Global Public Goods

  • Caterina García-Segura
  • Pablo Pareja-AlcarazEmail author
Living reference work entry

Global Public Goods constitute a particular type of public goods characterized by three main features: nonrivalry consumption, nonexcludability, and international scope. First, they can be simultaneously consumed by several actors who maintain a nonrival relationship: the consumption levels of one actor do not necessarily constrain the consumption levels of others. This situation is clearly exemplified in the relationship individuals have with street lighting, the light provided by a lighthouse, or national security. Second, the benefits attached to the consumption of these goods are not limited to those who provide them or pay for them. This nonexcludability can be easily observed in the examples mentioned before, but also in the consumption of nonpolluted air resulting from environmental strategies or open access to Internet. Third, this type of goods should benefit at least a number of different States and should not discriminate against any country, population, or generation (either present or future). This is the case of universal justice or international security. The first two features distinguish public goods from private ones that are provided by the market and whose consumption is both rival and exclusive to those who pay for them. The last condition separates Global Public Goods from Public Goods: whereas the former have an international scope, the latter are restricted to a smaller geographic area.

The notion of Global Public Goods gained academic attention in the late 1990s of the past century with the publication in 1999 of the seminal work of Inge Kaul, Isabelle Grinberg, and Marc Stern. This work was inspired by the economic theory of national public goods advanced by Paul Samuelson in 1954 and was mostly developed within the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). In essence, it urged for the adoption of this new term in order to successfully cope with the global challenges of the twenty-first century (Kaul et al. 1999). Since then, several authors such as Amartya Sen (1999), Peter-Tobias Stoll (2011), or Eric Brouseau (Brouseau et al. 2012) have explored the scope and limits of Global Public Goods from different disciplines and theoretical perspectives.

In addition to universal justice and international security, the list of Global Public Goods in the contemporary global society includes international peace, sustainable environment, cultural heritage, and global health, but also the stability of the international financial system, Information, and Knowledge. However, most of these goods cannot be considered pure or absolute Global Public Goods because they do not meet all three conditions mentioned above. The provision of most Global Public Goods is neither exclusively public nor exclusively private. More importantly, a large number of them only comply with one of the two first conditions (nonrivalry and nonexcludability). Among the vast group of impure or imperfect Global Public Goods it is possible to distinguish two different subgroups. The first one includes those whose consumption is nonrival, but excludable. Generally known as Club Goods, access to these goods is not rival for all members of the club but limited to them. This is the case of the military security and protection granted by NATO to all its member States, the economic benefits enjoyed by member States of regional trade agreements, or the advantages of the regional harmonization of trail transportation. The second group encompasses the so-called Common Goods: goods whose consumption is nonexcludable but rival. Access to these goods is open to all actors, but their consumption may eventually lead to their exhaustion. This is the case of the geostationary orbit: all countries can make use of it, but a sustained abuse of its capacity endangers its viability in the medium run.

The provision of Global Public Goods also differs from that of Global Private Goods or Public Goods. Global Private Goods are generally provided by private markets and tend to be guaranteed because of the economic returns they yield. In contrast, Public Goods – especially those with limited or no economic returns – are frequently the result of governmental strategies. The provision of Global Public Goods usually involves a plethora of different public and private actors and adopts several forms or models. (see, among others, the words of Kaul and Conceição, 2006, and United Nations Industrial Development Organisation, 2008). From this point of view, the public nature of Global Public Goods is not determined by their public provision, but by their public enjoyment. Some Global Public Goods such as pharmaceuticals or Internet are mostly provided by private nongovernmental actors, but they now play a key role in global affairs and access to them is gradually becoming less exclusive and rival. The participation of several actors in the production and provision of Global Public Goods has led Inge Kaul, Isabelle Grinberg, and Marc Stern to refer to them as multistakeholder goods (Kaul et al. 1999). Going one step beyond, Ravi Kanbur, Todd Sandler, and Kevin Morrison have suggested that it is possible to distinguish four different categories of Global Public Goods according to the so-called aggregation technology, that is, the relationship between the individual contribution of each actor and their overall level of provision (Kanbur et al. 1999). The prevalent category is that of Simple Summation Global Public Goods, the provision of which is characterized by summation: each of the units contributed to a particular Global Public Good by an actor adds equally to the overall level of the good. This is the case of the reduction of each State’s CO2 emissions to the atmosphere. The second category comprises Best-Shot Global Public Goods, where the overall provision of the good equals the most-significant or largest individual contribution. The discovery of a vaccine or a medical cure for a global disease that is made available to several or all countries offers a very illustrative example of this category. The third category is less common and encompasses those goods that are produced through an aggregation technology where the overall level of a particular Global Public Good equals the smallest individual contribution. An example of these Weakest-link Global Public Goods is the control of a pandemic disease such as Ebola: the effectiveness of this control at the global level is very much determined by the country that shows the smallest capacity to address the challenge. Finally, the fourth category includes Weighted-Sum Global Public Goods, that is, those goods where each of the units provided by a particular actor does not equally contribute to the overall level of provision. All units make a positive contribution, but their weight varies. As a result, those actors who make the most significant contributions tend to benefit more from the existence of this type of Global Public Good. The individual contributions of States to a cleaner environment illustrates this case: those States who make larger efforts to sustain a clean environment and those who are close to them generally benefit more from the positive impact of their efforts, whereas those who make very limited contributions and those close to them tend to suffer the negative consequences of the ineffective provision at the global level (i.e., suffering the damaging effects of acid rain).

