Three big policy challenges

My take on the question: What are the key future challenges that policy leadership in your country will need to respond to?

The fourth industrial revolution. There is no doubt that we are in the midst of a technology revolution. Driven by new technology and our increasingly digital world, the pace of global change is unprecedented. Global policy leaders – and elected politicians in particular – are struggling to keep up.

There are huge benefits to this new world. We are more connected than ever before. Our access to knowledge and information is extraordinary. And an end to hunger, disease and poverty is within our grasp.

However, this new world has also created unchartered policy challenges. Automation is changing work as we know it – how do we provide stable, well-paid jobs in this new environment? And how do we train – and re-train – workforces able to respond to the digital era?

While an end to poverty is within our grasp, inequality seems only to entrench. How do we ensure the benefits of this new world are reaped equally by its population? And how do we design a political framework that is fit for purpose? In the West, our ideologies and institutions were designed around the theories and philosophies of the non-digital era. How can we create a new politics, which has coherence and legitimacy in these changing times?

The rise of populism.  The extraordinary pace of global change, and institutions’ seeming inability to keep up, has left many people feeling both alienated and hungry for change. From the Arab Spring, to the rise of Donald Trump, to growing separatist movements in Europe, populations are reacting to unmet expectations and looking for alternative solutions.

This is driven by genuine policy failures – for example, Europe’s poor response to the refugee and migration crisis, which left vulnerable people destitute and failed to prepare citizens for major change. But it is also entrenched by our collective short memory. The institutions created to provide global stability are the product of a time very few people remember. The carnage of the second world war provided a clear and compelling reason for the global cooperation established by the UN, the EU and NATO. With this moment an increasingly distant memory, there is no longer a shared understanding of why we adopted the global rights and norms protected by these institutions.

Policy makers must work to legitimise these rights and norms for today’s world. But they must also respond to the very unique challenges of the twenty first century. This means listening to and empowering populations, whilst resisting populist policies that will plunge us into deeper disarray.

Climate change. It would be remiss not to include climate change. The threat of climate change to the human race is and far beyond anything we have seen in the modern era. Yet we are woefully underprepared.

Meaningful change requires global change. Yet, as discussed above, our global institutions are increasingly incapable of building consensus and driving collective action. At the same time, climate change still feels abstract. It is almost impossible for citizens to imagine what it means in practice and the very real impact of climate change is still treated as shock weather occurrences. This means there is little public clamour for change. Furthermore, fixing climate change means making policy decisions that may have a detrimental material impact on citizens’ lives. For example, a swift reduction on our dependence on fossil fuels would force a reduction in energy consumption. Even the most bold policy makers are likely to shy away from this choice.

The modern world described above offers huge opportunity for tackling climate change – be it new technologies driving innovative solutions or new career opportunities for a twenty first century workforce. Our task is now to build the political, financial and popular momentum for change.

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