In pursuit of
Global Public Goods
“A failure of US
and EU leadership”
Self-serving giants in a multipolar world
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In pursuit of Global Public Goods
The current system of global governance is incapable of dealing appropriately with the most pressing common concerns.
Too often, the debate on Global Public Goods blurs with that on development. The international community needs to find better
ways of dealing with interests shared by all nations. The Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness provides an example,
which, however, only relates to development matters. Cooperation on global issues in national interest should have its own agenda.
[ By Gun-Britt Andersson ]
Globalisation is accompanied by ever more issues and concerns that cannot be handled by local or national action alone. The spread of diseases, climate change, the international financial architecture and fighting terrorism are only a few examples of challenges that cannot be effectively handled at the level of the sovereign state alone. In every person’s and every nation’s interest, international cooperation is needed.
To respond to the growing need for international cooperation an elaborate web of international organisations has been created since the Second World War, including the United Nations and the European Union. Over these past decades, enormous progress has been made towards greater freedom – freedom from fear, hunger and want. The conventions on Universal Human Rights have been negotiated and are gaining respect in spite of frequent abuses. Democracy has spread. Human development indicators show that a majority of people in the world live longer and lead better lives materially than ever before (www.gapminder.org).
The vision that poverty can be eradicated is no longer purely utopian. World leaders have believed in it enough to proclaim the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), including those of reducing the number living in poverty by half, and providing basic education and health for everyone by 2015. In important ways, there has also been progress on peace, security and human dignity. Decolonisation has been more or less completed. Europe has moved on from its history of violent conflict to the historic EU-project. The cold war is over.
These fundamental changes have liberated much energy and local aspirations. Men and women around the world are demanding better lives, self-determination and a fair share of prosperity. Their ambitions can fuel sustainable development but – if frustrated – also aggression, protective fear and regression.
The issues are complicated and the answers will have to be manifold. International cooperation, however, must definitely improve further. Along with worthy achievements the international community has also witnessed failures and shortcomings. All summed up, international bodies have been better at identifying problems, passing well-intended resolutions and setting targets than at delivering results. Global Public Goods – such as peace and security, sustainable management of global commons, control of communicable diseases, enabling rules of the game in the economic sphere and access to knowledge – are not adequately provided. The world is also behind schedule for achieving the Millennium Development Goals.
Responsibility and legitimacy
As clearly stated by the Millennium Review Summit last year the global governance system needs to be improved. Too many governments consider it neither efficient nor effective. As powerful nations and strong stakeholders are resorting to unilateral action because of perceived weaknesses, the system is further weakened. Another, equally dangerous choice is to remain inactive and wait for others to sort out problems. Neither approach is acceptable.
In some cases, the international system has been up to task. Consider, for example, peace-keeping operations in Sierra Leone, the Balkans or East Timor. In the environmental field, the implementation of the Montreal Protocol is helping to close our atmosphere’s ozone hole. The World Health Organisation acted with authority to suppress an impending SARS-outbreak and, as a result, was given enhanced powers to monitor and control diseases. The international community also proved competent in its response to the Indian Ocean Tsunami. A regional warning system is now being established.
These examples strikingly illustrate the inability of individual governments to tackle global problems on their own. Peaceful and stable states, control of epidemics and prevention and relief in cases of massive natural disaster depend on international cooperation, regional and global.
However, it is also obvious that international organisations have difficulties of setting priorities within their often broad mandates. There has been a proliferation of initiatives and projects. For every topical issue, multilateral organisations rush to make their particular contributions. Intentions are good, but important motives are also the quest for public recognition and access to fresh or redirected funds.
The international system has its own dynamic for better and worse. The main responsibility, however for weaknesses fall on the “owners”– the member states.
The experiences of the European Union and in particular the crisis it is in now provide lessons in this regard also for the wider international cooperation.
In a series of intergovernmental negotiations, the EU has been given some supranational powers. They are mostly confined to areas where removal of obstacles for interaction across borders have been opened up for more business, people and civil society contacts. One category of issues concerns such things as food safety, environmental standards and animal health, where the benefits of cross-border cooperation are obvious. This open space and internal market constitute a public good everybody can enjoy at the expense of nobody. However, political problems arise whenever measures affecting livelihoods, attitudes or job security are not well understood publicly. The legitimacy of decisions made in far away Brussels is questioned. A supposedly “distant and all-encompassing centre of power” is then often made a scapegoat for all sorts of grievances. This trend has been evident in the debate (and the referenda) on the proposed EU constitution.
The advanced European experience of integration demonstrates that it is important to be clear about what to cooperate on and why. In modern democratic information societies the wisdom and legitimacy of political decisions are always put to test. At the national level, governments derive legitimacy from history, constitutions and elections. Even as some degree of democratic governance and control are introduced at the regional level, national politicians and governments remain in the first line of accountability. In the EU context, experience has reinforced the principle of subsidiarity. There is no point in referring problems and issues that can be settled at home to a higher level.
At the same time this also means that national governments must assume responsibility for international affairs. They must convince their people that international cooperation is in their national interest, as important challenges cannot be risen to otherwise. They must also be clear about their expectations and guidance of the various international organisations.
