The best of centuries or the worst of centuries: Leadership, governance and cohesion in an interdependent world


This paper is an extended version of the eighth Fulbright Legacy Lectures delivered by Lord Stern at King’s College, London on 4 June, Edinburgh University on 6 June, and Pembroke College, Oxford on 8 June 2018.

The purposes of the paper are: to demonstrate the immense magnitude of our choices; to show the forces that have shaped where we are and that will determine the nature of these choices; to recognise and celebrate that we now have a new global agenda which embodies both shared values and ambitions and a positive response to the choices; to examine what is involved in delivering on that agenda and creating the ‘best of centuries’; and in so doing to argue that collaboration across generations and nations and building stronger international institutions will be at the heart of that delivery.

Part 1 of the paper describes and tries to understand how the world has changed and is likely to change. Analysis of the remarkable global agenda agreed in 2015 – consisting primarily of the UN Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement on climate change – is set out in Part 2. Part 3 presents and celebrates that agenda, with Lord Stern, as a participant, examining how it was built. Part 4 assesses delivery on the global agenda, asking how the political will to make the necessary radical changes could come about. Lord Stern explains that he is optimistic about what we can do, but deeply concerned as to whether and when we will act.