Global Public Goods, transnational public goods: some definitions

How are global public goods defined? Definitions of 'global public goods' as outlined by major contributors to the international debate.

Manon Anne Ress,

August 23, 2013

World Health Organization WHO Definition

"Public goods are defined as goods and services that are “non-rival” and “non-excludable”. In other words, no one can be excluded from their benefits and their consumption by one person does not diminish consumption by another...Because the benefits of a public good are available to everyone (no one can be excluded), there are diminishing incentives for private sector provision. Consumption by one individual or group does not reduce availability for others, so a price is difficult to set in a market context (non-rivalry)."

The WHO defines two categories of global public goods:

  • "Final public goods: these are “outcomes”, e.g. the eradication of polio.
  • Intermediate public goods, which contribute to the provision of final public goods. For example, International Health Regulations aimed at stopping the cross-border movement of communicable diseases and thus reducing cross-border health risks."

When addressing health-specific public goods, the WHO outlines three categories:

  • "Information and knowledge, e.g. regarding the effects of risk behaviour such as alcohol and tobacco consumption; knowledge of treatments; surveillance and information systems for communicable diseases that help control their spread.
  • Control of infectious disease, e.g. because of cross-border health risks, action on HIV/AIDS or TB has global benefits.
  • International rules and institutions, e.g. Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (Agreement on)."

Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)

The OECD takes a four step approach when considering the full definition of 'global public good':

  • "A Public Good is a commodity, measure, fact or service which can be consumed by one person without diminishing the amount available for consumption by another person (non-rivalry); which is available at zero or negligible marginal cost to a large or unlimited number of consumers (non-exclusiveness); and which does not bring about disutility to any consumer now or in the future (sustainability). The degree of non-exclusiveness determines the Public Good’s degree of purity."
  • "An International Public Good is a Public Goods which provides benefits crossing national borders of the producing country."
  • "A Regional Public Good is an International Public Good which displays spill-over benefits to the countries in the neighborhood of the producing country, in a region which is smaller than the rest of the world."
  • Considering all the previous terms then, "A Global Public Good is an International Public Good which, while not necessarily to the same extent, benefits consumers all over the world."

2004. OECD Development Centre. "Financing Global and Regional Public Goods through ODA: Analysis and Evidence from the OECD Creditor Reporting System." Development Centre Working Papers. No.232. pp. 11-14. January.

World Bank World Bank Definition

While also outlining the non-rival and non-excludable nature of public goods, the World Bank identifies five areas of global public goods which it seeks to address: "the environmental commons (including the prevention of climate change and biodiversity), communicable diseases (including HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria, and avian influenza), international trade, international financial architecture, and global knowledge for development."

International Task Force on Global Public Goods (formed by a joint agreement between France and Sweden)

In the summary report of the International Task Force on Global Public Goods, which was co-chaired by Ernesto Zedillo and Tidjane Thiam, the concept is defined as, "Global public goods are those whose benefits could in principle be consumed by the governments and peoples of all states. Examples include mechanisms for ensuring financial stability, the scientific knowledge involved in the discovery of a vaccine and international regulations for civil aviation and telecommunications. Once such global standards and systems are established, they are available to all states, and consumption of the good by one state or its people in no way reduces its availability to others."

2006. International Task Force on Global Public Goods. "Meeting Challenges: International Cooperation in the National Interest." Summary Report of the International Task Force on Global Public Goods. Stockholm: Erlanders Infologistics Vast AB.

European Union

According to the European Union, global public goods "refer to the advantages to society from the provision of certain utilities and from satisfying particular wants and needs such as the eradication of disease or the elimination of pollution. Broadly, they can be classified into five main types: environment, health, knowledge, peace and security, and governance. Within each of these sectors goods can be identified that bring advantages to society as a whole and to which every individual has an equal entitlement. This leads to the public nature of the goods. Although the goods themselves do not have to be provided by governments or public bodies, they should have the potential to be enjoyed by all, regardless of whether the end user has paid for them or not...Not all GPGs are truly global in their reach but they are, at least, regional and/or international in that their benefits extend across several countries. The river basin management model in the EU, for example, has advantages for all the countries the river flows through, including some that are not EU Member States. The resulting advantages can be described as a GPG in that they are international. GPGs also have another dimension in that they reach across time as well: what is put in place today can benefit future generations."

2002. "EU Focus on Global Public Goods." The EU at the World Summit on Sustainable Development.

Global Policy Forum GPF Definition

In its section concerning Global Public Goods, the GPF highlights the concept as becoming increasingly important to international institutions, stating that "Everyone depends on public goods, neither markets nor the wealthiest person can do without them. Clean environment, health, knowledge, property rights, peace and security are all examples of public goods that could be made global."

