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December 8, 2015

Responding To: Reflections on the Future of Global Governance

COP 21: What Does It Say about Global Governance

John Monahan

On Saturday evening, more than 190 countries announced an historic agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  The final deal in Paris is an enormous diplomatic accomplishment by any measure for the international community.  Yet, the challenges of implementation, ratification, and compliance that lie ahead are enormous.  Maintaining the support of the world’s governments will present serious political challenges to the international community.

Even the most optimistic projections of the climate agreement’s impact predict that planetary temperatures will continue to rise to dangerous levels.  While climate change is an environmental phenomenon, the story of the Paris agreement is also a tale of global governance executed by representatives of virtually all governments from around the world and driven, to an extraordinary degree, by a wide range of private sector, civil society, academic and other stakeholders.  In important ways, the announcement of the Paris accord is an opportunity to take stock of the current state of global governance.

Over the past four months, as part of Georgetown University’s Global Futures initiative, we had a special opportunity to explore some of the world’s most challenging governance problems – health, forced migration, finance, climate change.  Each of these issues unquestionably extends beyond national borders.  Each question has severely strained – in some cases, broken - the capacity of the international community’s current array of institutions, instruments, and systems designed for solving common challenges.

At Georgetown, we have been very fortunate to invite major leaders and thinkers to work with us in reflecting seriously upon these global governance issues.  World Health Organization Director-General Margaret Chan (global health), United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres (migration), International Monetary Fund Managing Director Christine Lagarde (international finance), Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez of the Vatican (climate change), and SFS Dean Joel Hellman (fragile states) delivered timely, candid and incisive lectures at our campuses in Washington, DC, and Doha, Qatar.  We are deeply grateful to these incredibly busy leaders for sharing their insights with our faculty and students, and we are pleased that these on-campus events were integrated into so many courses taught at all of our schools.

In reflecting upon this fall’s program, three points come to mind:

First, the current global governance architecture is simply not prepared to address many of the common and vexing problems we all face of global health emergencies, migration crises, climate change, and financial instability.  The capacity of our current organizations has been found wanting by the Ebola outbreak, Syrian refugee crisis, rising global temperatures, and so many other problems.  Time has come to consider practical improvements to the treaties, agencies and systems upon which we all rely for global problem-solving.

Second, an international governance system that rests primarily upon national governments, as does the United Nations, will not be able on its own to meet the challenges we face today or in the future.  The time has come to accelerate experimentation with more inclusive governance approaches that engage private sector and civil society members directly as key players.  We cannot imagine addressing a global health agenda that includes non-communicable diseases, the resettlement of millions escaping despair in the Middle East, or the mitigation of rising oceans without stronger global governance that brings new voices to the table.

Third, solving global problems, perhaps ironically, requires strong governance at the national level.  Fragile states not only fail to serve their own citizens but also create risks for all members of the international community.  Our global chain is only as strong as its weakest links.  As a global community, we will not be ready to address the next infectious disease pandemic or prevent the next forced migration or stabilize the next currency crisis or meet the Sustainable Development Goals or countless other challenges….unless we invest in strengthening national governments and systems.

As a leading academic institution, Georgetown University is well-placed to continue contributing to the international debate on these global governance issues.  Our faculty experts in the fields of governance, health, migration, development, and environment will provide cutting-edge scholarship.  Our students are energized to make a difference in addressing these issues which raise not only complex policy questions but also profound considerations of ethics and justice.

The Global Futures Initiative continues to provide us at Georgetown with a way to help advance our core mission as an engaged global university in service to the world.

John Monahan is the senior advisor for global health to President John J. DeGioia; senior fellow, McCourt School of Public Policy; and senior scholar, O'Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law.

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