About Global Governance Report Card

June 2014

The Global Governance Report Card grades international performance in addressing today's most daunting challenges. It seeks to inspire innovative and effective responses from global and U.S. policymakers to address them.


The Global Governance Report Card evaluates and grades multilateral efforts to address six of the world’s most pressing global challenges: nuclear weapons proliferation, transnational terrorism, climate change, armed conflict, financial instability, and threats to global health. Each of these threats poses significant risks to the security, prosperity, and well-being of individuals and nations. However, as the assessment shows, hurdles to effective cooperation remain high.

National governments often disagree in their assessment of global risks, and even where they share a common interest in mitigating threats, they may rank these priorities differently. Collective action can also be costly and independent states are often tempted to “free ride” on the contributions of others. In particular, developing and developed nations often clash over how to apportion the burdens—as well as the benefits—of international cooperation. The allocation of authority and voice within international institutions is even more controversial and sometimes detracts from the legitimacy of existing or proposed efforts. Meanwhile, longstanding international organizations are notoriously resistant to change, given the vested interest of current power-wielders and bureaucratic inertia. As a result, institutions struggle to adapt to new realities, like the need to integrate emerging powers and influential nonstate actors or to suppress novel threats. Given these obstacles, multilateral cooperation tends to be messy and often frustratingly inadequate.

In today’s world, what passes for “global governance” is a far cry from world government. It is rather something far more practical: the halting efforts of sovereign states, alongside relevant nonstate actors, to use formal international organizations, regional bodies, and informal coalitions to confront common threats, manage shared risks, and exploit joint opportunities presented by globalization.

What had long been missing from policy debates, however, was any coherent evaluation of how the world is actually doing in addressing its most daunting global challenges. That changed last year, when CFR’s International Institutions and Global Governance (IIGG) program released its first report card, becoming the first institution to assess the performance of the multilateral system in mitigating, ameliorating, and resolving these threats to humanity. Having already analyzed each of these issue areas in its award-winning online multimedia interactive, the Global Governance Monitor, IIGG had a useful database on which to draw.

The inaugural report card, released in spring 2013, evaluated and graded international efforts over the preceding five years (2008–2012). This year’s installment assesses progress on global governance during calendar year 2013 (with the first report card serving as a baseline). As changes in global governance are often incremental, this required thinking thoughtfully about what steps or events during the year indicated a positive trajectory, as opposed to backsliding or stagnation. In general, the report card finds more grounds for pessimism than optimism.

Despite a steady if uneven global economic recovery, multilateral efforts to mitigate global risks and threats were at best lackluster. Enthusiasm for global cooperation waned, critical negotiations cooled, and U.S. leadership stalled as the Obama administration focused on confronting spoilers abroad and grappling with pressing challenges (including a fractious Congress) at home.


In the interest of clarity and presentation, the report card was consciously designed to resemble one a student might receive in school. Each report card category assigns an overall grade to international efforts and outcomes in a particular issue area. Below the overall grade, each individual category offers a qualitative assessment of performance in particular subjects or subcomponents (such as “monitoring and enforcing emissions curbs” in the case of climate change), which evaluates progress on core objectives. As with typical report cards (at least in the United States), each report card category includes an overall summary, highlights achievements, describes the current trajectory of efforts, and notes areas for improvement. Bearing in mind our domestic (as well as international) audience, we also include a section devoted to “U.S. performance and leadership.” Finally, accompanying each report card is a lengthier backgrounder. These provide greater detail on the progress and setbacks in advancing multilateral cooperation in the precise issue area and extensive justifications for report card evaluations.

The report card covers the calendar year 2013, using the previous report card (which covered the five-year period 2008–2012) as a baseline. Accordingly, it does not include relevant events or initiatives that took place after December 31, 2013.


Each report card category assesses multilateral cooperation and grades the United States’ performance in addressing a particular global challenge. These grades reflect subjective, qualitative evaluations by IIGG staff and subject-matter experts on progress or setbacks during 2013 in achieving tangible policy objectives. The possible grades for each issue area range from A through F.

Beyond the overall grade, each category of the report card includes qualitative assessments of performance on specific subjects, or subcategories within each issue area, using the following labels:

  • Excellent: superior performance and effort in addressing the issue

  • Good: above average performance and effort in addressing the issue

  • Average: mediocre performance and effort in addressing the issue

  • Poor: below average performance and effort in addressing the issue

  • Incomplete: lack of attention and effort in addressing the issue


Effective multilateral cooperation in addressing major transnational challenges often depends on a select group of actors—including but not limited to the United States and, increasingly, China—with the capacity and will to contribute disproportionately to collective action. Accordingly, each report card category identifies those players—including states, international institutions, and nonstate actors—that have played particularly constructive (or alternatively, obstructive) roles in managing or resolving a specific challenge.