James Love and Tim Hubbard

In a 2005 piece examining the financing of public goods, James Love and Tim Hubbard define public goods from the perspective of economists. "Among economists, a public good is one that, regardless of its cost to produce, is not rival in consumption. That is to say, the marginal cost of sharing the good is zero, and the use of the good by an additional person does not diminish the availability of the good to others. Another aspect of the economics definition concerns the ability to prevent others from benefiting from the good, sometimes referred to as nonexclusivity of consumption. Few goods meet both criteria perfectly. Some goods are a mixture of private and public benefits. Other goods are nonrival in consumption, but can be managed to exclude access by those who do not pay."

2005. Love, James and Tim Hubbard. "Paying for Public Goods." Code: Collaborative Ownership and the Digital Economy. Ed: Rishab Aiyer Ghosh. Cambridge: MIT Press. pp. 207-229.

William Nordhaus

In an article written in commemoration of Paul Samuelson's contributions to economics, Nordhaus defines global public goods as, "goods whose impacts are indivisibly spread around the entire globe." He then highlights the factor that makes global public goods unique from other economic issues, "there is no market or government mechanism that contains both political means and appropriate incentives to implement an efficient outcome. Markets can work wonders, but they routinely fail to solve the problems caused by global public goods."

2005. Nordhaus, William. "Paul Samuelson and Global Public Goods." Samuelsonian Economics and the Twenty-first Century. Eds: Michael Szenberg, Lall Ramrattan, and Aron A. Gottesman. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2006.

Inge Kaul, Pedro Conceicao, Katell Le Goulven, and Ronald Mendoza

In an independent study edited by the above scholars, titled Providing Public Goods, give the definition:
"Global public goods are public goods that have a fairly universal impact on a large number of countries (covering more than one group of countries or regions), people (affecting several, preferably all, population groups), and generations (extending to both current and future generations, or at least, meeting the needs of current generations without jeopardizing the development options and opportunities of future generations). Simplified, global public goods are goods that are in the global public domain."

2002. "25 Questions and Answers." Providing Global Public Goods: Managing Globalization. Eds: Inge Kaul, Pedro Conceicao, Katell Le Goulven, and Ronald Mendoza. New York: Oxford University Press. November.

Inge Kaul, Isabelle Grunberg, and Marc A. Stern

"In applying the concept of global public goods, we look for goods whose benefits reach across borders, generations and population groups. All public goods, whether local, national or global, tend to suffer from underprovision. The reason is precisely that they are public. For individual actors, it is often the best and most rational strategy to let others provide the good-and then to enjoy it, free of charge. At the international level, this collective action problem is compounded by the gap between externalities that are becoming more and more international in reach, and the fact that the main policy-making unit remains the nation state."

1999. "Introducing global public goods." Global Public Goods: International Cooperation in the 21st Century. Eds: Inge Kaul, Isabelle Grunberg, and Marc Stern. New York: Oxford University Press.

Inge Kaul and Ronald U. Mendoza

Kaul and Mendoza also highlight the nature of global public goods as an evolving concept, "because most global public goods are national public goods that, in the wake of globalization, have gone global.Viewed from the production side, they can be seen as national public goods plus international cooperation...Put differently, local public goods should be provided locally, national public goods at the level of the central government, and global public goods at the international level."

2003. Kaul, Inge and Ronald U. Mendoza. "Advancing the Concept of Public Goods" Providing Global Public Goods. Ed: Inge Kaul. New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 78-111.

Inge Kaul

In an article for Le Monde diplomatique, Kaul outlines the concepts of public goods and global public goods, public goods "are non-excludable and non-rival in consumption. An example is a street sign. It will not wear out, even if large numbers of people are looking at it; and it would be extremely difficult, costly and highly inefficient to limit its use to only one or a few persons and try to prevent others from looking at it, too. A traffic light or clean air is a further example. This poses immediately the question of who, then, provides public goods. Once they exist, they are there for all to enjoy. So it is often the most rational strategy for private actors to let others go first and seek to enjoy the good without contributing to its production. This is a dilemma, that public goods face. Without some sort of collective-action mechanism, they risk being under-provided. Conversely, without collective action, public bads - such as pollution, noise, street crime, risky bank lending, and so on - would be over-provided. Global public goods are public goods whose benefits reach across borders, generations and population groups. They form part of the broader group of international public goods, which include as another sub-group, regional public goods."

2000. Kaul, Inge. "What is a Public Good?" Le Monde diplomatique. June.

Joseph Stiglitz

In his article "Knowledge as a Public Good," Stiglitz clarifies the distinctions between public goods and global public goods, recognizing that "that the benefits of some public goods were limited geographically. These were called local public goods... At the same time there are several public goods which are not so limited--the benefits of which accrue to everyone in the world. In my earlier paper [1995 see below], I identified five such global public goods: international economic stability, international security (political stability), the international environment, international humanitarian assistance, and knowledge."

