We must create a new development framework that links debt relief much more explicitly to the reduction of poverty and that promotes sustainable development.

Following the Tsunami at the end of 2004, the floods in New Orleans and now the terrible earthquake in Kashmir, many of a religious fundamentalist persuasion are predicting the end of the world. These views can be easily dismissed, but mainstream environmentalists are suggesting, in slower time, the same possibility. They are arguing that these catastrophes are evidence of changing weather patterns that result from global warming and the sign of many catastrophes to come.

In fact, there is no evidence that earthquakes are becoming more frequent. But two things are clear. The first is that the OECD countries are learning to design their buildings in ways that can better withstand the consequence of earthquakes. Professor McCluskey of the University of Coleraine tells us that “the Californian earthquake of 1906 killed 100,000 people. One of a similar size today would kill only 100 people.” The opposite is true in developing countries. The knowledge and technology that has been developed to make buildings safe in rich, earthquake prone countries is not available to the poor who in their growing numbers live in more marginal lands in inappropriate buildings. So there are not more earthquakes, just millions more people living in the wrong places.

But if there are not more earthquakes, it is clear that the world is getting hotter. The amount of carbon dioxide and greenhouse gases has risen very considerably and is still rising. This is trapping heat and leading to a rise in global temperatures. Dr Geoff Jenkins of the UK Meteorological Office tells us that by the end of the century, the average temperature across the globe will have risen by five degrees. This means according to a summary of scientific opinion put together recently by The Independent on Sunday, that by the end of the century half the land in the world will be suffering from drought and nearly a third from extreme drought. The famines currently being experienced in Darfur and Niger will seem mild in comparison. Millions will die. In other places there will be a surfeit of water. Global warming means more rain in some countries, where land will become more saturated, lakes overflow and rivers burst their banks. There will be a lot more flooding.

Sea levels are rising. This means that the consequences of storms will be much more serious. Scientists predict the Amazon rainforest will die and sea ice melt at the North and South poles within a century. This will wipe out masses of wildlife – including the polar bear. And the evidence is clear that events such as hurricanes, typhoons and cyclones have increased over the past 30 years and that the destructive power of the hurricane has doubled, but Dr Jenkins says “We don’t know whether this is part of a cycle and will settle down again – the records do not go back far enough to tell us – but [he concludes] the evidence suggests that we ought to be worried!

So we can conclude earthquakes are killing more people, hurricanes are becoming more intense, floods are more frequent and drought is spreading. I have grand daughters who will be the age that my mother is now at the end of the century. Their children will be my age by then. These predictions of catastrophe are very near in time to the close relatives of all of us sitting in this hall. The catastrophe could come in other ways. Nuclear proliferation is increasing the threat of nuclear conflict. And the fact that we survived Mutually Assured Destruction does not mean that there will not be a major nuclear exchange in our increasingly disordered world. But the climatologists believe the likely future is not an apocalypse but a more lingering death for our civilisation. They predict we will start with the rising intensity and frequency of hurricanes, floods and droughts that we are experiencing now. Famine and chaos will then increase in the poorest and most unprepared countries. This will kill thousands and later millions of people as systems collapse and civil wars spread. Some nations will see their coastlines erode and countries like Bangladesh will lose as much as half of their territory. Small island nations will disappear. Other areas will become deserts. There will be massive refugee movements and migration pressures. The OECD countries will try to exclude the large numbers of environmental refugees, pressing for a safe haven. Major wars are likely to ensue over oil and water supplies – in fact, some of them are starting already. The consequence will lead to destruction, disorder and the breakdown of society. At the same time, sea life will be dying as the oceans are poisoned, taking away a major source of protein, crops will fail and more and more people will starve. And of course by then world population will have increased to 8-9 billion by 2050. And 90 per cent of the new people will be born in the poorest countries.

People in the richer countries sometimes seem to imagine that they will be protected from the worst consequences of global warming. But the climatologists’ prediction is that the melting of the polar ice caps will lead to the collapse of the Gulf Stream which provides masses of heat to Europe. Britain and much of Europe will freeze. When the ice caps finally melt the enormous rise in sea levels will wipe out many nations and send tidal waves that will threaten cities like New York and London. This is the reality that we are facing. If we do not take urgent action, some human beings may survive to the next century but our civilisation will almost unquestionably come to an end. It is a bigger set of threats than humanity has ever faced. And we have knowledge, technology and organisational capacity that should enable us to draw the world together, to share what we know and work together to avert the worst of these dangers. But it seems the current political leadership of the world is incapable of listening to the advice of their own scientists and has instead distracted itself with a new conflict in an attempt to replace the simplicity of the Cold War.

