This paper considers how we can conceptualize a “global response” to chronic, non-communicable diseases (NCDs) – including cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, and tobacco-related diseases. These diseases are the leading cause of death and disability in developed countries, and also in developing countries outside sub-Saharan Africa. The paper reviews emerging and proposed initiatives for global NCD governance, explains why NCDs merit a global response, and the ways in which global initiatives ultimately benefit national health outcomes. As the global response to NCDs matures, and the number of initiatives and partnerships increases, it will become increasingly important to map their respective contributions, and to evaluate progress overall. It is not yet clear what institutional mechanism, if any, will rise above the sea of surrounding initiatives to play this global role. This paper therefore aims to provide a conceptual map for making sense of what individual initiatives contribute to global governance. This map also draws attention to the distinctively “global” public health functions that a global response to NCDs should seek to discharge.