A dwindling capacity to cope with crises

Compounding human-made crises outrun our ability to deal with them

Photo: N. Desagher/Azote
The world faces a compounding series of crises spawned by human activity, which are outpacing the capacity of governments and institutions to deal with them, warns a group of centre and networking scientists in an article published 11 September in Science.
A new order of institutions
The researchers, based in Sweden, Australia, the United States, India, Greece and the Netherlands, say that nations alone are unable to resolve the sorts of planet-wide challenges now arising. Pointing to global action on ozone depletion (the Montreal Protocol), high seas fisheries and antibiotic drug resistance as examples, they call for a new order of cooperative international institutions capable of dealing with the many interactive effects of global change — and enforcing compliance where necessary.
— There are few institutional structures to achieve cooperation globally on the sort of scales now essential to avoid very serious consequences, warns lead author Professor Brian Walker, affiliated both with the Stockholm Resilience Centre and Australia´s national science agency CSIRO.
See video with Brian Walker discussing issues on missing institutional capacity, adaptation and transformation.
Stronger cooperation needed
Energy, food and water crises, climate disruption, declining fisheries, ocean acidification, emerging diseases and increasing antibiotic resistance are examples of serious, intertwined global-scale challenges spawned by the accelerating scale of human activity, but still they are managed as separate phenomena, write the scientists.

The core of the problem is inducing cooperation in situations where individuals and nations will collectively gain if all cooperate, but each faces the temptation to free-load at the expense of the others.
- We are not advocating that countries give up their sovereignty. We are instead proposing a much stronger focus on regional and worldwide cooperation, helped by better-designed multi-national institutions, explains co-author Professor Carl Folke, Scientific Director at Stockholm Resilience Centre.

- The challenge of climate change is closely linked to the capacity of ecosystems worldwide to generate services and the wellbeing of the economy rests on this capacity. Such interdependencies have to be tackled through global cooperation. Local and national efforts are already failing, Folke says.
Too much focus on single problems
While there are signs of emerging global action on issues such as climate change, there is widespread inaction on others, such as the destruction of the world´s forests to grow biofuels or the emergence of pandemic flu through lack of appropriate animal husbandry protocols where people, pigs and birds co-mingle. 
- One major obstacle stems from the fact that international institutions primarily focus on single problems, like climate change, often ignoring how different crises interact. New collaborative platforms for how to deal with such interactions are urgently needed, adds co-author Victor Galaz, political scientist from the Stockholm Resilience Centre.
To avoid looming global-scale failures and harness common opportunities, there is a growing need for greater collaboration amongst existing institutions, and new institutions, to help construct and maintain a global-scale social contract, the scientists conclude.

Source: Walker et al. 2009. Looming global-scale failures and missing institutions. Science 325: 1345-1346. www.sciencemag.org



Walker et al. 2009. Looming global-scale failures and missing institutions. Science 325: 1345-1346. www.sciencemag.org


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