Since the last edition of Global Trends was published three years ago, the demands being made of global governance institutions have increased to such an extent that the system of international relations appears to be permanently under pressure. A series of global shocks – the world financial crisis and the food crisis being two examples – have thrown the gaps in global governance and the repeated failures of the climate process into sharp relief.
At global level, a climate of distrust of the United Nations (UN), fuelled over many decades, and the erosion of its problem-solving capacities through the systematic use of blocking tactics have done much to undermine institutionalised multilateralism. Instead, attempts are being made to alleviate the pressure in the system through a move towards sectoral – in other words, thematically specialised – forums and a multitude of alternative forms of global governance outside the established multilateral institutions.
The resulting fragmentation of global policy-making, combined with a proliferation of international and transnational forums, is creating new complexities in international relations and is tending to reinforce the inequalities between actors. At the same time, the increasing multipolarity in the system offers opportunities to forge new alliances which no longer (have to) abide by the rules of conventional power politics.
In this scenario, the state’s role appears to be undergoing a process of long-term change, reflected also in an altered understanding of what sovereignty means, both internally and externally. Social protest movements are increasingly objecting to the lack of provision of national and global public goods by governments and their failure to control dominant market forces. The burgeoning middle classes in many developing countries are a major force to be reckoned with here. Technological advances such as the Internet offer new opportunities for political participation, transnational networking and public access.
The major global governance gaps mentioned at the start clearly show that the Western economic model and concept of progress cannot provide a frame of reference for the wider world – and that it is the major industrialized nations, first and foremost, which need to change course. The finite nature of our natural resources, and the limited and in some cases almost exhausted carrying capacity of the Earth’s ecosystems, including the atmosphere, mean that a “business as usual” approach is not an option. As a result, a broad debate has begun at the national and the international level about how prosperity and welfare should be defined, also in light of the interests of future generations.
The authors of this new edition of Global Trends have undertaken in-depth analyses of these developments, briefly outlined here, and present their findings, underpinned by statistical data and factual information.