Solving global problems: Grey matters

GIVEN how badly the world has fared in trying to solve many of its biggest problems, it is debatable whether the best source of advice is grizzled veterans. But the Oxford Martin Commission for Future Generations, which distilled their wisdom in a report published on October 16th, has done its best.Chaired by Pascal Lamy, who saw the limits of the system of global problem-solving all too clearly in his former job as head of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), it provides a daunting list of impending problems and lots of evidence that the current approach is too short-termist. It offers no single quick fix or big idea beyond such easily mocked platitudes as a “stronger collective vision”, with “mutual respect and adherence to a set of universal norms which have been collectively developed and agreed”.Instead, it proposes two modest but useful reforms. The first is to make more use of “creative coalitions” (it avoids the tainted if synonymous phrase “coalitions of the willing”). What it means is ad hoc groups spanning governments, multilateral organisations, business, charities and NGOs which try to deal with a particular problem outside the gridlocked processes of global governance. A successful example is the coalition that is sharply reducing deaths from malaria. Its members include the United Nations, the World Health Organisation and ExxonMobil as well as the Bill &…

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