Development and global concerns
Besides dealing with cross-border or global issues, international organisations are fora where governments support one another in national development endeavours. The old “rich” countries have, since the time of post-war reconstruction, benefited from exchange of experience, peer learning and policy advice in and from the OECD. Membership has gradually expanded. The UN system and the International Financial Institutions are in similar – as well as other ways – providing support to developing countries, in particular the poorest among them. They are part of the so called donor community, contributing towards achieving the MDGs. For reasons of solidarity and enlightened self-interest, poverty eradication and education for all are of shared global interest. Nonetheless, they are private or national goods or utilities rather than Global Public Goods.
National governments can, in these cases, do the most themselves to promote growth and development through sound policy choices. Mainly domestic resources are required for expanding education facilities, improving health systems and meeting similar needs. Outside support can have the useful role of contributing to the design of better policies, to scaling up activities and to enhancing institutions and capacities. Attempts to do more, however, will often not be sustainable or even not work at all. Responsibility and accountability for these matters must not be allowed to blur between the national and international levels – as that could, in fact, discourage domestic efforts. These issues have been analysed and discussed systematically in recent years. The Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness of 2005 presents widely accepted conclusions.
The architecture and modalities for cooperation on cross-border, regional and global issues which require common action – and, more often than not, joint funding – need similar analyses and conclusions as those on aid effectiveness. The issues concerned are of crucial importance for sound global development but do not per se belong to the poverty/development agenda. Provision of Global Public Goods such as aviation safety, the mitigation of global warming or containment of the avian flu depend on constructive multi-party interaction in much the same way as development interventions do. Nonetheless, there has been an unfortunate mixing – and sometimes even merging – of the agendas for development and initiatives to better address other global concerns in international politics. One reason is that the same international organisations are involved in both contexts. Another reason is that national budgets for development cooperation are more or less the only available public sources for financing global civilian initiatives.
Strange and obsolete
In coalition with development agencies from donor countries, developing countries have naturally defended the use of such funds according to priorities as seen from their perspective. Some global or regional public goods are among these priorities, including, for instance, measures to combat communicable diseases, like HIV/AIDS and Malaria. The same can be said of promoting security through conflict-prevention and post-conflict reconstruction. In the field of energy and environment, on the other hand, international debate and negotiations have been marked by a notion that sustainable management of global commons are matters of interest to rich nations primarily – something they should pay for by reaching the target of spending 0.7 % of GDP on official development assistance (ODA).
However, it is obvious that the sustainable use and protection of natural resources, to give but one example, are of vital interest to all nations – in the short run and even more so in the long run. Sweden, like other countries signed up to the Kyoto-agreement, should and will continue to impose high taxes on fossil fuel and take other measures to reduce green-house gases. But doing so would make more sense to them if they were joined by the US and by developing countries who in the future are likely to suffer the most from global warming and who already are among the large emitters.
The approach of linking the solution of global problems with the ODA target of 0.7 % is becoming increasingly strange and obsolete in many ways. Strange because the target refers only to the relatively small group of old DAC-donors, whereas many other countries have in the meantime acquired an ability to contribute. Obsolete, because actually many more countries are already participating in funding ventures beyond their border, both towards development ends and problem solving at regional and global levels. There are several reasons for doing so. Modern economic development, for instance, depends on taking part in world trade and adhering to international standards. Moreover, it is in any nation’s immediate interest to cooperate with others to stem instability, diseases, financial crises or environmental hazards.
A key conclusion is that global concerns should be addressed on their own merits. The most pressing needs and gaps in what is already taken care of should be identified. In doing so, the principle of subsidiarity should be applied. For each issue an analysis should be made of why action and cooperation is necessary, what inaction will mean to whom and what it will cost. Estimates should also be made of benefits for global and regional collectives as well as for individual nations. Such analyses might show that it is justified to use development cooperation funds in some instances, but they may also convince national governments – and publics – that it makes sense to contribute from other sources, which could include innovative financing schemes under discussion and early implementation.
A thorough analysis might in some cases also show that providing Global Public Goods does not necessarily imply higher expenditure. To mitigate climate change, much more research into new environmentally friendly technologies is needed. That will by costly, and both public and private investments are required. However such investments might also pay off when new attractive products find their market. There are many examples of this in Sweden where economic, often fiscal incentives have been used extensively to steer research and investments towards more environmentally sustainable avenues.
Naturally, the UN system should be expected to set the stage in the pursuit of Global Public Goods. Some of its agencies are doing so in their fields of competence. A good example is WHO. Others fail to focus or refocus their efforts to fully answer to the present global needs. Somebody must also prioritise between issues to tackle, and somebody must underpin proposals to that end with comprehensible and top quality analysis and advocacy. The question is where the best and legitimate capacities for these tasks can be found and developed within the present system – in the central UN organs, among specialised agencies and international financial organisations, in regional bodies or at the OECD?
These are questions the International Task Force on Global Public Goods, a body initiated by France and Sweden was set up to find some answers to. The Task Force, now in the concluding phase of its work, was conceived at the Financing for Development Conference in Monterrey and established after the Johannesburg Summit on Sustainable Development. A report is expected for later this year.
At the UN summit in 2005, important decisions were made leading to the creation of the peace-building commission and the new council for monitoring and promoting the respect for human rights, for example. Further work is needed on economic development and on how the international community is to become better at dealing with a range of common concerns from health and environment to peace and basic security. The analyses produced in the course of the work of the Task Force and its final report should feed into the deliberations of the Panel the Secretary-General of the UN has appointed for revitalising the UN development and cooperation system.
Ambassador Gun-Britt Andersson
heads Sweden’s delegation to the OECD and UNESCO.
She is a member of the Task Force on Global Public Goods.