Global Public Goods can be classified also in accordance with the main source and the manner in which they are provided (Kaul et al. 1999, 2003; Kaul 2016). This initial difference has important implications for global governance. Natural Global Public Goods are those that can be found in nature and whose provision does not require human intervention. The preservation and enhancement of these goods may in some cases benefit from or require some human action, but their emergence is not directly connected to the latter. The ozone layer and climate stability are two Global Public Goods that fall within this category. Resulting from natural processes, their preservation faces the challenge of excessive human pollution, thus constituting an important governance challenge. Human-Produced Global Public Goods include those goods that are produced through social or technological processes that require human intervention. This second group encompasses goods as diverse as Human Rights, the World Cultural Heritage, Internet or Knowledge whose existence is primarily induced by social action and/or agreement. In contrast with the first category, the main challenge confronting the global provision of this group of Global Public Goods is restricted access that hinders their global or universal scope. This restriction can be motivated by several factors such as governmental repression (Human Rights), lack of access (Knowledge or Internet), and artificial barriers or controls (World Cultural Heritage). Global Public Goods resulting from Global Strategies constitute a third group whose emergence is closely linked to the last wave of globalization. These goods find their roots in the transnational nature of many global challenges, the complex interdependence that informs interactions between international actors and the gradual crystallization of cosmopolitan values. Examples of this category include international peace, international security, global justice, financial stability, or global equity. The main challenge confronting these goods is the difficulties surrounding their provision: in many cases actors make only partial contributions, whereas in others their contribution is nonexistent.

Debates on the definition, scope, and typologies of Global Public Goods have paid special attention to their interaction with global social processes over the past two decades. This has led to a gradual consensus on the socially constructed nature of Global Public Goods, which find their opposite extremes in the so-called Global Public Bads. Acknowledging the conditions of nonrivalry, nonexcludability, and international scope, this consensus puts emphasis on the importance of perceptions and presents Global Public Goods as those that are given public priority (Macintosh and Wuyts 2002). The consideration of some goods as global public ones results from the convergence of values and interests between the majority or a group of highly influential public and private actors and authorities. In turn, the socially constructed nature of Global Public Goods allows for the emergence of potential tensions between some of them. This may be the case between those connected to environmental protection and sustainable development and those others built around notions such as global economic welfare or international financial stability.

These debates run parallel to controversies regarding the effective provision of Global Public Goods. This is severely affected by three complementary, mutually reinforcing gaps. The jurisdictional gap refers to the clash between the global and transnational nature of the several issues and challenges involved in the definition, prioritization, and provision of Global Public Goods and the national scope of most decision-making schemes. Individual State perceptions and interests sometimes relinquish to global concerns, but more frequently than not the former prevail over the latter. The participation gap makes reference to the difficulty to include nongovernmental actors in international discussions and negotiations on the definition, prioritization, and provision of Global Public Goods. Most of the existing fora are intergovernmental or place States in a very privileged position. However, the effective realization of some Global Public Goods requires the implication of a large and diverse number of nongovernmental actors that frequently struggle to make their voices heard. Finally, the incentive gap alludes to the lack of specific material incentives for some actors to engage in international cooperation in order to guarantee the provision of certain Global Public Goods. This situation allows some actors to behave as free-riders, especially those who do not share a strong moral commitment towards certain Global Public Goods. Even though this gap affects all goods, its impact is particularly salient in those with nonexcludable consumption and with high costs. The relevance of these gaps cannot be understated. Moreover, as Inge Kaul (2013) has rightly pointed out, in the current context of intensified globalization their effects are exacerbated by factors such as the multilevel process that characterizes the provision of Global Public Goods, the persistent crucial role of domestic initiatives, the varying preferences across international actors, and the centrality of development in confronting the most pressing global challenges.



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© Springer International Publishing AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Pompeu Fabra UniversityBarcelonaSpain