Want to keep learning?

This content is taken from the The Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies's online course, International Affairs: Global Governance. Join the course to learn more.

Skip to 0 minutes and 8 seconds The world is facing many challenges. And many of them may require some kind of collective action. The issue– at what level? And what kind of action? Today, it’s my pleasure to have with us Professor Jorge Vinuales from Cambridge University. And my first question to you is, what type of problem calls for international action? There are a very variety of problems. Some problems actually are there, and they completely disregard the fact that the international community is organised in states. That’s typically the case of environmental problems, that know no borders. Some other problems actually arise from the very existence of states. And the fact that states have regulatory power, which is independent from one another.

Skip to 0 minutes and 53 seconds And in those cases, you would find typically commercial problems, trade, perhaps financial problems, and some others. And beyond state, so when do other actors need to be involved beyond states? I think that other actors need to be involved all the time. It’s simply that that takes away from states part of the control that they like to keep. But in many cases, states don’t have the resources to actually address the problems themselves, although they pretend they have the resources. And again, I think that the examples of trade and examples of environment are cases in point– because without the involvement of the private sector and without involvement of civil society, it’s simply impossible to address them.

Skip to 1 minute and 43 seconds And do you think that this is new or this has really started a while ago? This need for more collective, more involvement, of more actors and particularly, at the global level. I think that there have been phases. There have been phases. And at the end of the 19th century, there was a sort of beginning of globalisation. But the phases in the intensification of exchanges are not necessarily correlated with the phases in the involvement of private actors. Depending on the time, I would say that in the last 30 years more or less, there has been a rising trend in connection with the involvement of actors, such as private sector, and civil society in the actual governance of international problems.

Skip to 2 minutes and 30 seconds So the multiplicity of actors is something that’s usually a given now, and the need to involve them at the international level is something which is acquired. My next question is, do you think that this trend will accelerate or will actually stagnate to some extent? So in other words, do you think that this need for more action at the international level is going to continue? Or at some point, can we re-localise things at a lower level. I think it’s no longer an option. Actually, it’s simply going to continue. And it’s going to increase exponentially. And what tells me that, basically, is that the means through which this action is being increasingly organised– which are basically these electronic channels of communication.

Skip to 3 minutes and 14 seconds States are really having a hard time keeping under check these new methods of communication. And that is a very simple and useful tool for transnational networks to organise themselves and have a bearing on international governance. So I think, this is here to stay and even to become more and more important. And what you just said, does it mean that the traditional instruments for governing, international organisation among others, are going to actually decline and leave the space or a role for other types of networks ? That is a good point. I think that they were not at all built with that factor or that variable in mind. Sometimes, they’re trying to adjust, not necessarily successfully.

Skip to 4 minutes and 2 seconds I have a number of examples that actually could do much better. One case in point is, of course, climate action. In climate action, the emphasis on states overlooks the fact that sometimes, the national level of a state does not want to adopt any form of substantial commitments. Whereas at transnational level, subnational entities, the example would be California, for instance, are very keen in adopting climate action. And they are organising themselves to bypass the national level. And the instruments that were developed, and particularly even the Paris Agreement, is not necessarily well-suited for that type of approach, although it has been taken into consideration. But international law is still being built on the nation state.

Skip to 5 minutes and 0 seconds So what you’re saying is that you could have international action despite states not willing to have that happen. Exactly. Exactly. And that is going to happen. It’s happening already. So does this mean that you are optimistic about the potential for international action in the years to come? Well, I am optimistic to some extent. But I would say that there are two sides of this intensification of transnational networks. One is, of course, positive because the states are being kept under check by these transnational forces. And these transnational forces can serve to promote goal, such as environmental protection, human rights, and so on. But at the same time, terrorism and transnational organised crime are also transnational phenomena.

Skip to 5 minutes and 43 seconds What I would tend to say is that one way or another, global governance frameworks will have to tackle these transnational issue much better than what they are doing now. Thank you. The need for international action, the challenges facing international actions, those are issues that we continue to explore throughout this course.

How to address global problems ? Listen to Jorge Vinuales

What do you think of this vision? How do we transition out from a brown economy to a green economy ? Is there a solution?

Biography of guest speaker

Professor Jorge E. Viñuales is Harold Samuel professor of international law at University of Cambridge. He is also the Director of the Cambridge centre for environment, energy and natural resource governance (C-EENRG). Previously, he held the Pictet Chair of international environmental law at the Graduate Institute, Geneva. He is a specialist in public international law, particularly as it concerns the regulation of the environment, foreign investment and energy. He has published widely in his areas of specialisation and in public international law at large, including most recently The Rio Declaration on Environment and Development. Jorge Viñuales also has wide experience as a practitioner. He regularly advises companies, governments, international organisations and non-governmental organisations in matters concerning international law.

Share this video:

This video is from the free online course:

International Affairs: Global Governance

The Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies