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What are Global Problems?

Some analysts argue that global problems can be distilled into broad categories such as those that arise from shared management of global commons (such as Earth's climate), the imperative to cooperate at a globally inclusive level to create a common good (such as trade rules), and the need to regulate human activity at a global level (such as laws prohibiting slavery or genocide).

Others argue that global problems are exceptional because such problems affect everyone and are not amenable to singular or local solutions. The result is the contemporary global transformation of humanity due to the combined impacts of intertwined global problems and our fragmented efforts to solve them. These impacts are experienced as severe stress imposed from outside in many societies at the same time, a condition of global dislocation.

Global problems may exhibit linkage between cause and effect across societal levels from global to local. Global problems also reveal a disjuncture between cause and effect when the driving forces are highly centralized and concentrated both institutionally and spatially (and therefore are exogenous to most of humanity who nonetheless experience the effects of this change). Other global problems are the result of highly distributed and decentralized driving forces so diffuse yet cumulatively powerful that the resulting overall impact is qualitative even though it passes unnoticed except at the local level.

Often, global problems are multi-dimensional, and drive pervasive change driven by interrelationships across superficially segmented problems or disparate issues or levels of governance. Global problems may be the result of multi-directional causes that erupt suddenly from below or fall without warning from above, or both at the same time. Sometimes, events in one society arc for a moment around the planet to another, thereby dramatically changing both their trajectories.

The impacts of some global problems may not be felt for years or decades whereas decision-making time horizons are very short. Such enduring global problems may set severe limits on solving interrelated, medium-term global problems.

Examples of complex global problems that exhibit these characteristics include climate change, energy, global dislocation, and weapons of mass destruction.