What is a Global Public Good?

Sunshine is an example of a global public good.
Sunshine is an example of a global public good.

Global public goods are public goods that are accessible on a more-or-less global basis. This traditional definition has been widely challenged. Public goods are featured in the works of thinkers such as Adam Smith and David Hume. Paul Samuelson and Mancur Olson are credited with developing the concept.


For a good to be recognized as a global public good, it must exhibit three properties. The good must be non-rivalrous and its consumption by a person or entity must not reduce the quantity present. The good must also be non-excludable, making it impossible to deter anyone from using it even if they were not involved in the good's production. A global public good must also be available more-or-less worldwide.

Criticism of the Traditional Definition

Several challenges have been posed to the traditional definition of public goods such as the arguments put forward by Kaul et al. (2003). This publication classifies public goods in three categories. The first group includes public goods that cannot be made excludable because they are either indivisible or the costs of their division would be restrictive. An example of this is sunlight. The second type covers goods that are public by design such as a nation's basic education system. Other goods are made public by default such as greenhouse emissions. Challenges relating to the traditional concept of global public goods can arise depending on the management of externalities. When governments, individuals, or households do not account for the benefits or indirect costs they derive from their economic transactions, economic policy issues can occur. Some global public goods such as global public health, climate change, and security require the creation of public and private legal institutions to manage them. Different legal structures including intergovernmental entities and non-governmental organizations may subsequently proliferate to deal with various kinds of global public goods.

Examples of Global Public Goods

In the context of globalization, problems and remedies transcend national borders. Global public goods have become an increasingly important concept to international policy. A prominent example of global public goods is global warming and carbon emissions. These are two concepts that no one nation can address on its own. Health is another international factor. Communicable diseases pass from one country to another which has forced the global community to reassess healthcare. In 2000, Kaul and Mendoza summarized ten global public goods focused upon by the international community. These goods included global public health, world peace, global security, respect for national independence, fundamental human dignity, the harmonization of transportation and communication networks beyond borders, collective management of knowledge, and the harmonization of institutional infrastructure across borders.


There are calls to reassess the way in which public goods are designed, created, and managed in the era of globalization. Globalization issues are beyond the reach of any one country’s policy.

Goods which are public by default are best classified as common goods until there are proper structures to categorize them as private or public. Global trade further requires the availability of such global public goods such as stable monetary systems, widespread peace, and global economic stability.


More in Society