Global challenges figure ever more prominently and in ever greater numbers on national and international policy agendas. They range from communicable disease control to climate change mitigation and from financial stability to the universalization of norms such as basic human rights. Old and new security challenges have also come up for consideration, including cybersecurity; the safe use of new technologies such as artificial intelligence; nuclear non-proliferation; terrorism control; and the prevention or cessation of war. As the recent coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic taught us once again – and perhaps more directly than ever before – many global challenges may, for better or for worse, affect all countries and all people, irrespective of whether we are rich or poor, living in the Global North or in the Global South. Challenges of this type are referred to as global public goods (GPGs). GPGs not only affect all of us directly or indirectly, but also require all of us to contribute to their adequate provision. In other words, they call for international cooperation (IC), often even universal multilateralism.
While state and nonstate actors worldwide are active contributors to GPG provision, experience shows that the sum of these contributions in many cases falls short of requirements. As a result, GPG-related problems often remain unresolved, even though their scientific and technical dimensions are well-understood, and the resources needed to resolve them are also within the bounds of what is feasible.
The question thus arises: Is the present system of multilateral cooperation not well equipped to tackle GPG-type challenges? This question has attracted the attention of world leaders. For example, in their Declaration on the Commemoration of the Seventy-Fifth Anniversary of the United Nations, the heads of state and government of United Nations (UN) member states emphasize that the global challenges confronting us “can only be addressed through reinvigorated multilateralism” (United Nations, 2020: para. 5). However, the Declaration does not specify how this reinvigorated multilateralism would need to differ from today's multilateral governance practices and, importantly, how it could come about. These issues will become the subject of future consultations and debates.