A thoughtful, wide-ranging essay here from Stewart Patrick on 'good enough' global governance, from which I'll pluck just one extract, because it goes to the pessimism I expressed earlier this week about the chances of getting a global agreement on greenhouse gas emissions. Patrick argues that the age of the all-encompassing multilateral deal is over, and its being replaced by 'global governance in pieces':

...when it comes to multilateralism, bigger is rarely better, and the era of the mega-conference is ending as major powers recognize the futility of negotiating comprehensive international agreements among 193 UN member states, in the full glare of the media and alongside tens of thousands of activists, interest groups, and hangers-on. Countries will continue to assemble for annual confabs, such as the Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), in the Sisyphean quest to secure “binding” commitments from developed and developing countries. But that circus will increasingly become a sideshow, as the action shifts to less formal settings and narrower groupings of the relevant and capable. Already, the 17 largest greenhouse gas emitters have created the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate, seeking breakthroughs outside the lumbering UNFCCC. To date, the forum has underdelivered. But more tangible progress has occurred through parallel national efforts, as states pledge to undertake a menu of domestic actions, which they subsequently submit to the forum for collective review.

There is a more general lesson here. Faced with fiendishly complex issues, such as climate change, transnational networks of government officials now seek incremental progress by disaggregating those issues into manageable chunks and agreeing to coordinate action on specific agenda items. Call it “global governance in pieces.” For climate change, this means abandoning the quest for an elusive soup-to-nuts agreement to mitigate and adapt to global warming. Instead, negotiators pursue separate initiatives, such as phasing out wasteful fossil fuel subsidies, launching minilateral clean technology partnerships, and expanding the UN Collaborative Program on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries, among other worthwhile schemes. The result is not a unitary international regime grounded in a single institution or treaty but a cluster of complementary activities that political scientists call a “regime complex.”

Photo by Flickr user westpark.