The need for a global response to increasingly international challenges has been gaining recognition in the past decade.

The tragic events of Sept. 11 have brought a sense of urgency to that realization and have demanded a multilateral response to new security threats. While a global coalition against terrorism is critical, global collective action to address the root causes of distress, hatred, poverty and alienation is also imperative.

In his recent address to the U.N. General Assembly — postponed for nearly seven weeks due to the attacks — Kofi Annan referred to four “burning issues.” The secretary-general cited poverty, HIV/AIDS, conflict prevention and environmental protection as demanding international resolve and action.

Countries need to find ways to work together to tackle multiple shared challenges, a task that requires new mechanisms for international cooperation. Two major events in the coming year are critical for forging new alliances and a concrete action agenda — the Conference on Financing for Development in March 2002 and the World Summit on Sustainable Development in September 2002.

The international community needs to demonstrate an unprecedented commitment to bridging the rifts that divide the world and to building new governance structures. What are the challenges that these two international conferences face, and how can they overcome them?

The difficulties for both initiatives will arise at three levels.

First, at the systemic level, the failed collective action of past efforts taints any optimism for new solutions. Current governance structures do not provide adequate incentives for collective solutions.

Excessive institutional complexity and a lack of information on problems, policy options, and the behavior of peers encourage evasion rather than participation in global accords.

Second, the international environment, while seemingly more conducive to multilateral action, might favor cooperation on anti-terrorism war efforts rather than on sustainable development and strategies for financing it. Before Sept. 11, the United States spent over $300 billion a year on its military; now, the new budget is projected at $400 billion a year.

The World Bank estimates $100 billion is necessary globally to halve poverty by 2015.

Third, both developed and developing countries will need to add these renewed international efforts on top of already pressing domestic economic and political challenges. Moreover, it is difficult to justify committing additional expenditures to new international initiatives when other countries can coast on the efforts of others.

It is thus evident that a set of structural problems hinders the effectiveness of international cooperation. The institutional mechanisms through which the international community governs itself do not provide sufficient incentive for stakeholders to engage in collectively optimal behavior.

What both meetings need so as to overcome and resolve these problems is, first, a clear agenda and, second, a clean slate.

A constructive dialogue can be ensured only if it addresses a set of well-defined questions. While the agenda for the high-level conference on financing for development centers on six core issues — enabling domestic environments, mobilizing international flows, enhancing trade, confronting external debt, enhancing official development assistance and improving the financial architecture — the subject matter for the World Summit on Sustainable Development is still undefined.

In view of the critical importance of the summit, its agenda should be forward-looking, focused on substantive problems requiring international collective action, and centered on options for strengthening the global environmental and development architecture.

The new reality of global affairs demands new attitudes.

To avoid stalemate, the international community needs to approach these two events with openness to innovation, a readiness to listen, and a focus on interests rather than rigid official positions. Initiating and maintaining an inclusive, constructive and sustained dialogue on a multilateral vision for sustainable development will be an unparalleled challenge.

Yet, such a dialogue is the only viable option.

Global environmental and development concerns might provide the common negotiating ground for new mechanisms of governance sensitive to income disparities, socioeconomic capacities and political realities.

The World Summit on Sustainable Development and the high-level conference on financing for development present unique opportunities for the creation of a new climate of international cooperation and a fertile ground for a new, “global deal.”

Maria Ivanova is a doctoral student at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies.