Global Common Goods

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= shared resources that fall outside the domains of both private and public goods.


By James Bernard Quilligan:

"Effective management of global resources is not possible under our present multilateral system. Because national jurisdictions and institutions rarely line up with the actual geographical regions that contain ecosystems and social and cultural groups, many of the world’s transboundary resource areas lack responsible public oversight. Even the international treaties and conventions that supervise our global resource regimes (for telecommunications, the atmosphere and oceans, for example) are shaped by the political compulsions of sovereign states, rather than the people who actually use these resources on a local basis.

This is a poor way to administer world resources. In fact, without well-balanced transnational capacities through which to offer access to the public goods of states, many ‘public bads’ are created instead. Such cross-border externalities include world hunger, economic deprivation, wealth disparity, resource depletion, destruction of the rainforests, overfishing, species loss, ozone depletion, global warming, environmental pollution, infectious diseases, cross-cultural conflicts, cyberattacks, terrorism, weapons trading and war.

Most of us recognize the differences between the private goods created by businesses (commercial products and services) and the public goods provided by sovereign governments (sanitation, disease control, education and legal systems, to name a few). The concept of common goods offers an intuitive way of redefining the various resources, services and values we share outside of the public and private sectors (ranging from forests and fisheries to social volunteering and child care at home; and from scientific knowledge, technologies, and human genes to arts and music).

While watching markets and states mismanage the world’s cross-boundary problems, it has dawned on many individuals, communities and civil society organizations that the specific objectives we are pursuing—whether they are food, water, clean air, environmental protection, energy, free flow of information, human rights, indigenous people’s rights, or numerous other social concerns—are essentially global commons issues. It is also becoming clear that we would gain considerably more authority and responsibility in meeting these problems by joining together as global commons organizations.

Having developed this overarching identity apart from the private and public sectors, our new legitimacy and power as a commons sector could then be used to work more dynamically with businesses and governments, creating greater transparency, trust and cooperation across borders. This may take the form of partnerships. It may also involve our political opposition to new or existing claims on resource domains to prevent their further enclosure, commodification and deterioration—protecting ourselves as well as the interests of poor nations and future generations.

Together, we must create new rules, methods of monitoring, enforcement and conflict resolution, and funding for the management and protection of our environmental, genetic, social, intellectual, and cultural commons. Since every common good and resource domain is unique, and because many of them overlap, the ownership and management of each resource must be sorted out legally through local, regional, and global policy negotiations. In balancing the principles of (private) property rights, (public) sovereign rights, and (common) sustainability rights, we will be inaugurating a new kind of multilateralism, setting political priorities for the access to—and allocation of—global common goods in the 21st century. For civil society groups today, the first steps in this epochal transformation are greater awareness of the global commons and global common goods, and the alignment of our shared goals as global commons organizations." (


(note from editor: this definition seems only to apply to rival goods!!)

By James Bernard Quilligan:

"Unlike public goods, common goods are

  • non-jurisdictional, since they often transcend private properties and national borders.
  • subtractive, because what one person takes from a particular resource cannot be used by others (except in the case of intellectual and cultural resources)."


  • depletable (and often non-renewable), because their consumption rates exceed their replacement rates."

Typology of Global Commons

James Quilligan [1]:

Noosphere - indigenous culture and traditions, community support systems, social connectedness, voluntary associations, labor relations, women and children's rights, family life, health, education, sacredness, religions and ethnicity, racial values, silence, creative works, languages, stores of human knowledge and wisdom, scientific knowledge, ethnobotanical knowledge, ideas, intellectual property, information, communication flows, airwaves, internet, free culture, cultural treasures, music, arts, purchasing power, the social right to issuemoney, security, riskmanagement

Biosphere - fisheries, agriculture, forests, land, pastures, ecosystems, parks, gardens, seeds, food crops, genetic life forms and species, living creatures

Physiosphere - the elements, minerals, inorganic energy, water, climate, atmosphere, stratosphere