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G20 needs to adopt a vision for future

By Dennis Pamlin | China Daily Europe | Updated: 2017-07-09 14:58

In order to shape 21st century global governance and engage all stakeholders, a long-term, proactive approach will be crucial

For most of its short history, the G20 has continued the G7/8 legacy of firefighting different crises, with mixed results. It was not until last year, during the Chinese presidency, when President Xi Jinping called for a more long-term proactive agenda, that the broader discussion about the G20's role in the 21st century intensified.

In no other area is the need for a long-term and proactive approach more urgent than global governance. Instead of approaching challenges in a reactive way, the world needs to have a strategic, proactive approach. It is easier to solve challenges - including some of the greatest challenges of our time - before they become full-fledged crises. Some challenges, such as catastrophic climate change, bioengineered pandemic and artificial intelligence, are so severe that they threaten human civilization. For such challenges, we have no option but to be proactive, as there will be no second chance.

Equally important is that a proactive global governance agenda would allow us to discuss what positive aspects in society we should try to encourage. So much about policymaking and governance today, especially as reported by the media, is about reducing problems, not exploring new opportunities for a better society.

Highlighting the need for a proactive, positive agenda should not be seen in opposition to a short-term reactive agenda that deals with the urgent problems we have. Such an agenda is also very much needed. But if we are stuck with only a reactive agenda, it is hard to see how we can solve the grand challenges and inspire hope and innovation.

A good step toward a more proactive, positive agenda was that a digital affairs ministers conference was organized for the first time within the G20 framework during the German presidency. If we are to address the greatest challenges of our time, we need digital sustainability and leaders in this area.

Still, digitalization needs to be seen from a broader perspective. It was a lost opportunity that the digitalization agenda under the German presidency was not addressed through the structure that Xi Jinping provided during the B20 summit in September last year. During this meeting, Xi provided an initial list of four areas that a global economic governance system needs to address:

Equitable and efficient global financial governance and an upholding of stability

Open and transparent trade/investment governance

Green and low-carbon global energy governance that promotes global green development

Inclusive, interconnected global development governance and implementation of the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development

These four areas provide a clear framework that can bring much of the current work, including initiatives to guide digitalization, under a coherent umbrella - especially when they are linked to concrete projects of geopolitical and global sustainability importance, such as the Belt and Road Initiative.

The list that Xi provided addressed many of the current challenges, but a proactive agenda is also needed. In order to engage countries outside the G20, citizens around the world, businesspeople and other stakeholders of the process to shape 21st century global governance, something more is needed, something that provides a vision for the future.

Today, the most promising concept on a global level is arguably ecological civilization, a dynamic concept that is still under development. Instead of only looking at ways to make our current industrial society less bad, for example by exploring ways to deliver green growth, or reduce our negative impact on humans and nature, this concept provides an outline for the next phase in human history.

The concept of ecological civilization encourages a discussion about how we can get to a place where we have our material needs satisfied, where we have the technologies that allow us to live in harmony with our planet and other species, and where we go from there. Today, many people think that the end of the industrial age and material growth is the same as stagnation. Ecological civilization provides us with a much needed antidote and provides a concept that triggers our imagination. For proactive global governance, we need to not just solve our current problems, but we also need to be inspired to create a better tomorrow.

With three (re) emerging countries - Argentina, India and Indonesia - chairing the G20 between now and 2020, there is significant hope for a G20 that will be able to look beyond incremental improvements in old structures toward transformative solutions that focus on what needs to be done, rather than how things used to be done. If the three countries and China together with progressive countries, companies and NGOs work together, there is good reason to assume that we could have a rudimentary structure for global governance, along the lines that President Xi outlined last year, by 2020.

The author is founder of 21st Century Frontiers in Sweden. The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.


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