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Introduction to Global Issues

ore than at any other time in history, the future of humankind is being shaped by issues that are beyond any one nation’s ability to solve. Climate change, avian flu, financial instability, terrorism, waves of migrants and refugees, water scarcities, disappearing fisheries, stark and seeminglyintractable poverty—all of these are examples of global issues whose solution requires cooperation among nations. Each issue seems at first to be little connected to the next; the problems appear to come in all shapes and from all directions. But if one reflects a moment on these examples, some common features soon become apparent:


Each issue affects a large number of people ondifferent sides of national boundaries. Each issue is one of significant concern, directly or indirectly, to all or most of the countries of the world, often as evidenced by a major U.N. declaration or the holding of a global conference on the issue. Each issue has implications that require a global regulatory approach; no one government has the power or the authority to impose a solution, and marketforces alone will not solve the problem.

These commonalities amount almost to a definition of “global issue,” and awareness of them will help throughout this book in identifying other such issues besides those named above. First, however, a few other definitions and distinctions will further clarify just what we mean by global issues.

I would like to thank Cinnamon Dornsife, Michael Treadway,Jean-François Rischard, and Asli Gurkan for their advice and comments on earlier versions of this chapter.


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Global Issues for Global Citizens

Some Definitions
Global issues, globalization, and global public goods are related but differing concepts. Globalization generally refers to the increasing integration of economies aroundthe world, particularly through trade, production chains (where parts for a final good, such as an automobile, are produced in one country and assembled in another), and financial flows. The term increasingly also refers to the movement of people and of information (including not only financial and other raw data but ideas, fashions, and culture as well) across international borders. Globalization canbe understood as a driving force affecting many global issues, from migration to fair trade to debt relief. The concept of global public goods is a more recent one, and indeed its dimensions and implications are still being worked out by researchers and policy analysts. The International Task Force on Global Public Goods has defined “international public goods” (a term that includes both global andregional public goods) as goods and services that “address issues that: (i) are deemed to be important to the international community, to both developed and developing countries; (ii) typically cannot, or will not, be adequately addressed by individual countries or entities acting alone; and, in such cases (iii) are best addressed collectively on a multilateral basis.”1 By this definition, most butnot all of the global issues addressed in this book involve the creation of—or the failure to create—global public goods. We will return to the topic of global public goods later in the chapter.

What Global Issues Do We Face Today?
Global issues are present in all areas of our lives as citizens of the world. They affect our economies, our environment, our capabilities as humans, and ourprocesses for making decisions regarding cooperation at the global level (which this book will call global governance). These issues often turn out to be interconnected, although they may not seem so at first. For example, energy consumption drives climate change, which in turn threatens marine fisheries through changes in ocean temperature and chemistry, and other food resources through changes in...
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