Global Cooperation

This is the state of global cooperation

Since 2020, global cooperation has dipped slightly – by 2% – having risen for most of the past decade.

Since 2020, global cooperation has dipped slightly – by 2% – having risen for most of the past decade. Image: Unsplash/NASA

Ariel Kastner
Lead, Geopolitical Agenda, World Economic Forum
Kate Whiting
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
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Global Cooperation

This article is part of: World Economic Forum Annual Meeting
  • Revitalizing cooperation is necessary for advancing resilience, growth and security.
  • A new report from McKinsey and the World Economic Forum measures the shifting state of global cooperation across five pillars between 2012 and 2022.
  • From trade to health, here's what you need to know about the Global Cooperation Barometer 2024.

"History is replete with parties at odds with one another, but still seeking opportunities for collaboration."

So say Børge Brende, President of the World Economic Forum, and McKinsey & Company's Managing Partner, Bob Sternfels, in the introduction to the Global Cooperation Barometer 2024.

With the world in a period of geopolitical, geo-economic and market uncertainty, McKinsey and the Forum have collaborated to measure the state of global cooperation for the first time.

Using 42 indicators, it looks at cooperation over the decade between 2012 and 2022 across five pillars: trade and capital; innovation and technology; climate and natural capital; health and wellness; and peace and security.

Have you read?

Launching the Barometer at a press conference ahead of the Forum's Annual Meeting in Davos, Brende said: "Most of the most serious pressing global challenges do travel without a passport: cyber, potential pandemics, climate change.

"Each nation can of course do its best, but it's only through cooperation you can solve it. That's why I think this barometer that we developed with McKinsey is critical in the sense that we can look at the development every year and we can measure it.

"It is now happening against a very serious geopolitical and geo-economic backdrop, but I think the numbers show that we are also in a situation where there is a lot of cooperation still going on."

Why do we need to measure global cooperation?

Overall, cooperation has been beneficial for the world, said Sternfels, but we're "now at an inflection point".

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The planet is facing a "polycrisis" of interconnecting and complex challenges – with conflict and climate change chief among these. To address these issues by strengthening cooperation requires a better understanding of the current state of cooperation.

Only 12% of the UN's 17 Sustainable Development Goals are on track to date, which means the environment, as well as the lives and livelihoods of the global population, are at risk.

The Global Cooperation Barometer's 5 pillars of global cooperation.
The 5 pillars of global cooperation. Image: World Economic Forum

Without cooperation through trade, for example, the global economy could falter. The report highlights a warning from the International Monetary Fund that "global fragmentation" could see as much as a 7% reduction in global GDP.

But as the outcomes of COP28, the UN's climate conference in December, showed, the world can make progress and take steps to address its biggest challenges in the face of ongoing geopolitical instability.

The report is designed to help leaders better understand the contours of cooperation to shape a more cooperative future.

What is the state of global cooperation in 2024?

Since 2020, global cooperation has dipped slightly – by 2% – having risen for most of the past decade, according to the barometer.

Overall global cooperation.
How global cooperation has changed over the past decade. Image: World Economic Forum

From 2012 up until the COVID-19 pandemic, there was an increase in cooperation across four of the five pillars, with peace and security being the only exception. Innovation and technology saw the biggest increase in cooperation – at more than 30%.

The report shows a "stark deterioration" in the peace and security pillar due to a rapid rise in the number of forcibly displaced people and deaths from conflict. However, there has been "continued growth" in the climate and nature pillar due to increased commitments from countries.

Cooperation trends by pillar.
How cooperation has developed over the past decade, by pillar Image: World Economic Forum

Here's what you need to know about cooperation across the five pillars.

  • Trade and capital

Global trade and capital flows rose moderately between 2012 and 2022. During the pandemic, these areas experienced volatility, with labour migration patterns dropping. But metrics such as goods trade, development assistance and developing countries’ share of foreign direct investment, and manufacturing exports have returned to strong growth in the post-pandemic period, says the report.

  • Innovation and technology

In the eight years until the pandemic, innovation and technology cooperation "maintained strong and significant growth" across most indicators, especially cross-border data flows and IT services trade. But this has plateaued since 2020, with some key metrics, including cross-border patent applications and international student flows, falling.

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  • Climate and natural capital

This is the only pillar that has seen the majority of indicators rise across the whole decade, with financial commitments to mitigation and adaptation and a significant expansion of marine protected areas. However, emissions continue to rise and "progress towards ecological outcomes is stagnant", says the report.

  • Health and wellness

Between 2012 and 2020, cooperation on health and wellness rose consistently and was "essential" to navigating the COVID-19 pandemic, says the report, citing vaccine development, if not necessarily distribution, as an example. But cooperation has dipped slightly since its peak in 2020.

  • Peace and security

Trends in peace and security cooperation have declined considerably since 2016, driven by a rise in forcibly displaced people and cyberattacks, as well as a recent increase in the number of conflicts and conflict-related deaths. The report notes these metrics suggest an "increasingly unstable global security environment and increased intensity of conflicts".

Towards greater cooperation

The report identifies six ways leaders in the public and private sectors can foster greater cooperation, including by practicing “coopetition” – balancing cooperation and competition – to advance shared interests in specific areas, despite a lack of alignment elsewhere.

"Further, leaders can use these instances of cooperation to build mutual trust, which in turn could strengthen cooperation in other areas," says the report.

"What I think you'll see in a more fragmented world is more cooperation in coalitions where they move forward," said Brende at the press conference, noting that since COP26, global businesses have come together to commit to use their purchasing power to create demand for green technologies in the Forum's First Movers Coalition.

We could see a reimagining of cooperation, said Sternfels: "I see actually less a reduction in cooperation and more a diversification of thinking. When you look at, for example, the amount of FDI that's now being spent in the global South for manufacturing, you start to see supply chains being reimagined in a more diversified way.

"That might drive increased cooperation, because there'll be more players involved, more resiliency, and potentially more inclusive growth because this will drive investment in the countries that were disproportionately invested in previously."

Sternfels concluded: "Let's bring the word cooperation into the global debate. We've had many words that are much more divisive, like decoupling and friend-shoring. At a granular level, this notion of cooperation could be a reignition to solve some of the really complicated problems that we're facing and have to face over the course of this decade."

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