On 7 February 2022, the Centre for Non-Traditional Security Studies (NTS Centre) at RSIS welcomed Professor Benjamin Cashore, who delivered the RSIS Seminar “Designing Thermostatic Institutions for Ameliorating the Climate and Species Extinction Crises: Lessons from COVID-19 Management”. Professor Cashore is the Li Ka Shing Professor in Public Management, and the Director of the newly established Public Policy Initiative for Environment and Sustainability (PPIES) at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore. The seminar was moderated by the Head of the NTS Centre, Professor Mely Caballero-Anthony.
During his talk, Professor Cashore described climate change, species extinction, and COVID-19 management, as “wicked problems” that are time-sensitive without effective central authority to address their transboundary nature. This can lead to uncoordinated actions, such as the pushing of climate change commitments to later dates, or changing of policy objectives in COVID-19 management. Successes and failures in addressing wicked problems can be attributable to the presence/absence of “thermostatic institutions”, which he defined as systems of policy interactions that allow for stability in the face of systemic perturbations — much like how a thermostat maintains a set temperature level in a changing environment.
He attributed Singapore’s and South Korea’s successes in maintaining among the lowest COVID-19 deaths-per capita to their effective inter-agency/inter-disciplinary committees. He argued that this has enabled the policy goal of minimising deaths to remain stable in the face of a rapidly evolving crisis, unlike in the United States and the United Kingdom. This insight from COVID-19 can be applied to climate change governance. He cited failures in climate change mitigation as well as growing carbon emission as evidence of the absence of central institutions to “lock-in” the necessary policies.