The note of caution from the Oxford Martin Commission for Future Generations on the risks of a short-term approach to global governance merits consideration. Of paramount importance is the call in its report, “Now for The Future,” to build global institutions fit to purpose for the 21st century. Currently, countries with a diminishing stake retain disproportionate power, while four times as many states, not to mention civil society groups, sit around decision-making fora, it points out. Drawn from leading figures in politics, business and academia, the authors of the report cite approvingly the Group of 20 countries as a contemporary model of inclusive multilateral cooperation. Accounting for 80 per cent of the world’s gross domestic product, a two-thirds of the global population and 80 per cent of world trade, the G20 countries demonstrated their collective influence during the Asian and global financial crises. The 1989 Montreal Protocol, which led to a complete phase-out of chlorofluorocarbon production and contained ozone depletion, is the other example of realising shared interests. Global leadership in the public health arena was demonstrable also in the 2003 ratification of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.

The unprecedented achievements of the previous century could increase global uncertainty and systemic risk in the absence of a comprehensive and broad vision for the future. For instance, frequent opinion polls, longer election campaigns, and pressures from vocal lobbies are constraining governments in terms of thinking and articulating a vision beyond the electoral term. A focus on current stock prices rather than value creation over the longer term, quarterly earnings targets and the perverse system that rewards short-term investors are also equally instances of the preoccupation with the immediate and the here and now. To address the gap between available knowledge and possible action on critical global challenges, the Commission has recommended the creation of a 20-30-40 coalition to counteract climate change and to break the gridlock on multilateral negotiations. Besides the G20 nations, the coalition should comprise the 30 cities affiliated to the World Business Council for Sustainable Development and the existing C40 Cities initiative. CyberEx, an early warning platform to understand common threats to data security, to benefit governments, businesses and individuals, is the other. The scepticism articulated in the report over the capacity of existing institutional arrangements to deliver results for the future is perhaps warranted. That should be read in the right spirit by all nations, particularly those that wield influence in shaping the global architecture.

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