Global Problems, Global Solutions, Peter Hayes

Global Problems, Global Solutions, Peter Hayes

 [Peter standing on top of windmill looking down]

    One day in October 2000, I found myself on a windmill in a strong wind, hanging on for dear life, and looking out across a famine afflicted and flood affected North Korean village, Unhari, wondering what on Earth I was doing standing on top off a swaying fifty foot tower.

    I must admit that I did not figure out the answer to that question before I climbed down and traveled back to the relative safety of earthquake-prone San Francisco.  The immediate lesson was: don’t look down.

    Two years later, however, when asked by MacArthur Foundation to codify how we had done what was generally viewed impossible, building a windpower system in a village in totalitarian North Korea.

Second Unhari Slide

I spent considerable time reflecting on the relationship between impact and knowledge, and how cross-sectoral and cross-disciplinary knowledge can be generated and applied to powerful effect to ameliorate and resolve international conflicts. 

The result was a restructuring of Nautilus from a hub organization to a devolved, nodally-based network, and the establishment of Nautilus at RMIT based on the concept of Global Problem Solving, now the mission of Nautilus at RMIT which I co-direct with Professor Richard Tanter.

The mission.

The mission of the Nautilus Institute is to improve global problem solving by applying and refining the strategic tools of cooperative engagement to fundamental problems undermining global security and sustainability.

To this end, we seek to define, resource, research, and implement Global Initiatives, namely, integrated deep research, networking, and uncertainty-based activities that that prefigures global solution over 2 years.

Global Initiative Concept

Before we get into these Initiatives, let’s examine the notion of global problem, itself problematic.

Global problem lists

In spite of huge quantities of research on specific global problems, the field of global problems as a whole is underdeveloped.

We observe that which problems are “global” depends pretty much on where you sit.  In various surveys, we discovered that most thinktanks and scholars simply list  global problems that are either most proximate to their mission or affect their organizational existence.  Often they organize them alphabetically, sometimes with a thin taxonomic hierarchy imposed on them. 

In global civil society organizations, tackling multiple problems at a same time is exceptional and almost no attention is devoted to thinking about interrelated problems that might serve as binding constraints on solutions.  Even less time is given to operational considerations of the implications of multiple and interrelated global problem solving.

A more rigorous, inter-governmental perspective, albeit from the high altitude perch of an a World Bank official Jean-Francois Rischard, are 3 fundamental problem categories, namely, those arising from shared global commons, those arising from shared regulatory problems, and those arising from our shared humanity.  Rischard puts 20 problems into these categories and laments the inability of governments and markets to grapple with them.

Another scholarly, science-based approach is to look for a constellation of issues that are interrelated, such as geopolitical insecurity, energy, and non-sustainability which feed a series of vicious circles such as nuclear proliferation and risk of next use, and local, regional and global ecological degradation that worsens poverty; and then to explore common strategies and solutions that simultaneously offer potential resolution of multiple, interrelated problems via a series of virtuous cycles. 

The IPCC is the most magnificent example of this analytic strategy writ large, albeit one whose knowledge has been deflected by the demands of inter-state negotiations to focus primarily on mitigation issues, neglecting the adaptation side of the agenda, and very weak on social science.

However, many of the truly universal and multi-dimensional linked problems have proven intractable to the most ferocious and brilliant singular problem solving strategies mobilized by humans.  Indeed, many of these strategies have perpetuated, not solved these problems.

UIA’s Universe of World Problems

In dramatic contrast to most scholars, the Union of International Associations in Brussels, suggests that there are not only dozens, but a veritable universe of hundreds of world problems, creating a complexity and opacity that far surpasses the ability of any individual scholar or organization to comprehend.  Moreover, what constitutes an authentic problem is itself often highly contested—witness climate change until very recently.  This analysis is based on empirical documentation gathered from over 20,000 international NGOs and international agencies, and must be taken seriously by any scholar in the field.

UIA’s results imply that knowledge aimed at solving global problems must be created now in networked research strategies that bring into play global civil society, the source of many of the social and political innovations that are critical to solving global problems, and collecting the freshest data and generating most innovative research due to their field presence and complete disregard for disciplinary boundaries because they are urgently problem-driven.

This in turn implies that universities develop  research partnerships not only with governments, with all their black hole-gravitas and ability to distort the field of vision and deflect action into infinite energy sinks; not only with market-based corporate alliances that generate technological innovation in the business world; but also with global civil society , the new, agile and high impact organizations and networks driven by values and visions of rapid, large-scale and dramatic change on a scale commensurate with global problems.

In Nautilus, we characterize research networks that are highly engaged with global civil society (although not to the exclusion of governments or corporations) as transnational thinknets.  These contrast with slow moving, cumbersome, and often conservative traditional bricks-and-mortar, plate glass think tanks devoted to recycling the status quo that typically relate to government and corporations as primary partners.

Think nets graphic

Such transnational thinknets are particularly well-suited to mobilizing and integrating deep, multidisciplinary research, setting in motion networked communities creating and sharing common knowledge, and anticipating uncertainty.

Let me know sketch 3 current examples of how this strategy is playing out involving RMIT and linked civil society-based transnational thinks, in real-world conflicts. These are 1) North Korea; 2) Global Climate Change Adaptation; and 3) the Australia-Indonesia security relationship.

