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On the Record

Global Governance and What It Means

Ann Florini

Ann Florini discussed the difference between “global government” and “global governance,” intergovernmental organizations such as the UN, and the role and achievements of civil society and transnational networks, particularly on environmental issues.

JOHN TESSITORE: I should also say that Ann is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and the author or editor of several books, most recently The Right to Know: Transparency for an Open World and The Coming Democracy: New Rules for Running a New World.

We have invited Professor Florini to talk to us today about global governance. What it is, what’s wrong with it, and maybe we’ll even find out how to put it right. That’s your job today, Ann.

Let me start out by pointing out that as a journal editor, I see a great many manuscripts, and I get the sense that global governance is a hot topic right now.

But I also get the sense that there is no one finite definition of the term. Just to compound it a little bit more, I find that quite often it’s mingled with a discussion of global government. Depending on whom you listen to, this is either a similar or a very different animal.

So I’m going to ask you to try to sort out these terms for us, “global governance” and “global government,” and tell us where you come down on these.

ANN FLORINI: John, let me start off by talking just about the words “governance” and “government.” There was an article in The Economist a few years ago that said governance is just a fancy word for government.

The Economist has rarely gotten things so wrong. “Governance” is a much broader term, generally referring to how we solve all the big public-policy problems, collective-action problems, that we face in any society, whether it’s at a community level, a national level, or a global level. It doesn’t really matter. They all need governance of some kind. All it means is some system for making and enforcing rules so that we can manage problems that we share.

“Global governance” is a term that came around mostly from a bunch of academics who were looking at the world’s agenda, everything from climate change to security issues, to economic development issues, and looking at the fact that a lot of these were global-scale problems that needed to be managed on a global scale.

But we don’t have a global government. We don’t have an authority with hierarchical powers. That’s the difference with government. It is an authority with power to compel, to coerce. There is a hierarchy to it. Government is one of the ways in which we carry out governance, at most levels, but we don’t have it at the global level.

So we only have global governance; we don’t have global government.

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