Global Cooperation

4 pathways to cooperation amid geopolitical fragmentation

Greater international cooperation is needed to address global challenges such as climate change.

Greater international cooperation is needed to address global challenges such as climate change. Image: Shutterstock

Samir Saran
President, Observer Research Foundation (ORF)
Jane Harman
Chair, US Commission on the National Defense Strategy, Former Member, US Congress
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Global Cooperation

This article is part of: World Economic Forum Annual Meeting
  • The world faces ongoing geopolitical turbulence including conflict, with 2023 marking the largest-ever single-year rise in forcibly displaced people.
  • Alongside security challenges, we face threats such as a warming planet and a fragile global economy that must be addressed through cooperation.
  • Experts from the World Economic Forum's Global Futures Council on Geopolitics outline how the international community can still work together in new report, Shaping Cooperation in a Fragmenting World.

The world is experiencing geopolitical turbulence. Wars are raging across the Middle East, Europe and Africa; 2023 marked the largest ever single-year increase in forcibly displaced people.

In addition to these security challenges, the world faces a warming planet and fragile global economy that can only be addressed through joint action.

Have you read?

Despite this daunting picture, there are ways the international community can still work together. Experts from the World Economic Forum’s Global Future Council on Geopolitics tell us how, in a new report entitled Shaping Cooperation in a Fragmenting World.

The report offers innovative pathways towards greater global cooperation in four areas: global security, climate action, emerging technology and international trade.

Below are the key highlights, as outlined by our experts.

1. Global Security – advancing global security in an age of distrust

The starting point must be to recognize that distrust is, in the short and medium term at least, a baked-in feature of geopolitical reality.

Managing this and forging responses to global challenges despite it requires recognizing that collaboration is possible even under conditions of intense distrust: the US and the Soviet Union repeatedly proved this during the Cold War.

Third parties are key to managing the distrust through quiet diplomacy (often at or through the UN), brokering offramps, de-escalation and crisis avoidance. So-called “middle powers” have in the past played a key role in great power conflict prevention and de-escalation and are an important part of this moving forwards.

Although this term has, until recently, been confined to Western countries, shifts in the global balance of power mean that it extends beyond the West to “rising” powers elsewhere.

A standing mechanism that links the western major and middle powers with the non-Western ones (Brazil, India, South Africa, the United Arab Emirates and so on) would create a diplomatic mechanism that could straddle the increasingly bifurcated worlds of the G7, Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (the Quad) and the expanded BRICs.

2. Climate Change – rethinking climate governance

There is now a need to rethink global climate governance. The fundamental imbalance is this that while the developed world has been the key contributor to historical emissions, future emissions will be concentrated in the developing world. It is necessary to not just increase the amount of private capital deployed in the Global South, but also to ensure the scope of such investment is widened to include adaptation.

Similarly, the technology needed to scale up green energy solutions also remains concentrated in the developed world and China. The mandate and lending patterns of multilateral development banks should be changed and the start-up sector in the emerging world should be repositioned towards climate goals.

At the same time, multilateral forums such as the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the G20 must better acknowledge and differentiate impacts of climate change on health outcomes across genders and craft women-led initiatives to mobilize societal support for political action.

3. Emerging Technology – taming technology together

The prolific pace of advancement of frontier technologies and its pursuit by a multitude of state and non-state actors, with varied motivations, has opened a new chapter in contemporary geopolitics.

To ensure that efforts at tech regulation and stemming their proliferation succeed, countries will be required to undertake innovation in policy-making, where governments take on board all the stakeholders – tech corporations, civil society, academia and the research community.

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How is the World Economic Forum ensuring the responsible use of technology?

Similar to the responsibility to protect (R2P) principle developed by the UN for protecting civilians from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity, the international community must create a regulatory R2P obligation for states to protect civilians from the harms of emerging technologies.

And the Global South must convene a standing conference of the parties (COP) for future technologies, along the lines of COP for climate change negotiations.

4. International Trade – expanding and rebalancing trade

Strengthening and rebalancing the trade system requires expanding the trade agenda, not limiting it. The broader the benefits delivered by trade, the more firmly it will be aligned with national and global priorities.

Trade that is designed to deliver on globally shared priorities as defined by the UN Sustainable Development Goals will gain the trust of governments and citizens and be “fenced off” from geopolitical rivalry rather than disrupted for near-term political wins.

To rebuild global trust in the benefits of the multilateral trade system, it is of paramount importance that the Global South – and particularly least-developed countries – are not cut out of the growth and development pathways that participation in international trade provides.

Mechanisms must be in place to ensure they are able to take advantage of new opportunities created by shifts in global value chains.

How can these pathways be successful?

Throughout the report , one common factor emerged as key to enhancing cooperation across these four domains: inclusivity.

To address challenges in global security, climate change, emerging technology and trade, the international community must prioritize diverse voices and involve actors that have previously been on the margins of multilateral fora.

With this approach as a North Star, building cooperation is possible.

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

Related topics:
Global CooperationGeopoliticsDavos Agenda
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