Example 1:  North Korea Nuclear Negotiations

I expect that you are all aware of the on-going nuclear collision between North Korea and the international community. Today, Nautilus Institute, networked across 3 universities—RMIT, USF, and Songkonghoe University in Seoul—and drawing on the collective knowledge of a network of analysts and practitioners in 40 countries, delivers critically important knowledge to policy makers in major capital cities, including the negotiators in the Six Party Talks. 

Graphic of first slide to Chris Hill that identifies PH as RMIT

Only 5 weeks ago, for example, I was on the 8th floor at State Department briefing US Ambassador Christopher Hill on 3 critical energy insecurities of the DPRK and six energy options for engaging the DPRK.

    3 critical DPRK energy insecurities
6 energy engagement options for DPRK

 analysis based on unique knowledge extracted from this network of applied researchers, especially civil society practitioners on the ground in North Korea, and distilled at a conference last June at Stanford, and shared with the other governments at the Six Party talks including North Korea, and with our own officials in Canberra.  This morning, I sent a revised set of five US options for energy security assistance to the DPRK to State and DOE.

Thus, RMIT is fully engaged at high policy levels in these geopolitical conflict resolution processes and will invite 5 NK officials to the global scenarios 2007 workshop on urban CC in HCMC this November.

Example 2:  GCI Climate Change Adaptation Program

A 2nd example of this role is in formulating the Global Cities Institute climate change adaptation program for the new which I convene along with Professor Felicity Roddick with Professor Paul James support and leadership.

GCI CCAP Program

We have designed a four part program that sets out to identify common vulnerabilities and robust strategic response in Australian and Asian cities, starting with a Victorian city and Ho Chi Minh City, and integrating the efforts of RMIT researchers from the hard sciences and technology on the one hand, and social scientists concerned with community development, perceptions, psychological aspects of response and resilience, on the other.  .

Within 2 years, we plan to conduct field tests of an RMIT-generated versatile and potent adaptive technology (starting with solar thermal desalination and possibly smart green building design, but possibly on adaptive water infrastructure for stormwater drains or waste water recycling), likely starting in Hamilton. 

This is all fairly standard, albeit very difficult multidisciplinary research where the trick is to get the graduate students in the lead, and to have the narrowest possible common question posed to the various disciplines.

What is new and radical from the bigger picture of transnational thinknets and mobilizing global civil society to address the CCA global problem, is GCI’s goal to define Global Rules for Climate Change Adaptation based on cities, not states.

To this end, we will convene an eminent experts group of economists, ethicists, political scientists, development specialists etc to create an equitable and efficient framework for allocating the cost and sharing the burden of climate change adaptation at a global level.  We will likely conduct this activity in conjunction with the OECD R/T on Sustainable Development at the senior official and ministerial level. 

The underlying political agenda is to generate momentum for a city-level global compact on ensuring that rich cities provide the necessary support for poor cities to make the transitions necessary to a sustainable future.  We see a global convocation on this issue on June 5th, WED 2009 convened by RMIT and its partners in this global network.  The goal is to stimulate and support autonomous adaptation at a community level.  In this perspective, a post-Kyoto, state-based framework is a complementary, necessary but insufficient framework for solving the CC problem.  The current policy debate is how states can unlock the door for CC mitigation for markets, irregardless of what states do (or mostly, don’t do).

In my view, the long-run strategy requires global civil society to mobilize the political will to adapt which in turn will make mitigation politically possible by overcoming political gridlock.  For adaptation, global civil society holds the key to the door, not states or the market.  The implications for university researchers engaged with global CC are obvious.

To achieve this outcome, we must weave together the dispersed and disconnected CC capacities at RMIT and to integrate this into a network with Victorian, Australian and global reach. It is evident that no university has sufficient scale to respond to the needs for knowledge for CC adaptation.  Thus, we have convened a 3-university profiling project with Melbourne and Monash University to anticipate the knowledge requirements for Victoria’s adaptive capacity in all sectors and areas of the state; and to survey and profile the existing, potential, and latent university-based research capacity clusters for responding to the rapidly evolving climate change “issue clusters; and to create an on-line profiling system that enables users from outside the university to connect the dots for emerging interrelated issues, across the 3 universities. 

This project is well underway, quietly, since late last year; and the first phase will end about November 2007.   The profiling system should be flexible and deployable for other GCI working groups. 

Graphic of CCAP to date

Example 3:  Australia-Indonesia Relationship

Finally, you will all remember the smoke that kept us coughing and indoors last summer.  You know that Indonesia and southeast Asia as a whole has a similar problem, and that the resulting drift has regional and even global implications, including affecting rainfall in northern Australia. 

With Professor Neil Furlong’s support, and having created an outstanding information and analytic service, the Austral Peace and Security Network, NI@RMIT is now moving to convene an Australia-Indonesia joint research activity with GCI-Human Security WG, Australia 21, a national security-sustainability network, and Indonesian partners,  that will examine how to reconstitute this awkward bilateral relationship around collaborative work on key global problems such as communicable diseases, energy insecurity, and climate change, rather than batting back and forth the obvious issues that divide us. 

In conclusion, for a global, city-based university of technology with a bent towards vocational learning, we are correct to focus on “meeting the needs of industry and community” and fostering in students “the skills and passion to contribute to and engage with the world.” 

We suggest that realizing this engagement requires us to develop a stronger awareness of global problems; an acquaintance with strategic tools of global problem-solving; and a set of iconic RMIT achievements arising from applying its tools to interrelated global problems via engagement of industry, government, and global civil society.

Alongside other RMIT parallel efforts, we are ready to contribute to deepening RMIT’s global problem-solving community of practice, and to learn and gain from the activities that are already underway to this end.