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The Year Ahead 2020

A Better World Starts at Home

In 2019, it became painfully clear that the institutions underpinning the post-war international order are struggling to meet the most pressing global challenges of the day. Yet getting our global house in order requires first overcoming the political polarization currently afflicting national and local communities around the world.

COLOGNY, SWITZERLAND – In 2020, the world will mark the 75th anniversary of the liberal international order. Most agree that this framework – comprising the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and other multilateral institutions – needs to be updated to address the challenges of climate change, widening inequality, and slowing economic growth. But global-level reform will not be possible without first building more cohesive and sustainable societies. And one way to do that is through “citizens’ assemblies” of the kind pioneered by Ireland and other countries.

In 2019, several crucial international institutions once again proved ill-equipped for today’s challenges. The European Union remains paralyzed amid the United Kingdom’s torturous Brexit process. The Trump administration has sidelined the World Trade Organization by blocking appointees to the WTO’s dispute-settlement body. And the UN suffered a major setback when Chile pulled out of hosting this year’s COP25 climate conference.

These examples suggest that our ability to marshal collective responses to major challenges is under threat. But reforming any one multilateral institution will not fix the problem if its member states – and the communities they represent – remain divided along political, social, and economic lines. After all, the Brexit crisis is not about EU decision-making in Brussels; it is about polarization in the UK. The WTO’s crisis stems from gridlock in Washington, DC, and disagreement among member states over how to update the rules of trade. And the last-minute cancelation of COP25 was a consequence of social unrest in Chile, not a lack of enthusiasm among international leaders.

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