Guest Article #17

A Post-Nation-State Proposal from Davos

This past year has seen extensive debates on environmental governance, on its cousin sustainable development governance, on its economic component finance governance and on health governance, food governance and climate governance, among others. Each of these exchanges has involved a different institutional structure and a different combination of stakeholders, including governments, civil society organizations, academics, corporate executives, UN staff and other categories.

In the coming months, the Rio+20 follow-up debates will focus heavily on a number of governance issues. The World Economic Forum (WEF), better known simply as Davos, has jumped ahead of these thematic discussions with a proposal for a new concept of global governance itself.

WEF's own dialogue on global governance was provoked by the ad hoc and largely inadequate international response to the 2008/2009 financial crisis. In 2009 WEF convened a multi-stakeholder dialogue on the future of international cooperation. Their effort, called the Global Redesign Initiative (GRI), set out to re-think global institutions, global values, and global crisis management. A year and a half later WEF released a set of proposals for a fundamentally new framework for global governance. The report titled “Everybody's Business: Strengthening International Cooperation in a More Interdependent World” formulates a new way to envisage global governance and includes specific, thematic recommendations from over 60 taskforces involving 750 experts.

The breadth and structure of the 600-page report is a bit intimidating. To make WEF's recommendations more accessible, an online Readers Guide to the Davos proposals, located at the website, seeks to encourage a healthy debate on the future of global governance.

A couple of WEF's proposals can illustrate the breadth of their thinking. First, WEF recommends transforming the current practice of multi-stakeholder consultations and public-private partnerships into multi-stakeholder governance arrangements. Instead of governments making decisions assisted by civil society organizations, multinational corporations, international secretariats and others, WEF recommends that certain thematic areas be governed by a combination of multinational corporations, governments, civil society organizations and other stakeholders. In this arrangement nation-states are no longer the leaders in global affairs but just one of a number of participants in a global governance system, and not necessarily the leading participant. The Global Redesign Initiative recommends that these multi-stakeholder governance arrangements should be seen as legitimate institutional arrangements and that their outcomes may in the near future be more significant than intergovernmentally negotiated agreements.

In a second indicative proposal, WEF advocates for the Group of 20 (G20) to become an institutionalized body taking a clear lead in defining global policy goals and in devising global solutions. This institutionalization would include a periodic review of G20 membership, a one-way reporting system to the governments at the UN, a secretariat in one of the G20 developing countries, and a special role overseeing the international financial system. As most UN system bodies use unanimous decision-making, individual G20 member countries can prevent consideration of issues by the UN system that they wish to see managed by the G20. This institutionalization of the G20 is one way that enhanced effectiveness – one of GRI's explicit concerns with the current system – can be brought to the intergovernmental system.

The UMass Boston Readers Guide to the GRI explores these issues through a line-by-line commentary section on the report of the GRI, a look at the context of the GRI project, and a series of overview essays. The contextual essays look at the unusual design of the final report, the participants in the process, and the surrounding environment for the GRI project. The first introductory essay in the Guide presents a synthesis of WEF's principles for the next iteration of global governance, one that both seeks to incorporate new actors into the global governance system and to remake post-World War II institutional arrangements to manage contemporary globalization. The second essay situates WEF's new perspective within the context of traditional international relations and national governance frameworks. The third introductory essay appraises the assumptions inherent in WEF's new proposals and presents a critique of its approach. The longest section of the Reader Guide contains extracts of key passages from the full report with detailed line by line commentary. In addition, each section of the online Readers Guide has a comment feature intended to encourage an open dialogue on global governance and a new alignment of global institutions.

As the thematic governance debates evolve in the UN system and at the World Trade Organization (WTO), specific aspects of the WEF proposals will appear in the interventions and recommendations. With the Readers Guide, delegates, NGOs, UN staff, and others active in and around the UN system can use the website to understand better understand how these interventions can be a part of a broader redesign strategy for international governance.

The author is a Senior Fellow at the University of Massachusetts' Center on Governance and Sustainability. He formerly served with the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) office in New York, the Financing for Development Secretariat, and the Centre for Transnational Corporations.