BERLIN – For the most part global public policy has failed. From the ongoing global financial crisis and the deteriorating security situation in the Middle East to the tightening trinity of food crisis, climate change and migration, the list of current global challenges and their knock-on effects within and across national borders are staggering. Of course, global public policy will have to tackle existing crises but it is even more important to prepare for if not prevent future catastrophes. Otherwise, global public policy stands to fail again.
Thinking in terms of scenarios and complexity makes the difference between a crisis-driven and a future-oriented approach towards global public policy in two ways.
First, when scientists or policy makers think about how to handle a current crisis, they need to understand the events unfolding in front of them. Crises are complex and because there is no way to grasp and understand complex systems entirely, a theory is needed. Good theories deliver coherent and probable explanations. The human brain is trained to think in these terms and as soon as there are compelling explanations available, we tend to set aside competing perspectives, anomalies, inconsistencies, and coincidences.
Second, policy makers dealing with complex systems oftentimes rely on linear thinking. This is understandable given the ease and convenience offered by the simplicity of such conceptualization. And while reality is less straight forward, in retrospect we tend to find coherent and persuasive ways to convenience ourselves how things developed – the global economic downturn, bail-out of Greece, the Arab Spring. Linear thinking for the future works the same way – if we can understand the events that led to the current crisis then we can predict the next one. The reality is that we are prone to ignore the simple fact that we simply cannot foresee the future.
To preserve global public goods in the long run and to design strong global institutions, our approach to policy thinking needs new and different perspectives instead of sticking to old paradigms. Integrating scenario approaches and complexity to our strategic thinking could lead to a deeper and broadly shared understanding of challenges in an increasingly interdependent world.
Such an approach is not about guessing what the next crisis will be about or predicting the future. Instead, it allows us to think about and tell different stories of the future that will invariably end up surprising us.
Global Policy provides one avenue towards deeper and shared understanding through an international dialogue about coordinated responses to global challenges; Global Governance 2022 (GG2022) provides a way to think about alternative futures to anticipate and prepare for possible coming crises. Building on the first round of this program, Global Governance 2020, GG2022 brings together 24 young policy leaders (eight each from China, Germany and the US) to discuss some issues that riddle the front pages of newspapers across the globe: cyber security, global development governance and energy security. At a series of meetings in Berlin, Beijing and Washington, D.C., our fellows seek new ways of how global public policy could do better to address these challenges in the coming decades. By reading these columns, we hope to involve you, Global Policy readers, to weigh in on the debate.
Thinking Ahead for Cyber Security, Development Governance and Energy Security
Political leaders from established and emerging powers alike recognize the logic of global governance. No country is capable of resolving global challenges alone. That said, we inhabit a world where the big nations – the US, China, India, Brazil – are unwilling to cede sovereignty and Europeans desperately cling on to what they have got under the strains of financial meltdown and an aging population. What is more, rising powers and many in the G77 still see global governance as a cover for western dominance.
Whatever the reasons, established and rising powers will need to work together to contribute to the future of international institutions. If we want to give multilateralism a chance in a multipolar age, we need deeper discussions between established and rising powers, the sort that brings together diverse experiences and perspectives. We also need to encourage a future-oriented approach towards global governance in preparing for uncertain futures.
The three issues areas of the GG2022 program – cyber security, development governance and energy security – exemplify the key challenges on the global governance agenda.
On cyber security, the internet boom has set new parameters and challenges for states and societies in the 21st century. But as the issue gains more traction, the term has become less precise and critical questions remain: how could threats to cyber security develop until 2022? Can global governance achieve cyber security? What roles could and should international organizations such as the UN play to handle future cyber related threats and facilitate cyber-security norms and how could they prepare for it?
With the world population now at 7 billion, improving access to clean, affordable and secure energy is imperative. The emerging markets, especially China and India, are likely to continue increasing their fossil fuel usage in the coming years as their economic growth drives up energy needs. Making global energy systems sustainable for the future is therefore imperative. What are possible future threats to a sustainable energy supply? How could markets, national governments and international institutions cooperate in a volatile and unpredictable world to deliver energy security? What are options to accelerate the development and diffusion of efficient energy technologies and decrease reliance on fossil fuels until 2022?
As for development, with the Millennium Development Goals approaching their target date in 2015, there is no shortage of areas where countries can make their collective development efforts more effective, and make these decisions last. With the experience and growing influence of new donor countries, private foundations and the rise of the G20, consequential questions may turn out to be: who could set the rules for development cooperation in the future and how do they relate to international cooperation in other issue areas? What long-term impact might the present financial crisis have on international cooperation financing? What are possible and unforeseen drawbacks and how could multilateral institutions prepare to handle them today?
The Global Governance 2022 Approach
For global governance to be effective and agile in tackling complex transnational challenges a few things are needed. First, international institutions that are seen by powerful and weak alike as legitimate and effective; the trust between competing nations that will persuade them to recognize common interests; and, in anticipation for surprises, to factor scenario thinking into policy making, joint actions and collective thinking. This is where Global Governance 2022 aims to make a contribution in global public policy.
The scenario planning methodology we use in the program provides techniques and analytical tools to create scenarios of possible futures in order to present our audience some answers to the aforementioned questions regarding the three issue areas. Crucially, as a tool for communication the methodology provides a platform for the fellows to share their normative convictions and to identify the diverging and competing views that future global governance mechanisms will have to manage.
The GG2022 program is designed for our fellows to think about global governance in a new way. It allows them to develop innovative approaches on managing global governance and to derive implications for what political leaders, policy makers and other actors should consider today to prepare for the challenges of tomorrow.
If global public policy has fallen short, the GG2022 program is a serious attempt to improve effective global policy making by bringing together a diverse range of perspectives. That is why the GG2022 fellows, the Global Public Policy Institute and our program partners are excited about sharing our discussions and views with you through these columns.
Joel Sandhu is a research associate with the Global Public Policy Institute (GPPi), and the program coordinator of the Global Governance 2022 program. Johannes Gabriel is a member of the GG2022 program team and a non-resident fellow with GPPi, which initiated and co-organizes the GG2022 program.