A Role for Legislators

By Matthews, Adam | Global Governance, October-December 2009 | Go to article overview

A Role for Legislators


Matthews, Adam, Global Governance


We are living in a world that is facing multiple global challenges: the economic downturn, climate change, energy security, poverty, and ecosystem breakdown. Each of these challenges requires an unprecedented political response, a daunting prospect when viewed together. Our main difficulty is not that these challenges are insoluble--they are not. Instead, it is the fact that we are facing these modern-day challenges while using institutional frameworks and governmental structures that were designed for a post-World War II equilibrium. The existing international bodies responsible for tackling these current challenges are separate, disparate, and not sufficiently "joined up." We have the Group of 20 (G-20), the International Monetary Fund, and World Bank for the financial crisis; the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), G8, and Major Economies Forum for climate change; the International Energy Agency (IEA), and G8 for energy security; the UN Development Programme and World Bank for poverty; and the UN Convention on Biological Diversity for ecosystems. Each of these organizations is doing important work, but many are working with considerable constraint on issues that require a unified policy response. As a result, we have disconnected institutions responding to an interconnected world.

An Interconnected World

The interconnections between countries, regions, economies, and cultures are multiplying. Within national governments, the interconnections between policies across portfolios of energy, environment, transport, security, and foreign policy are increasing. Indeed, the recent financial crisis is a perfect illustration, beginning with the irresponsible lending of money to private homeowners in the United States and leading to a near global financial meltdown. This inter-connectedness has resulted in increased unemployment, increased national debt, reduced trade, and exacerbated poverty, which have reduced the ambition to tackle climate change.

The current crisis has shown us, quite clearly, how a national or regional economic downturn can quickly and easily turn global and demand policy responses across a range of geographical and ministerial disciplines. It serves as a warning that responses to the biggest global environmental challenges such as climate change or ecosystem loss cannot be tackled by environment ministers in isolation, but instead require enlightened policy interventions across the full range of ministerial portfolios from energy to economics and from finance to transport. Fundamentally, we require continued political leadership from the top of government, without which there is little hope of achieving meaningful solutions.

Global Responses

Meeting global challenges successfully will require unprecedented global coordination across the major economies. National and regional action is part of the solution, but to be successful, the right institutions and global governance structures will be needed in combination with political leadership from the major economies. We have limped along over the past twenty to thirty years with institutions designed for a postwar world that are slow to respond and increasingly out of alignment with the challenges of the day. In parallel, on global governance, the G8 group of industrialized countries is increasingly being questioned as the political constellation best placed to deal with global issues.

The debate around institutions and global governance is not new, but has been given political impetus by the comments of Brazilian president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva who, when referring to the G-20 summit in Washington, DC, in 2008, said: "We are talking about the G20 because the G8 doesn't have any more reason to exist; emerging economies have to be taken into consideration in today's globalised world." (1) Many observers see the move away from the G8 and toward the G-20 as inevitable. As the former UK G8 Sherpa to Tony Blair in 2005 and 2006, Lord Michael Jay, who was also the architect of the Glen-eagles G8 summit, said: "It is hugely significant that at a time of global financial crisis it was the G20 that met in Washington and not the G8.

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