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Counting the problems 

I’m reading High Noon by Jean-Francois Rischard, the World Bank’s vice-president for Europe. The subtitle of the book is “20 global problems, 20 years to solve them”. I hope Jean-Francois is right that we have that much time, for his list is certainly daunting.

He groups the 20 inherently global issues (IGIs) under three categories: sharing our planet (issues involving the global commons), sharing our humanity (issues requiring a global commitment) and sharing our rule book (issues needing a global regulatory approach). I find his framework useful and his list is certainly compelling, with problems ranging from the well-recognised (global warming, water deficits, global infectious diseases, poverty, illegal drugs, IPR) to the less-talked about (fisheries depletion, education for all, reinventing taxation).

The brief summaries of the 20 problems provide a good overview, but the pith of Jean-Francois’s argument is his novel approach for confronting these issues. He argues for global issues networks set up to tackle each problem. Probably the closest prior example of a GIN was the World Commission on Dams, which did a pretty good job of dealing with a messy, confrontational issue and changing many of the parameters for large hydroelectric projects in the developing world (too late for some horrific projects, sadly).

What the proposal needs is for a G8 leader to latch on to the concept and create one or two GINs. If they worked, it could lead to more. As Jean-Francois points out, the alternatives have proved fairly unhelpful in truly global issues. Treaties and conventions are too slow, intergovernmental conferences are messy and poor on follow-up, G-x type mechanisms are limited in methodology, knowledge and representation and the global multilateral institutions (like Jean-Francois’s own World Bank) know they can’t handle IGIs alone.

Whatever you think of his prescriptions, anyone who cares about the future of our world could profit from reading High Noon. I liked the book jacket blurb which suggested, “Every university student should think about Rischard’s 20 problems, take a deep breath, and then commit to make a contribution to solving at least one.”

Blog competition 

I think it’s notable that The Guardian is running a competition for the best British weblog. What’s interesting isn’t so much the competition itself, but Simon Waldman’s explanation of why they are doing it.

“Not every blog is brilliantly written or designed. But you can also find wit, imagination and flair in abundance — not to mention links to some of the corners of the net that you might stand little chance of finding yourself. The sheer energy and diversity of all this effort has become one of the great wonders of the web.”

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