I’ve been in Japan today, speaking at ‘Reforming International Institutions – Meeting the Challenges of the 21st Century’, a seminar organized by the United Nations University and the British Embassy in Japan.
- It’s going to be a tough year. The financial meltdown has a long way to go, and the downturn is risking turning into a global depression.
- Trade is a bell wether. Protectionist pressures are already on the rise. If they gain traction, take that as a warning of a wider loss of confidence in global institutions.
- The unravelling of global economic imbalances could prove corrosive to the international order. If countries start to devalue to protect exports, expect a tit-for-tat dynamic to kick in.
- Scarcity issues (energy, water, land, food, atmospheric space for emissions) remain the key medium term driver of global change. Commodity prices will spike again as soon as there’s recovery.
- The downturn has stemmed the uncontrolled growth of emissions, but also lessened the chance of a robust global deal on climate.
- Economic bad times could well drive increased conflict. A major new security threat might be the fabled black swan – hitting just when the global immune system is already overloaded.
- If we experience a long crisis (or a chain of interlinked crises), we are likely to see either a significant loss of trust in the system (globalization retreats), or a significant increase in trust (interdependence increases).
- You need to stretch time horizons to get the latter – shared awareness (joint analysis of risks and challenges), as a basis for shared platforms (loose coalitions of leaders), which can lobby for a shared operating system (a new international institutional architecture).
- 2009 sets a challenging agenda for the G20 (financial reform and economic recovery – but framed by a broader vision on climate, resources, security etc.)…
- …the G8 (caucus of rich countries able to tee up Copenhagen and kick start development assistance if developing countries begin to teeter)…
- …the UN (especially Ban Ki-Moon’s proposed high level ‘friend’s group’ on climate, but also as a fora for getting to grips with scarcity issues)…
- and the Bretton Woods institutions and the WTO (first of all ensuring they keep their heads above water, then looking to ‘save globalization from itself’).
- Oh and be ready for the backlash – people are angry and rightfully so, but that may well lead us down some populist blind alleys.