The resulting class evaluation places actors worthy of special mention into one of six categories:

  • Leader: actors that are at the forefront of global efforts, whether by implementing important policies or encouraging or assisting other countries, institutions, or nonstate actors to follow suit

  • Gold Star: actors that have demonstrated notable success in a particular issue area or have launched an exemplary initiative, regardless of their overall performance

  • Most Improved: actors that stepped up their efforts significantly or reformed their strategies and mechanisms for grappling with the issue during the reporting period

  • Laggard: actors that made disappointing progress in advancing global objectives, or that only took necessary steps late in the review period after initial resistance

  • Truant: actors that are important to tackling a global challenge but that have remained on the sidelines

  • Detention: actors that have blatantly refused to cooperate with other countries and international institutions to combat the challenge, or that have consistently acted to exacerbate the problem


  • In constructing the Global Governance Report Card, IIGG adopted a primarily qualitative methodology. (The report card is thus not an index, in which a numerical score would be computed from quantifiable indicators.) The program took this approach given the dearth of universally accepted quantitative indicators to measure progress in global governance in the respective issue areas, and in view of the powerful role often played by intangible, qualitative factors, such as political leadership. Where quantitative measurements are available and relevant, they are incorporated.

  • Report card grades and assessments, as well as the class evaluations, reflect subjective judgments regarding how important global actors performed in making progress toward critical but realistic objectives (and their subcategories) in each issue area during 2013. In making these judgments, IIGG relied heavily on the input and recommendations from fifty noted experts, listed below.

  • In determining the overall grade assigned to international cooperation in a particular issue area, the report card takes into account assessments of performance across several issue subcomponents but does not weigh each equally, recognizing that they are not always of equivalent importance to the overall objective. For example, curbing emissions and promoting low carbon development may be more important to mitigating climate change than utilizing carbon sinks.

  • The report card does make allowance for effort, as opposed to simply outcomes. This is necessary, inasmuch as initiatives launched in 2013 may not reach fruition for years. At the same time, however, the report card places more weight on the implementation of agreed-upon policies and the quality of efforts to move toward stated long-term goals.

  • The report card backgrounders provide additional context and justifications for the assignment of letter grades to actors involved in each of the issue areas, including the United States. The backgrounders also assess international performance in particular subcategories and class evaluation designations.


There is a widespread perception that multilateral efforts are failing to meet today’s global challenges. The findings of this second installment of the Global Governance Report Card do highlight important failures, but they also suggest that the situation is not entirely bleak.

During 2013, grades for multilateral efforts declined in half of the six issue areas assessed: terrorism (from B to C+), nonproliferation (from C to C-), and global finance (from B to B-). Grades improved in only two areas: armed conflict (from C+ to B-) and global health (from C to C+). The only issue area where the overall grade remained the same was climate change—hardly a triumph, given that the grade was a D. In virtually every issue area, the dearth of effective global leadership proved a major stumbling block to more effective international cooperation.

But while international cooperation might not have achieved major breakthroughs, some cooperative arrangements continued to deliver important benefits that were often underappreciated. For example, though the Group of Twenty’s (G20) action to promote global growth proved disappointing, finance ministers agreed to refrain from competitive devaluations (a race to the bottom in which countries reduce the value of their currencies for competitive advantage) after Japan devalued the yen—potentially averting a dangerous spiral into a trade war. Meanwhile, the devastating conflict in Syria rightly grabbed headlines, but multilateral and regional efforts that improved security situations in Mali and the Democratic Republic of Congo often went unsung. Similarly, though comprehensive efforts to fight climate change continued to flounder, more focused initiatives like a Chinese-U.S. partnership to eliminate hydrochlorofluorocarbons showed promise.

The report card once again devotes considerable attention to the role of the United States. Notwithstanding a continuing diffusion of power to emerging economies, U.S. leadership remains a necessary (if not always sufficient) factor in effective collective responses to global challenges. The report card suggests ample room for improvement on recent U.S. efforts. On none of the six issue areas did U.S. performance improve during 2013. Indeed, it declined in all but one arena, public health (where it remained a B). U.S. grades fell when it came to efforts to help combat terrorism (from B+ to B-), reduce armed conflict (from B- to C+), mitigate and adapt to climate change (C to C-), advance nonproliferation goals (B to B-), and stabilize global finance (B+ to B). And yet it would be unfair to saddle the United States with too much blame for global inertia. Not only do U.S. grades remain higher than grades for the multilateral system (with the exception of armed conflict), but—as the class list makes clear—there is plenty of blame to spread around, among both established and rising powers, for failures of collective action.


