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Today’s Crises Are Different

Today’s crises are truly global in scope and impact, and solutions no longer depend exclusively on the competence of national economic authorities. If the current climate, health, and food emergencies fail to trigger the international collaboration needed to tackle such threats, it is fair to ask what would.

BOGOTÁ – Just as one generation gives way to the next, global challenges are superseded by a new cohort. The once-in-a-century COVID-19 pandemic – and the risk that other dangerous new viruses may emerge at any time – is far from the only example. Extreme weather events resulting from climate change are having catastrophic consequences. Information technology and data are sometimes used maliciously or for cyberwarfare. Even today’s surging food prices and rising global hunger can be traced to a failure to disseminate open-source technologies.

We seemingly live in a permanent state of danger. Crises are no longer isolated tail-risk events that affect a few. They are much more frequent, multidimensional, and interdependent, and – because they transcend national borders – have the potential to affect everyone simultaneously. Moreover, they involve so many externalities that both markets and national governments have insufficient incentive to solve them.

Solutions to these problems depend on the availability of global public goods, but the current international system is unable to provide a sufficient supply. We need major coordinated investments in pandemic preparedness and response, for example, or to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions (a global public bad), because no individual country’s actions will resolve today’s crises, much less prevent new ones.

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