10/16/2013 11:44 am ET Updated Dec 16, 2013

Overcoming Gridlock in Modern Politics

The shutdown of the US government is a bewildering and extreme example of the gridlock of modern politics which makes action increasing difficult. Civil servants in the USA will eventually return to their desks, stalled legislation will pass, and debt payments will somehow be made, but such events highlight how entrenched positions, failure to compromise, and a preoccupation with political point scoring at the expense of the longer term view are increasingly damaging attempts to address the critical challenges of the 21st century.

Uncertainty about the future, the never-ending immediacy of daily pressures and the rapidity of change in today's society make it easier to rationalise living in the eternal present. Changing course towards the longer term requires society to devote sustained attention to the transformational changes which will characterise our lifetimes and shape the future for the next generations. Understanding these transformational changes, identifying why action has slowed and suggesting practical ideas to move the global agenda towards a more resilient and sustainable future is the focus of Now for the Long Term, the report of the Oxford Martin Commission for Future Generations released in London today. Over the next six days, this blog will feature a series of posts which highlight some of the biggest challenges that will shape our future, and outline our practical suggestions to mobilise action. With contributions from Commissioners including Professor Ian Goldin, Dr Mo Ibrahim, Julia Marton-Lefèvre, Peter Piot and Martin Rees, we hope to inspire a renewed conversation about how to better manage our global connectivity and secure a better future for all.

There is no doubt that our world has experienced a sustained period of positive change. The average person is about eight times richer than a century ago, nearly one billion people have been lifted out of extreme poverty in the past two decades, living standards have soared and many of today's goods are based on the collective contributions of different parts of the world. Whilst we should be optimistic, the growing risks arising from the plundering of our planet's natural capital, economic inequality and the growing burden of disease are just some of the reasons why we cannot be complacent and need to address the threats posed by "business as usual."

In today's hyper-connected world, our individual future depends more than ever on our collective future. We could arguably be one of the last generations to be able to stop the long-term devastation of our planet. We hold a unique responsibility, arising from our advanced knowledge of the potential that our actions could have to create or prevent irreversible damage to the livelihoods of future generations. Despite the pressing need for joined-up action to safeguard collective achievements and build the foundations for future generations, the gap between knowledge and action is widening, with increasing short-termism and entrenched gridlock undermining proactive attempts at change. To address this question we have, for the past year, worked with a group of eminent leaders, chosen for their expertise, geographical reach, and their leadership experience at the helm of major national and international organisations, to consider how to overcome the yawning gap between knowledge and action. Now for the Long Term is the result of the work of the Oxford Martin Commission for Future Generations.

Our recommendations emphasise the importance of innovative partnerships, openness and accountability, and underline the need to step beyond crisis management to invest in the longer-term needs of our societies. Some are directed at immediate policy debates. Others seek to address deeper political and cultural dynamics which prevent progress. Our recommendations identify five areas where we feel progress can be made:

  • Creative Coalitions: a C20-C30-C40 "Coalition of the Working" of countries, companies and cities tackling climate change; a new cyber warning platform, CyberEx, to synergise awareness among governments and businesses of cyber threats and build capacity to thwart them; and a global Fit Cities network to fight the rise of NCDs.
  • Innovative, Open and Reinvigorated Institutions: independent but accountable institutions insulated from day-to-day governing; sunset clauses built into all publicly-funded international institutions to ensure they are fit for the 21st century; WorldStat, to improve the reliability and availability of statistics, and a Voluntary Taxation and Regulatory Exchange to address tax abuse and avoidance schemes.
  • Revalue the Future: companies and financial systems should give greater priority to long-term "health" metrics and look beyond the next reporting cycle; perverse subsidies on hydrocarbons and agriculture should be removed; discounting frameworks should be revised to remove discrimination against future generations; and a Long-Term Impact Index to track longer-term resilience, inclusiveness and sustainability.
  • Invest in Younger Generations: the intergenerational cycle of poverty should be broken through social protection measures like conditional cash transfer programmes; whilst countries should invest in youth guarantees to reduce the 'scars' of unemployment and underemployment.
  • Establish a Common Platform of Understanding: Developing capacity to agree and articulate a common global vision and ambition is critical if we are to address the challenges of our collective future.

For our Commission, this report is the beginning of a conversation that aims to shift the gridlock on today's complex and interconnected challenges. It is the collective responsibility of governments, businesses, NGOs and civil society to construct a sustainable world for current and future generations. It is our hope that our ideas and recommendations will stimulate debate and action on critical national and global challenges.

This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and The Oxford Martin Commission for Future Generations, in conjunction with the release of the latter's report Now for the Long Term, published by the Oxford Martin School at the University of Oxford. The report's recommendations aim to break the gridlock that undermines attempts to address the world's biggest challenges; to bridge the gap between knowledge and action; and to redress the balance between shortterm political pressures and a need to secure a sustainable, inclusive and resilient future. To see all the posts in the series, click here. For more information on the report, click here.