daniel L. Shapiro, Founder and Director of the Harvard International Negotiation Program, considers the question of global collaboration from the angle of social psychology. What are the psychological obstacles to global collaboration? Competition for scarce resources can easily trigger tribalism, resulting in a mindset that pits one group against the other. To resist this, we must find ways of developing a ‘communal mindset’ on a global scale: a mindset that embraces diverse perspectives and favors collaborative problem-solving. 

Howon Jeong, Professor of Conflict Analysis and Resolution at George Mason University, explores the implications of game theory for the design of international agreements in “Collective actions for global public good: toward self-enforcing agreements”. In the absence of efficient external enforcement structures, treaties protecting global public goods may not result in any significant change unless they become self-enforcing. If we want individual agents to make decisions resulting in the best possible outcome, the right incentive structures are required. The mechanisms that govern decision-making should be designed to make compliance attractive and dissuade evasion, thus ensuring positive outcomes for all. 

What happens when new technologies lead to new global risks, but no governance systems or structures are in place to address those? Janos Pasztor, Executive Director of the Carnegie Climate Geoengineering Governance Initiative, explores this question in the final piece, “Toward governance frameworks for climate geoengineering”. Climate geoengineering, or the use of large scale methods to control the temperature of the atmosphere, could give humanity much needed breathing space to face the dangers of climate change. But the deployment of geoengineering interventions raises many questions – including what criteria to use when balancing local and global impacts, how to mitigate the risks of unilateral interventions, or how to account for the possibility of major geopolitical changes in the future. To avoid the potentially dreadful consequences of poorly-made decisions, new frameworks must be developed. In turn, the development of these new models opens a space to more broadly rethink the shape of global frameworks for climate governance – and aligns closely with the goals of the Global Challenges New Shape competition.