As executives, politicians and leading thinkers gather in Abu Dhabi for the World Economic Forum’s Summit on the Global Agenda, it’s important to focus on areas where we see successful global collaboration. But often these initiatives are neither farsighted nor comprehensive enough to strike at the root causes of key international issues. It’s imperative that we take the broader context into account.
When a crisis is sufficiently urgent, the global community is often capable of rising to the challenge. We saw this in the wake of the financial crisis. Today, we are seeing it with the powerful response from the international community in the days after the tragedy in the Philippines, showing just how big a difference we are willing and able to make. But all too often, after crippling natural disasters, international attention proves too fleeting. We don’t maintain this outpouring and focus for long enough to overcome the knock-on societal and economic consequences that take more time to play out. Nor do we see sufficient preventive efforts to build out infrastructure that could mitigate the damage of a future natural disaster, let alone any proactive agenda to combat climate change and really aim for the principal long-term threat in this category. We often prove capable of reacting, but we remain ill-equipped to prioritize and prevent looming crises before they reach a boiling point.
The most significant international agreement that we’ve seen of late has been the effort to dispose of the Assad regime’s chemical weapons. It requires complex, sustained coordination between a host of major powers and global institutions. The initiative has been an undeniable success thus far. But we cannot let this agreement reinforce foreign countries’ unwillingness to respond to violence in Syria more broadly. After all, it is illogical to make a distinction between Syrian deaths at the hands of chemical weapons and the more than 100,000 people who have died in the civil war at large. A chemical weapons deal cannot serve as an alibi for key players to turn a blind eye to a major conflict that still has no resolution in sight.
We need to overcome short-sightedness, both in terms of not looking far enough beyond our respective borders, and not looking far enough into the future. It’s fitting that one of the themes of this year’s Summit is “Towards a Global Climate Agreement”. For such intractable, far-reaching problems, there is no clear blueprint for success. It’s important to map out what more we can do and be realistic about the limits of global collaboration, where we may have to forge ahead with sub-global partnerships of the likeminded to make progress.
The World Economic Forum is the right platform for moving beyond reactive, short-term methods of improving the world. I look forward to an insightful conversation on the global agenda in Abu Dhabi this week.
Author: Ian Bremmer is the President of Eurasia Group and a member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Geopolitical Risk. The Summit on the Global Agenda will be taking place in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, 18 – 20 November.