What's stopping governments?

Jean-Francois Rischard: What’s holding them back is actually the problem which I consider to be the central challenge of our times. And that is that the world has been cut up into roughly 185, let’s say 190 nation states. And it’s a recent phenomenon. The nation state concept is roughly 350 years old. It goes back to the Westphalia Treaties. So it’s still a new concept, and it’s a concept that does very well for internal management of countries. A nation state that is democratically organized is actually a very good machine for solving internal issues. But the problem at the international level is that nation states are by design territorial in their perspectives. They look out for the inhabitants of their own territories, first of all. And the politicians that run for elections in those countries run for elections every four or five years, so their horizon is maximum four or five years. The global issues that I mentioned like dangerous climate change, deforestation, biodiversity losses, contagious diseases and so forth, they are the opposite. They are not territorial issues; they’re cross border issues. They’re non-territorial issues. They got all over the map, and they don’t know about borderlines and borders. And they are long term issues. To solve the global warming issue, it takes a 150 year plan to start today to actually manage the 150 years to stabilize carbon dioxide concentrations. So you have this absolute clash between the territorial and short term perspective of the nation states and the non-territorial, long term nature of these global problems. And that deadly clash is something we must get out of the way one way or the other. In other terms, the nation state system, which is perfect for internal management of countries, somehow doesn’t click with global problem solving of the type we need in this period where the curves – the environmental damage curves and others – are shooting straight up.

Recorded on: 7/2/07

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