COMPLEXITY. Wars, diseases and major ecological collapses have existed as long as there has been human life on Earth. Humans have been heavily afflicted by such problems, but we have always risen from ashes. But imagine if, despite that the risks are low, a global catastrophe takes place without humanity being able to recover? In order to avoid global disasters, the world community has to find new methods for cooperation. Could a multistakeholder model be one of the solutions?
Jens Orback is the Executive of the Global Challenges Foundation
Traditional risk analysis is based on the following equation: the size of a risk is the potential future damage multiplied by the probability that the damage would occur. The equation clearly shows that when the potential damage of risk is large, we cannot ignore it because of insecurity or because the probability för the damage taking place seems low.
Global catastrophes have occurred before in history, as some previous pandemics have killed more than 10% of the world’s population. During the 20th century, a nuclear war was close on several occasions, a risk that has not changed despite it is more seldomly being discussed in public debate. The most dramatic change is that humanity, for the first time in history, is capable of seriously damaging the global ecosystem that we are all depending on. ser
Covid-19, greenhouse gas emissions, and weapons of mass destruction have one thing in common – they are not limited to national borders. It is becoming obvious that threats against humanity are border-crossing. Regardless if it is about global health, climate, environmental damages or connected migration flows.
Since earlier, humanity has tried to create institutions at different levels to handle those crises and conflicts of interests that affect us. However, the capacity to address serious border-crossing threats through common decision-making and regulations is defective at the moment.
Humanity stands in front of great opportunities and challenges in reforms, economic development, and technological innovation to handle global catastrophic risks like climate change, weapons of mass destruction, or pandemics. Everyone can benefit from a common policy, but all stakeholders do not equally interpret the benefits to themselves as being large or are unwilling to finance the costs. In such situations, everyone is affected by the problem.
The term “global governance” includes a lot of the “soft power” that the world community needs, by the power of attraction resulting in more stakeholders committing themselves to a norm rather than by imposing coercion, cowing to brute force or economic compensation. True supranationalism between governments and international organisations is still rare. Most of today’s multilateral institutions were built up after the Second World War, but they were not designed for the purpose of dealing with the threats we face today.
This is why we now see organisations like the World Health Organisation (WHO) lacking the power to sanction countries that do not follow the encouragement to analyse and report their health capacities to handle diseases spreading. World Trade Organisation (WTO) negotiations are at a standstill. Member countries are instead working on bilateral or regional multilateral agreements. United Nations (UN) organs are dependent for their functions on the member-states earmarked contributions, leading to distortions in their activities.
The European Union (EU), the world’s most advanced project for political integration, is a regional organisation and member-state governments decide the union’s direction. Global problems demand global solutions, but we must understand which solutions are efficient and workable. Reforms of the UN have been discussed, but have so far not gone forward because great powers are tending to their short-term national interests, and thereby it is hard to conduct reforms from above.
Multi-party stakeholder models approach global challenges by gathering representatives for different governmental and non-governmental organisations that affect or are affected by a common issue or problem. Global interest initiatives gather together companies, civil society organisations, politics, public institutions and projects. Also, such processes can also include academic institutions, foundations, intergovernmental organisations as well as technical expertise.
Some multi-party stakeholders include only the non-governmental sector, in contrast to multilateralism, where the governments are meeting for negotiations. Some researchers that have analysed the topic of multi-stakeholder conversations argue that this model provides a stronger engagement and mobilises more resources from participants than traditional multilateral institutions. Also, stakeholders represent their functions, rather than their nations, which provide a more pragmatic attitude in the negotiations.
Such developments were in general seen as unthinkable 20-30 years ago, so can a shift to multistakeholderism be legitimate and efficient? To whom are such stakeholders responsible and how? Is there a risk that they are being dominated by special interests and can increase inequality in the world?
We do not know the answers to these questions yet and we need to examine them further in order to find a road map. Not only in order to recover our world to the conditions before Covid-19 but also in order to imagine a less fragile future.