1999. Stiglitz, Joseph. "Knowledge as a Public Good." Global Public Goods: International Cooperation in the 21st Century. Eds: Inge Kaul, Isabelle Grunberg, and Marc Stern. New York: Oxford University Press.

1995. Stiglitz, Joseph. "The Theory of International Public Goods and the Architecture of International Organizations," United Nations Background Paper 7, Department for Economic and Social Information and Policy Analysis, July.

Todd Sandler

In defining global public goods, Sandler highlights variants of public goods, "Global pure public goods — for example, decreased greenhouse gas emissions, reduced ozone shield depletion and disease eradication — provide non-rival and non-excludable benefits to the world at large. Similarly, regional pure public goods — for example, less acid rain, reduced ground-level ozone and decreased terrorism threats — yield non-rival and non-excludable benefits to a more limited geographical area. If a global or regional public good possesses benefits that are either partially non-rival or partially excludable, then the good is impurely public."

1998. Sandler, Todd. "Global and Regional Public Goods: A Prognosis for Collective Action." Fiscal Studies. Vol. 19, No. 3. pp. 221-247.

Ravi Kanbur and Todd Sandler

"A wide variety of transnational problems – for example, the spread of infectious diseases, global financial volatility, and degradation of the global environment – seem to be increasing in magnitude as the world “globalizes” and countries become more linked to one another. Attempts to tackle these problems are examples of what are called international public goods (IPGs). IPGs are types of activities or products whose benefits spill over, wholly or partly, across two or more countries. Examples of such goods include the reduction of air pollution, basic research on vaccines, and management of global capital flows. However, because of the particular characteristics of public goods – the spillover of their benefits and the difficulty in pricing those benefits – IPGs tend to be “undersupplied.”"

1999. Kanbur, Ravi and Todd Sandler. "The Future of Development Assistance: Common Pools and International Public Goods." Overseas Development Center Policy Essay, No. 25. May.

Joseph S. Nye, Jr.

When examining global public goods from the perspective of American interests, Joseph Nye outline six categories of global public goods, "maintaining regional balances of power and dampening local incentives to use force to change borders," "openness of global markets," "keeping international to all," "developing and maintaining international regimes of laws and institutions that organize international action in various domains," "international development," and "acting as a mediator." The aforementioned categories would outline a strategy for the US based on global public goods.

2002. Nye, Jr., Joseph S. "The American National Interest and Global Public Goods." International Affairs. Vol. 78, No. 2. pp. 233-44.

Oliver Morrissey, Dirk Willem te Velde, and Adrian Hewitt

In defining global public goods, Morrissey et al attempts to delineate between global and international public goods, "A pure global public good would have to be globally non-excludable and non-rival. This is a demanding requirement, and perhaps unduly restrictive. However, many will have effects across national boundaries, hence it is reasonable to treat global and international as operationally equivalent, encompassing the sub-set of regional public goods (which are also international but with a narrower range). These can be distinguished from national public goods whose range of effects corresponds to national boundaries."

Forthcoming. Morrissey, O., te Velde, D., A. Hewitt. "Defining International Public Goods: Conceptual Issues." Draft of chapter 2 in M. Ferroni and A. Mody (eds.) Strategies for International Public Goods. Kluwer Publishing.

P.B. Anand

Anand states "that to be considered a GPG, there must be a spill-over effect beyond a nation’s boundary. GPGs can also be considered in terms of pure GPGs (nonexcludable and nonrival); impure public goods (either partially excludable or partially rival) including the club goods." He also asserts that "another important characteristic of GPGs can be whether it affects neighbouring countries or several countries in a region or all countries globally."

2002. Anand, P.B. "Financing the Provision of Global Public Goods." United Nations University (UNU)/World Institute for Development Economics Research (WIDER) Discussion Paper No. 2002/110. UNU/WIDER project on the Sustainability of External Development Financing. November.

Keith Maskus and Jerome Reichman

The definition put forth by Maskus and Reichman largely follows the classic definition of global public goods, but highlights the underprovision that is a common characteristic of the goods.

"Global public goods might usefully be defined as those goods (including policies and infrastructure) that are systematically underprovided by privand market forces and for which such under-provision has important international externality effects. The concept that a good is 'public' stems from a combination of nonrivalry in consumption and non-excludability in use. An item is nonrival if its use by one actor does not restrict the ability of another actor to benefit from it as well. A good is non-excludable to the extent that unauthorized parties ('free riders') cannot be prevented from using it."

2004. Maskus, Keith and Jerome Reichman. "The Globalization of Private Knowledge Goods and the Privatization of Global Public Goods." Journal of International Economic Law. Cambridge University Press. Vol. 7, No. 2. pp. 279-320.

