The world is used to working together on finance and weapons: now we need a global response to the challenges of the future
In early February, the United States National Academy of Engineering released a report on the grand challenges for engineering in the 21st century. The goal is to focus attention on the potential of technology to help the world address poverty and environmental threats. The list includes potential breakthroughs such as low-cost solar power, safe disposal of CO2 from power plants, nuclear fusion, new educational technologies, and the control of environmental side-effects from nitrogen fertilisers. The report, like the Gates foundation's similar list of grand challenges in global health, highlights a new global priority: promoting advanced technologies for sustainable development.
We are used to thinking about global cooperation in fields such as monetary policy, disease control, or nuclear weapons proliferation. We are less accustomed to thinking of global cooperation to promote new technologies, such as clean energy, a malaria vaccine, or drought-resistant crops to help poor African farmers. By and large, we regard new technologies as something to be developed by businesses for the marketplace, not as opportunities for global problem-solving.