Global Resilient Anticipatory Infrastructure Network
The GRAIN Initiative is a diplomatic and trade network we aim to develop to enable global adaptive capacity to grow between nations with disproportionate influences on key sectors. By fostering strategic collaborations and partnerships, the aim is for relevant actors to invest together and prosper, while also forward-planning far more presciently around resilience.
Global resilience remains a challenging objective to operationalise. With a lack of centralised enforcement, and even clear direction, the Westphalian system is arguably a barrier to addressing issues that are transnational in nature. For example, the Paris Accords set up ambitious targets and self-reported enforcement, with national targets underpinning diplomatic agreement. Since 2015, however, actual measures have lagged behind ambitions, reflecting mixed priorities at the national level. The inability to keep track of scientific requirements that informed those targets has been apparent. This is perhaps most salient on the key targets Paris outlined, namely the need to keep warming below 1.5°C and especially 2°C to reduce the risk of triggering tipping points in the climate system. Our development of the Odyssean Process - the use of expert horizon scanning, decision making under deep uncertainty, and democratic deliberation to enable better science-policy interfaces, was calibrated to address these difficulties proactively with best practice from the social sciences.
Furthermore, even in the absence of binding global governance, operating under the constraints of state sovereignty, there are possibilities for action. In our work at the Odyssean Institute is preparing one such initiative that would bring together the legitimacy and urgency of civil society with the clarity and precision of science. The ‘Global Resilient Anticipatory Infrastructure Network (GRAIN)’ is a proposed initiative to build capacity and mutually beneficial connections between ‘nodes of persisting complexity’ (states that can act as civilisational shelters for recovery after a collapse) in the global system. This would entail identifying key countries or regions with relevance to several dimensions of civilisational resilience. For instance, research into areas that may be able to produce food surpluses even in low light conditions, such as those which would emerge after a nuclear exchange, is pivotal. As Matt Boyd has argued in his New Zealand Resilience project, ‘if we get nuclear resilience right, we get all other resilience right’ due to the severity of this class of global catastrophe.
In this light, the position of key producers and trade system chokepoints is brought into stark relief. Oman, as both a highly improved food producer and the custodian of the Straits of Hormuz, is one such node. The Netherlands, with its high intensity greenhouse agriculture, is another. Connecting such nodes with Preferential Trade Agreements (PTAs) could greatly enhance global resilience by building redundancies into the global food supply chain, as well as diversities in economic strategies that also avoid single points of failure. Congruent with this, we propose the use of complexity modelling of the global trade system to enable foresight exercises around global catastrophic risks, to engender more appropriate national strategies on priorities at multiple scales. By aligning global resilience, attained with food surpluses that are robust to a number of possible disasters, with development plans in these countries, a network of mutually beneficial investment can be encouraged.
We also envisage a role for the supporting institutions - those of a high quality, dispersed globally, which possess differing ideological and functional styles - to act as conduits for a recovery from catastrophe or collapse. Taiwan, for example, is a crucial high tech node in the global system, and is arguably less likely to be bombed in a nuclear exchange because it hosts 90% of global semiconductor production. It also has a history of deliberative democratic experiments, of the kind we see able to handle complex tradeoffs and enable broad-based and sustained policy making around complex challenges that require social cooperation, not just coordination.
By identifying the strengths of their unique position, in this case a mixture of high tech and institutional complexity of potentially high leverage in a global system, Taiwan can be used as a beacon for policy diffusion. The involvement of other states with similar strategic advantages could add an element of redundancy and bring a diversity of approaches, both of which enhance resilience. If other ‘nodes’ adopt Taiwan’s approach to deliberation, international norms could be encouraged under which national strategies of strategically important states could align better with global priorities, such as stable supply chains for crucial goods.
We envisage using informal diplomacy, policy diffusion, and democratic deliberation to identify optimalities that highlight opportunities to engage the public around robust and resilient decision making. Investment strategies and trade agreements could then be encouraged, to help plug the capacity gaps and reduce the neglect of the challenges we face in a world of accelerating sociotechnical change. We can envisage the adoption of the Odyssean Process as one objective here. Encouraging this would bridge local, national, and global contexts and interests at play. A focus on place-based politics, without neglecting global challenges, is key.
Considerable challenges remain. Not only do specific priorities and shorter term objectives often prevail over global considerations, but nodes of persisting complexity are often at the mercy of larger states. Taiwan is at risk from Chinese invasion, and Oman’s position as the ‘Switzerland of the Middle East’ also constrains its room for action, particularly if certain moves were seen to make it partial to other nations in a way that would undermine its diplomatic position. However, with effective diplomacy, the relatively small size of these nodes need not subvert their ability to punch above their weight. The effective diplomatic and soft power of Scandinavian countries, for example, can serve as a model for operationalising the potentially positive capacities these countries have for the planet.
The Odyssean Institute’s burgeoning connections to partners globally are to be developed to encourage positive externalities through public policy for global resilience. This entails both public and policy maker stakeholder mapping, using decision making under deep uncertainty to add considerable value to their forward planning, so as to meet them where they are. Demonstrating the efficacy of such methods on national issues is viable, especially if integrated into existing limited cost-benefit analyses that are common practice. As such, GRAIN holds great promise for diligent public policy to generate positive outcomes proactively and across numerous scales (national, regional, and global).