Ten major trends that could affect global governance in the future — from power shifts to climate change — are core to a new strategic plan for the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI), suggesting where potential crises or catalysts could require a significant change in policy thinking.

CIGI’s Strategic Plan 2015–2020 articulates the think tank’s mandate for the ensuing five years. Its content is drawn from a consultative exercise involving experts from both internal and external to CIGI. Fundamental to CIGI’s purpose is the commitment to work in areas where governance — especially global, but also regional governance — is of principal concern.

When international efforts have proven inadequate to meet the challenges that the interdependent world faces, a “gap” exists in global governance. Global governance gaps can include the inadequacy of rules, regulatory regimes and compliance mechanisms. Other interpretations of gaps refer to outdated decision-making processes in international institutions — inappropriate representation, transparency provisions or accountability provisions. Proponents for change argue that existing arrangements appear inadequate, and substantial reform or even new institutions are required to close a perceived gap. Indeed, the notion of gap includes the possibility of inadequate governance due to overlapping mandates and their attendant inefficiencies among multiple institutions working on the same or similar problem.[1]

CIGI aims not only to address existing gaps, but also to anticipate the consequences of the current forces of change that will affect both the need for international organizations and the types of informal governance arrangements needed in the future.

Analysis of trends could help clarify the forces and direction of changes that point to the need for new international arrangements and global rules. Over the past year, CIGI undertook an exercise intended to consider likely gaps and their implications for global governance. Based on a review of existing literature, along with interviews conducted by CIGI of more than 75 experts from a diverse set of scholarly and policy backgrounds around the world, the major trends with implications for future global governance include:

  • power shifts and diffusion;
  • technological innovation;
  • growing economic and financial interconnectedness;
  • climate change;
  • resource scarcity;
  • population growth;
  • evolution of the Internet;
  • individual activism;
  • public debt; and
  • urbanization.

To elaborate on just the first four of these trends:

Power Shifts and Diffusion

Two key trends are the global power shift toward what some call the emerging economies, the rising powers (the emergence of new major international players at the governmental level) and the diffusion of power beyond states to include multiple non-state actors.

These power shifts are likely to require adapting existing institutions, such as the International Monetary Fund, to recognize the power of emerging markets — to deter the developing world from creating competing institutions, such as the BRICS Development Bank, to exercise their economic and political influence.

Technological Innovation

The Internet is an infrastructure that is the backbone of all other infrastructures, that nations have a responsibility to ensure is resilient and not degraded or used in inappropriate ways.

Trends in technological advances will deliver “wild cards,” requiring new international regulatory requirements. The ongoing challenge of multiple and often diverse applications of technology will affect both civilian quality of life as well as the military-security nexus. The scalability of technological change will likely have profound consequences, affecting and empowering individuals, nation-states and the global ecology differentially.

Any future change to Internet governance has to be executed in a deliberate fashion that is multi-stakeholder in scope, has private industry input as well as traditional government legitimacy and tackles three major trends: state control of content and state censorship of the Internet; privacy and surveillance; and criminal activity.

Growing Economic and Financial Interconnectedness

Current institutions governing global economy first emerged in response to the reconstruction after WWII. They were designed to deal with the past, not the present, and are now largely inadequate to handle contemporary economic globalization.

Given the trend of increasing interconnectedness, it appears that striving for coherence will be critical. Perhaps the technique of dividing phenomena into trends is inappropriate — there is too much interdependence and too much spillover, and there are too many feedback effects, as in the resource-scarcity nexus among climate change, water, food security and energy.

Climate Change

Climate change will not be alleviated just through summits of diplomats. There is a need to invest in spreading key technologies that diminish greenhouse gas emissions with intergovernmental organizations providing and subsidizing these technologies. 

Climate change is a classic example of the “tragedy of the commons.” Burning of fossil fuel has increased the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and evidence shows that the global temperature is rising. However, even with strong scientific evidence and increased agreement among the vast majority of experts, appropriate policy responses remain contested and controversial.

Forecasts for world population, growth in the per-capita demand for energy resources, the availability and costs of different power technologies, the emissions of various technologies, the carbon uptake from the oceans and forests: these are all uncertain. The result is that “the institutional wheels are turning, but not touching the ground,” despite the emerging consensus that shrinking ice cover, ocean acidification, and potential feedback effects, combined with the inexorable rise of emissions, will result in costly or even disastrous consequences.

Many of these trends are connected. A nexus also can be seen among climate change, population growth, demand for water, food security, energy, income inequality, environmental degradation and political instability, as well as rapid urbanization.

Conclusion

The current international geopolitical context is characterized by several governance gaps. We do not have the appropriate set of institutions and arrangements to effectively deal with global challenges that require global cooperation. It appears that existing institutions cannot be reformed. It seems the “international organization chart” is frozen. Yet, despite all the constraints, each year new formal institutions are created and informal governance arrangements are formulated. History tells us new international institutions and new informal governance arrangements will be established. These reforms and innovations occur despite formidable vested interests and political obstacles, and despite the apparent excess of international organizations and informal global governance arrangements and networks. 

Just as research is required to improve upon forecasting and foresight abilities, it will be necessary to bring a critical perspective to assessing not only the effective functioning of existing institutions, but also whether new institutions or even informal arrangements are needed. If new global governance institutions are to be developed, should existing ones be closed and those resources redirected to support new initiatives? And with all of this, whither sovereignty and the interests of the state which, as most of the experts suggested in CIGI’s consultations, is not likely to fade away and disappear any time soon? These questions will continue to be addressed by CIGI as it implements its new strategic plan over the coming five years.



[1] This commentary draws from a longer, more in-depth internal analysis, “Gaps in Global Governance:  CIGI Background Document” written by CIGI Senior Fellow Barry Carin, CIGI Program Manager Hayley Avery and CIGI Vice President of Programs David Dewitt, which will be published as a CIGI Paper later in 2015. 

About the Authors

David Dewitt joined CIGI as vice president of programs in July 2011, and oversees the strategy and implementation of all the organization's work programs and research-related activities, including the CIGI Campus Library. He is on an extended leave of absence from York University, Toronto where he currently holds the position of University Professor.

Hayley Avery is the manager, strategic initiatives and special projects. In addition to contributing to the strategic direction of programs at CIGI  by assisting in the design and implementation of key initiatives, she participates in new Africa Initiative-funded and Africa-focused activities at CIGI.