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Collective action and more effective transnational institutions are needed to tackle global challenges, say Brian Walker and colleagues.

International institutions tend to focus on individual problems without considering system-wide interactions. For example, planting forests to help combat climate change might simultaneously disrupt ecosystems targeted for biodiversity protection.

The Convention on Biological Diversity and the Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution both issued separate statements on recent ocean fertilisation projects but the Framework Convention on Climate Change remained silent — even though the projects aimed to assess whether fertilisation could reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide.

We need systems that can deal with interactive effects, say the authors. This means working together. The challenge lies in designing institutions that encourage cooperation and overcome free-riding.

The authors offer three examples for taking institutional development forward. Regarding climate change, they suggest aligning national and global interests in international climate agreements and enforcing emission limits for trade-sensitive sectors. For high-seas fisheries, they propose a norm requiring all states responsible for managing fisheries to intercede when a country fails its obligations to the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries.

To combat drug resistance, the authors suggest amending the International Health Regulations to promote standards for drug use — by making all member countries collectively promote combination therapies for malaria treatment.

Link to full article in Science