Are our current institutions and global governance architecture sufficient to solve the new challenges the world is currently facing?

According to Lee Howell, an executive of the Switzerland-based World Economic Forum, the existing institutions and systems around the world, created in the 20th century, are no longer capable of dealing with today’s challenges. These have been triggered by multiple geopolitical, economic and environmental crises, as well as newly emerging issues involving innovative technologies.

That is why it is important to have conferences like Davos, Howell said in a recent interview in Tokyo, referring to the WEF’s annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland. The meeting will see some 3,000 global leaders from politics, business, academia and nongovernmental organizations gather to discuss pressing issues across different sectors.

The meeting, dubbed the Davos conference, will kick off on Jan. 22 with discussions on problems ranging from climate change to trade issues and geopolitics to the “Fourth Industrial Revolution,” in which artificial intelligence (AI) and other technologies are expected to drastically transform how humans work and live.

“Some say Davos is just talking shop, and people say dialogue, dialogue and dialogue. … But compared to five years ago, we require much more talking (to tackle problems surrounding the world),” Howell, head of the WEF’s Global Programming and member of the Managing Board, told The Japan Times, adding that public-private partnerships are ever more important to come up with new frameworks to tackle myriad problems.

Howell said that the overarching topic of the annual meeting this year will be centered around “Globalization 4.0,” which concerns “recognizing four distinct developments in human history coming together and interacting.”

The four elements of “Globalization 4.0” are the environment and ecological challenges of the anthropocene epoch (climate and biodiversity); a new multipolar world order shaping geopolitics; a new economic narrative recognizing the need for inclusion and equity; and the arrival of the “Fourth Industrial Revolution,” he said.

These four elements will transform the world quickly, and the current system, including legal frameworks for cybersecurity and how to regulate drones and other new technologies, are not sufficient to deal with emerging problems in the future, he said.

While drones can fly to deliver goods to remote areas and be useful tools for people, they can also be used as autonomous weapons to target others. Foreseeing such dual uses of technology, Howell feels that new regulations must be instituted globally.

He added that information sharing and attempts to create new platforms are underway among some governments and the private sector. “But someone needs to invite them together (to discuss solutions together).”

Howell stressed that expertise from both the private and public sectors is necessary as the private sector is much more advanced in AI and military technology for example, while the public sector is much better in leading ethics.

Citing an example of a Chinese scientist’s revelation in November last year that he had created the world’s first genetically edited babies — though this kind of gene editing is banned in most countries — Howell said it is difficult for the private sector to prevent such research.

Following the revelation, however, China’s Ministry of Science and Technology ordered research institutes to suspend all scientific projects of Chinese scientist He Jiankui, the creator of the controversial genetically edited babies.

Howell also expressed concerns about the “concentration of market power,” in which many of the financial and technology giants dominating the global market are either American or Chinese corporations, such as Google and Microsoft and Chinese high-tech companies like Alibaba and Huawei.

“Everyone should have a chance to grow,” he said, adding that there is a growing chasm between the haves and have-nots regarding the latest technologies. “The 3,000 leaders who gather at Davos should think about these issues.”

China is rapidly becoming successful in the areas of advanced technology such as AI, drones, quantum computing and genomics, but Howell warned that China needs to recognize its responsibility as a leader in those fields.

“Such success for such a large country also entails global responsibilities as its continued growth relies on international trade and finance, but most importantly peace and security,” he said. “And our future security increasingly is digitally focused and technology-anchored as we need a safe cyberspace as much as sea lanes. It is in these domains that China is no longer seen as a developing country but a major player by the rest of the world.”

Thanks to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe who has entered his sixth year as prime minister and who is expected to attend Davos this year for the first time since 2014, Howell said that Japan, which will be the host for the G20 summit this year, will be able to play a leading role in addressing elements of “Globalization 4.0,” particularly related to more inclusive and shared growth and the impact of technology on financial innovation.

This year’s G20 summit will be held in Osaka on June 28 and 29, and concurrent with it, the finance ministers and central bank governors’ meeting, the foreign ministers’ meeting and other ministerial meetings will also be held in eight different locations across Japan.

“You couldn’t think of it 10 years ago. It was like Italy. … The prime minister was changing every year,” he said, adding that Abe brought stability and continuity to Japanese policies.

“I also would expect some focus on the longevity revolution taking place globally, and the experience of Japan in caring for an aging society, but also mobilizing all of its talent both young and old,” he said.

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