David Woodward and Richard Smith

In a discussion of its implications for public health perspectives, Woodward and Smith define global public goods as "a good which it is rational, from the perspective of a group of nations collectively, to produce for universal consumption, and for which it is irrational to exclude an individual nation from consuming, irrespective of whether that nation contributes to its financing."

2003. Woodward, D. and R. Smith. "Global Public Goods for Health: Concepts and Issues." Global Public Goods for Health: a health economic and public health perspective. Eds: Smith, R., Beaglehole, R., Woodward, D., and Drager, N. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Scott Barrett

Professor of natural resource economics at Columbia University Scott Barrett states that "global public goods offer benefits that are both non-excludable and non-rival. Once provided, no country can be prevented from enjoying a global public good, nor can any country's enjoyment of the good impinge on the consumption opportunities of other countries. When provision succeeds, global public goods make people everywhere better off."

2007. Barrett, Scott. Why Cooperate? The Incentive to Supply Global Public Goods. New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 1.

Marjut Salokannel

"When non-rivalry and non-excludability may be regarded as characteristics of public goods in general, global public goods would have to encompass some additional criteria. In determining the globality of a good it is useful to examine who the beneficiaries of the good would be. For global public goods the beneficiaries have to be situated in more than one group of countries. Public goods confined to a certain geographical area, such as South East Asia, would be qualified as regional public goods. Moreover, the benefits of a public good should also reach different social classes in different countries . It is not enough that a good only is accessible for the educated upper and middle classes in different parts of the world. The third determining criterium for a global public good is that it should meet the needs of not only the present generations but also of those coming afterwards . For example,today’s decisions regarding global environmental policies should not danger the environmental conditions of future generations. At minimum a global public good should, according to Kaul & al., benefit more than one group of countries and do not discriminate against any population group or any set of generations, present or future."

2003. Salokannel, Marjut. "Global Public Goods and Private Rights: Scientific Research and Intellectual Property Rights." Nordiskt Immateriellt Rättskydd. No. 4/2003. pp. 334-358. October.

Albert Binger

Binger seeks to draw commonalities between the differing concepts of global public goods stating, "the outlines of a broad agreement is converging around the fact that global public goods must be related to world-wide poverty reduction and a more equitable distribution of the benefits of social, economic, and technical progress. It has been suggested that achieving equity at the international level and between generations may be considered a global public good in itself."

2003. Binger, Albert. "Global Public Goods and Potential Mechanisms for Financing Availability." Background paper prepared for the Fifth Session of the Committee for Development Policy meeting, April 7-11, 2003.

Francisco Sagasti and Keith Bezanson

According to Sagasti and Bezanson, "the concept of ‘public goods’ has three interrelated characteristics. First, they produce significant externalities; second, they are – to a very important degree – nonrivalrous and non-excludable; and third, they generate opportunities for improving welfare through collective action." The authors warn of the problems inherent in considering the provision of global public goods, "there are significant issues, problems and challenges that arise from scaling up the concept of public goods to address international concerns in a fractured global order. Much of the current discourse involves imprecise definition and, as we shall see in this report, a tendency to indiscriminate claims in the name of ‘global public good.’ There is a need to distinguish clearly between such broad ideas as the ‘international common good’ or a ‘good international outcome’ and the more focused and restricted concept of international and global public goods. This is not a question of academic luxury. The potential financial and policy implications of such confusion can easily lead to a severe misallocation of scarce resources with particularly damaging consequences for the poorest developing countries."

2001. Sagasti, Francisco and Keith Bezanson. "Financing and Providing Global Public Goods: Expectations and Prospects." Prepared for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Sweden on behalf of the Institute of Development Studies Sussex. Study 2001:2. November.

Rosalie Gardiner and Katell Le Goulven

In a briefing paper on sustaining global public goods, Gardiner and Le Goulven provide a traditional definition of public goods, and from there extrapolate to global public goods. "The traditional definition of public goods is two-fold. First, they are non-excludable i.e. a public good produces benefits which are impossible to prevent everyone from enjoying. Second, they are non-rival i.e. the consumption of the good by one person does not detract from another’s consumption. For example, clean air can be freely enjoyed by all and one person’s consumption has no impact on another. Traditionally, GPGs existed in those areas outside national boundaries, so called “foreign affairs”, such as outer space and the oceans and seas. But in these, more globalised, times we are increasingly dealing with and recognising shared and transboundary GPGs, e.g. climate, financial stability, human rights. Thus we should understand that GPGs are unlimited by national boundaries, but cross over into sub-regional, regional and global spheres."

2002. Gardiner, Rosalie and Katell Le Goulven. "Sustaining our Global Public Goods." A briefing paper prepared for the Heinrich Boll Foundation World Summit 2002 in Johannesburg, South Africa.