In compiling the Global Governance Report Card, IIGG solicited input from fifty experts, from both within and outside CFR. These contributions were invaluable, especially given the scope of the undertaking and the complexity of the cooperation challenges presented by each issue area. These expert opinions helped inform the overall grades given to the relevant actors and to the United States; the assessments of international performance across subcategories of collective action; the assignment of countries, institutions, and nonstate actors to the class evaluation; and the drafting of the backgrounders that accompany the report cards. Needless to say, the experts did not always agree with one another, nor with the analysis and judgments of IIGG’s director, Stewart Patrick, and his team. Final decisions regarding grades, assessments, the class evaluation, and backgrounders were made by Dr. Patrick.

IIGG consulted the following experts:

Public Health:

  • Katherine E. Bliss, Center for Strategic and International Studies
  • Thomas J. Bollyky, CFR
  • Jean-Paul Chretien, Armed Forces Heath Surveillance Center
  • David Fidler, Indiana University School of Law
  • Julie E. Fischer, George Washington University
  • Laurie Garrett, CFR
  • Yanzhong Huang, CFR
  • Rebecca Katz, George Washington University
  • Kelley Lee, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine
  • J. Stephen Morrison, Center for Strategic and International Studies

Climate Change:

  • Joshua W. Busby, University of Texas at Austin
  • Geoffrey D. Dabelko, Ohio University
  • Michael A. Levi, CFR
  • Maria Ivanova, University of Massachusetts, Boston
  • Joanna I. Lewis, Woodrow Wilson Center
  • Elizabeth Rosenberg, Center for New American Security
  • Michael Wolosin, Climate Advisers

Global Finance:

  • Barry Carin, Center for International Governance Innovation
  • Uri Dadush, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
  • E. Whitney Debevoise, Arnold and Porter LLP
  • Paul Jenkins, Center for International Governance Innovation
  • Robert Kahn, CFR
  • Douglas A. Rediker, New America Foundation


  • Daniel Benjamin, Sloan Dickey Center for International Understanding, Dartmouth College
  • Daniel L. Byman, Brookings Institution
  • James J. F. Forest, University of Massachusetts-Lowell
  • Bruce R. Hoffman, Georgetown University's Walsh School of Foreign Service
  • Paul R. Pillar, Georgetown University
  • Marisa L. Porges, International Security Program at the Harvard Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs
  • Celina Realuyo, Georgetown Center for Security Studies
  • Bruce Riedel, Brookings Institution
  • Micah Zenko, CFR

Armed Conflict:

  • William J. Durch, The Henry L. Stimson Center
  • Richard Gowan, New York University Center on International Cooperation
  • Robert D. Lamb, Center for Strategic and International Studies
  • John Norris, Center for American Progress
  • Paul B. Stares, CFR
  • Paul D. Williams, George Washington University's Elliot School of International Affairs
  • Micah Zenko, CFR

Nuclear Nonproliferation:

  • James M. Acton, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
  • Barry M. Blechman, The Henry L. Stimson Center
  • Deepti Choubey, Nuclear Threat Initiative
  • Joseph Cirincione, Ploughshares Fund
  • Robert J. Einhorn, Brookings Institution
  • Brian D. Finlay, The Henry L. Stimson Center
  • George R. Perkovich, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
  • Henry D. Sokolski, Nonproliferation Policy Education Center
  • Sharon Squassoni, Center for Strategic and International Studies
  • Richard W. Weitz, Hudson Institute
  • Micah Zenko, CFR

The drafting of the Global Governance Report Card, including the six issue area backgrounders, reflects the dedicated work of IIGG staff, including Assistant Director Isabella Bennett; Program Coordinator Alexandra Kerr; Research Associates Martin Willner, Claire Schachter, and Patrick McCormick; intern Arthur Tarley; and former associate director Farah Thaler. Editorial Director Patricia Dorff provided critical assistance in preparing the document for publication.

Finally, the Global Governance report card was made possible by the continued support of the Robina Foundation for CFR’s International Institutions and Global Governance program.

To learn more about the IIGG program, visit www.cfr.org/iigg.