Global Trends

New Leadership

Cities, regions and business continue to ramp up leadership as trust in national governments flounders

Global governments are enduring an ongoing crisis of trust.

Non-state actors such as city and regional governments and the business community are stepping into the leadership void and taking action to create a more sustainable, equitable future.

Signals to Watch

Mistrusted Governments

Across major European powers, the US, Canada, Russia, Australia and Latin America, trust in governments remains low. This has been fueled by increasing political polarization and inadequate responses to issues such as inequality and climate change.

“With several governments dialing back from global commitments and reducing environmental protection, we need - and are seeing - the non state actors step up to the challenge. We need a New Deal for nature and people.”
Kavita Prakash-Mani, WWF
  • Trust in national governments in a majority of European countries remains low, including the UK, Germany, France, Spain, Italy and Russia.

  • Latin America also has low levels of trust in government with Brazil, Argentina and Colombia all scoring less than 50 percent.

  • The US Administration is enduring a huge crisis of trust — the first time that such a large decline in trust has occurred outside of an economic recession or national disaster according to Edelman Trust Barometer.

  • In China, state-administered opinion polls indicate high trust in government, but this data has been called into question by experts who state that the government’s authoritarian control has resulted in increasing distrust and loss of social capital.

  • Experts rated national governments as having the poorest performance on addressing sustainable development out of any global institution.

Cities and Regions Lead

With global leaders failing to take adequate regulatory action on a range of issues – including climate mitigation and adaptation, ocean plastics, waste and health – cities and regional governments are taking on the role of sustainable development leaders.

  • In the US, trust in local governments is at its highest since 2008.

  • California leads subnational efforts to curb climate change, with goals to shift to 100 percent carbon-free electricity by 2045 and to become carbon neutral by the same year.

  • Twenty seven global cities, including London, New York, Sydney and Rome, have already reached peak emissions and have successfully reduced their emissions for the last 5 years while maintaining robust economic growth.

  • San Francisco now diverts 80 percent of its waste from landfill. It also joins New York, London, Dubai and twenty other global cities in having a goal a zero waste goal.

  • Partnership for Healthy Cities is a new collaboration between a global network of cities, WHO and Bloomberg Philanthropies to save lives by preventing non-communicable diseases and injuries.

  • More than 20 global cities including London, Los Angeles, Paris, Mexico City, Seoul and Tokyo have pledged to ensure a major area of each city is zero emissions by 2030 and to purchase 100 percent zero-emission buses from 2025 onwards.

  • Ukrainian cities have established a goal of shifting to 100 percent renewable energy by 2050, in a bid to address climate change and increase energy independence.

The US Administration is enduring a huge crisis of trust - the first time that such a large decline in trust has occurred outside of an economic recession or national disaster.

Business Leadership Is Increasing

Business is increasingly stepping into the void left by global governments, setting ambitious new social and environmental goals, and engaging in radical transparency efforts that help to build trust and credibility with both consumers and employees.

  • More than 500 global companies are taking action on science-based climate targets.

  • Technology companies including Salesforce, Autodesk, Lyft and Arm have formed the Step Up Coalition with the goal of utilizing emerging technologies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions across all industry sectors.

  • Leading Japanese insurance company Sompo Japan Nipponkoa has set SDG targets for every area of its business, including a target to develop products and services related to disaster prevention and mitigation.

  • 150 companies have committed to 100 percent renewable energy through RE100 and 23 multinationals have committed to zero emission vehicles through EV100.

  • Google recently met its 100 percent renewable energy goal, joining Apple and Microsoft.

  • Royal Dutch Shell has announced that it will link executive remuneration to its carbon reduction goals.

Royal Dutch Shell has announced that it will link executive remuneration to its carbon reduction goals.

What to Expect in 2019

We expect to see continued low levels of trust in national governments and strengthening leadership and ambition of cities, regional governments and businesses. Continuing uncertainty in Europe due to Brexit and increasing polarization in the US is likely to further dampen trust in the political systems. Consumers will be increasing looking to companies to act in accordance to their values and more actively advocate on social and environmental issues.

What This Means for Business

  • Set bold goals

    Business should continue to ramp up leadership and ambition on delivering social and environmental benefits to society by setting and reporting on performance against bold sustainability goals.

  • Increase transparency

    One of the most effective ways to increase trust is making data – on everything from diversity to executive pay and carbon emissions – open and accessible to the public.

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