A couple of years ago, I was attending an academic conference on global governance in Canada . The immigration officer asked one of the speakers to explain the purpose of his visit. The speaker said that he was there to address a conference on global governance. The immigration officer retorted: "Global what?"
To most people, the concept of global governance is alien. The United Nations charter is violated to launch wars. The 'nuclear haves' have ignored Article VI of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and the 'nuclear have nots' now aim to acquire weapons. There is a growing competition in space. The Doha round of trade talks is in suspension. The Bali meeting on climate change in December 2007 failed to produce any concrete agreement on controlling CO2 emissions.
And yet we are at a stage when there is no alternative to a global and collaborative approach to problem-solving. Consider this:
Only nine countries in the world - all Western - monopolise the manufacturing of influenza vaccines. The people in the developing world will be badly affected should there be pandemics. But this is no solace to those in the rich world. There are more than 2 billion persons taking flights each year. Of course, some people fly several times a year. Therefore, the number of airline passengers may be somewhere between a quarter and half million. Yet these passengers between them are flying 2 billion times. If some of them contract the influenza due to lack of access to vaccines, they are bound to spread it across the world.
The OECD countries account for 90% of investments in clean-tech. The emerging economies - India , China and Brazil - account for the remaining 10%. Other developing countries are out of picture. The West is bound to dominate the new technological revolution. But they can't escape global warming that will result from the reliance of developing and emerging economies on fossil fuels, particularly coal. If the Artic glaciers melt, Europe will be the first one to be affected. In the next order, the Himalayan glaciers could melt and the economies of tomorrow - India and China - will face water and food shortage.
The developed economies are investing heavily in biotechnological revolution. In the United States alone, the industry turnover is expected to be $100 billion by 2010. India or Brazil can expect 1 to 5% of this turnover by then. Similarly, market capitalisation of bio-tech companies in the United States is around $500 billion - almost 100 times of market capitalisation in several companies in the emerging economies together. However, the cost of setting up a biotech lab is low. Personnel are easily available. Some of the rogue states or terrorist groups can conceivably set up a few labs and develop pathogens detrimental to human life. The risk of bioterrorism is real and it is global.
Similarly, it is not too expensive to create expertise in hacking computers. In 2007, the Tamil Tigers hijacked a satellite of Intelsat to use as their propaganda vehicle. The Chinese army demonstrated its ability to shoot down a satellite and potentially threaten the GPS system. Several hackers regularly demonstrate their ability to undermine critical infrastructure. Thus, the concentration of information technology in the West does not free its important assets from the risk of attacks.
The SFG Emerging Issues report indicates that the gap between the North and the South is widening in the context of major technological revolutions of tomorrow. However, the privileged cannot enjoy their monopoly. They are at as much risk from asymmetrical attacks as are the under-privileged from systemic weaknesses. The world needs a new global social contract, a new set of rules of the game, which can spread the benefits of new technologies in way that can enhance shared sense of security for the entire humanity.
In particular, we need tremendous creativity to respond to the race between prosperity and population growth. Currently about 50% or 3.3 billion people of 6.6 billion inhabiting our planet live in zones of hope. In twenty years from now, 60% of the 8 billion or almost 5 billion people will experience prosperity. If population were static at 6.6 billion, a vast majority will live in hopeful economic space. However, with the growth of population, 3 billion people (as many as today) will still be out of prosperity, even though two billion more would have improved their life. How to break this deadlock without damaging our environment? This is one of the greatest challenges of our time.
The questions we have raised above are interlinked in a complicated web. If environment is damaged, there will be greater risks to health. If health problems increase, productivity will be affected undermining economic growth. We need a complex approach to a complex set of problems. There is no alternative to sound global governance.
Once politicians agree or are pushed to agree to take global governance seriously, it will not be difficult to find solutions to seemingly impossible challenges. Human history is history of resilience and innovation. If we free human spirit from dogma and narrow considerations, the remaining nine decades of this century may provide the greatest hope ever.
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