The term world governance is broadly used to designate all regulations intended for organization and centralization of human societies on a global scale. The Forum for a new World Governance defines world governance simply as "collective management of the planet".
Traditionally, government has been associated with "governing," or with political authority, institutions, and, ultimately, control. Governance denotes a process through which institutions coordinate and control independent social relations, and that have the ability to enforce their decisions. However, authors like James Rosenau have also used "governance" to denote the regulation of interdependent relations in the absence of an overarching political authority, such as in the international system. Some now speak of the development of "global public policy".
Adil Najam, a scholar on the subject at the Pardee School of Global Studies, Boston University has defined global governance simply as "the management of global processes in the absence of global government." According to Thomas G. Weiss, director of the Ralph Bunche Institute for International Studies at the Graduate Center (CUNY) and editor (2000–05) of the journal Global Governance: A Review of Multilateralism and International Organizations, "'Global governance'—which can be good, bad, or indifferent—refers to concrete cooperative problem-solving arrangements, many of which increasingly involve not only the United Nations of states but also 'other UNs,' namely international secretariats and other non-state actors." In other words, global governance refers to the way in which global affairs are managed.
The definition is flexible in scope, applying to general subjects such as global security and order or to specific documents and agreements such as the World Health Organization's Code on the Marketing of Breast Milk Substitutes. The definition applies whether the participation is bilateral (e.g. an agreement to regulate usage of a river flowing in two countries), function-specific (e.g. a commodity agreement), regional (e.g. the Treaty of Tlatelolco), or global (e.g. the Non-Proliferation Treaty). These "cooperative problem-solving arrangements" may be formal, taking the shape of laws or formally constituted institutions for a variety of actors (such as state authorities, intergovernmental organizations (IGOs), non-governmental organizations (NGOs), private sector entities, other civil society actors, and individuals) to manage collective affairs. They may also be informal (as in the case of practices or guidelines) or ad hoc entities (as in the case of coalitions).
However, a single organization may take the nominal lead on an issue, for example the World Trade Organization (WTO) in world trade affairs. Therefore, global governance is thought to be an international process of consensus-forming which generates guidelines and agreements that affect national governments and international corporations. Examples of such consensus would include WTO policies on health issues.
The WTO is needed when establishing a regulatory guide in decision-making, the Global Administrative Law is active in going hand-in-hand with WTO. They promote global principles when involving accountability, transparency, and legitimacy when making decisions involving more than one country or state. This is necessary to prevent future disputes between states.
In short, global governance may be defined as "the complex of formal and informal institutions, mechanisms, relationships, and processes between and among states, markets, citizens and organizations, both inter- and non-governmental, through which collective interests on the global plane are articulated, Duties, obligations and privileges are established, and differences are mediated through educated professionals."
Titus Alexander, author of Unravelling Global Apartheid, an Overview of World Politics, has described the current institutions of global governance as a system of global apartheid, with numerous parallels with minority rule in the formal and informal structures of South Africa before 1991.
While attempts of intergovernmental coordination of policy-making can be traced back to ancient times, comprehensive search for effective formats of international coordination and cooperation have truly began after the end of the WWI. It was during that post-war period that some of the still existing international institutions (or their immediate predecessors) were founded. Among thinkers who made major contributions to the period discussions on the goals and forms of international governance and policy coordination were J.M. Keynes with his "The Economic Consequences of the Peace" and G. Cassel with his works on the post-war development of the global monetary system.
The dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 marked the end of a long period of international history based on a policy of balance of powers. Since this historic event, the planet has entered a phase of geostrategic breakdown. The national-security model, for example, while still in place for most governments, is gradually giving way to an emerging collective conscience that extends beyond the restricted framework it represents.
The post-Cold War world of the 1990s saw a new paradigm emerge based on a number of issues:
- The growing idea of globalization as a significant theme and the subsequent weakening of nation-states, points to a prospect of transferring to a global level of regulatory instruments. Upon the model that regulation was no longer working effectively at the national or regional levels.
- Non-State actors became intensely involved after the Cold War. This helped speed up economies and create allies for one another while integrating states after the economy crash. They used global governance as a tool to solve problems between states and to create a guide to prevent another cold war from breaking out.
- An intensification of environmental concerns, which received multilateral endorsement at the Earth Summit. The Summit issues, relating to the climate and biodiversity, symbolized a new approach that was soon to be expressed conceptually by the term Global Commons.
- The emergence of conflicts over standards: trade and the environment, trade and property rights, trade and public health. These conflicts continued the traditional debate over the social effects of macroeconomic stabilization policies, and raised the question of arbitration among equally legitimate objectives in a compartmentalized governance system where the major areas of interdependence are each entrusted to a specialized international institution. Although often limited in scope, these conflicts are nevertheless symbolically powerful, as they raise the question of the principles and institutions of arbitration.
- An increased questioning of international standards and institutions by developing countries, which, having entered the global economy, find it hard to accept that industrialized countries hold onto power and give preference to their own interests. The challenge also comes from civil society, which considers that the international governance system has become the real seat of power and which rejects both its principles and procedures. Although these two lines of criticism often have conflicting beliefs and goals, they have been known to join in order to oppose the dominance of developed countries and major institutions, as demonstrated symbolically by the failure of the World Trade Organization Ministerial Conference of 1999.