I am afraid that when in 1989/90 we celebrated the fall in the Berlin Wall and the release of Nelson Mandela and dreamed of a new world order, we underestimated the difficulty the international system would face in adapting to the end of the Cold War. For 50 years every international institution and every tension and conflict in the world had been shaped and contained by the division between the two blocks and the threat of Mutually Assured Destruction. For a short period, the optimism of 1989/90 seemed to be fulfilled with Velvet Revolutions in Easter Europe and a peaceful end to apartheid. But then came the collapse of Somalia into civil war, the genocide in Rwanda and ethnic cleansing in The Balkans. The international system failed to take appropriate action and the new world became one of disorder and ethnic strife.

We also underestimated how powerful a vested interest is, what President Eisenhower called, “the military, industrial complex”. And how much easier it is for political leaders to create new hostilities than rise to the challenge of creating a new international order based on the rule of law and strong multilateral institutions capable of addressing the enormous threats that now challenge the future of our civilisation.

The case I want to argue today is that we are living at a major turning point in human history and that we are facing challenges that require new thinking. But sadly, the dominant thinking amongst political leaders – and that includes many, but not all, senior politicians, civil servants, media moguls and other major opinion formers – was shaped in a previous era and appears to be incapable of grasping the problems we now face. And thus they have done what so many leaders have done in history, when people are feeling confused and insecure. They have created a new enemy which creates immediate preoccupations that distract us from the long term issues we need to address.

My view is that the whole conception of “the war on terror” is a massive muddle. There is no doubt, of course, that the killing of 3,000 innocent civilians in the attack on the Twin Towers on September 11 2001 was a very terrible crime. It is also clear that the anger and bitterness that is spreading across the Arab and Moslem world which is leading significant numbers of people to believe that the targeting of innocent civilians is a legitimate form of resistance, is a very serious threat that needs to be urgently addressed. But I also believe that the way it is being addressed is making the problem worse. It is also undermining international law and respect for the multilateral institutions that we need in order to create a world order capable of resolving both the conflict in the Middle East and the problems of poverty, population growth, environmental degradation and global warming that threaten the future of the whole of humanity.

Thus my conclusion is that humanity is in serious trouble. The dominant powers in the world have lost their way. The tensions in the Middle East are very serious but a just solution – in accordance with international law – is available which would bring peace and development to the region. This requires a two state solution on pre-1967 boundaries for Israel and Palestine. In addition we need a negotiated end to the occupation of Iraq and an abandonment of US plans for long term bases in that country. And the third element of the solution would be agreement to remove all WMD from the region including Israel’s nuclear weapons. Given that there is no chance – in the immediate future – of the US or even my own Prime Minister backing such a resolution of the conflict, I fear that the violence will continue and escalate. I am afraid that this means both continuing suffering, hatred and bitterness in the Middle East and a continuing erosion of international law and weakening of respect for the UN, the Geneva Convention and humanitarian law. And I am afraid this makes it much more difficult for humanity to come together to grapple with the major challenge we face to our future.

However, I do believe that there is a way through this depressing era and that in the short interlude between the end of the Cold war and the destructive consequences of the declaration of the “war on terror” a new paradigm was being created that was beginning to address the central challenges facing the world and was updating and clarifying the purpose and effectiveness of development interventions.

Thus in 2000, the world agreed at a meeting of the General Assembly of the United Nations called to mark the beginning of the new Millennium – which was attended by more Prime Ministers and Presidents than any previous UN meeting – that working together to systematically and measurably reduce poverty was the top priority for the new millennium. And the Millennium Development Goals, the targets that were set to reduce income poverty, get all children to school, reduce infant and maternal mortality and provide access to clean water and sanitation were not plucked from the air, but built on the experience of the best achievements in development of the previous era. The agreement reached meant a billion people should lift themselves out of poverty by 2015 – a target that, despite the pessimism of the present times, we are still on track to achieve. Following the Millennium Assembly in March 2002 at Monterray, at a UN Conference on financing development, consensus was reached on the optimal role for state and markets – the issue that had divided the world for 50 years – and, on the need for reform in developing countries and increases in aid to enable the world to reach the Millennium Development Goals. And then at Doha in November 2001, learning the lessons of the disastrous meeting in Seattle, the World Trade Organisation launched a round of trade talks dedicated to making trade rules fairer for developing countries.

And alongside this we started to make progress on the environment. The Montreal protocol negotiated through the UN led to the phasing out of ozone depleting substances. And in 1997 at Kyoto through another UN process, agreement was reached that the richest countries would call a halt to the increase in their emissions of carbon dioxide and that following this, the developing countries would join the process and new global targets would be put in place.

And then in Johannesburg in September 2002 the UN meeting to check on progress, ten years after the Rio meeting on the Environment, reached an important new consensus. Prior to this, developing countries had been deeply suspicious of the environmental agenda, seeing it as an attempt by northern countries that had developed by plundering and polluting the planet, to impose rules that would prevent the poorer countries from developing. At Johannesburg the world agreed that the only way to move forward was to guarantee development to the poor, including access to clean water and sanitation and within this framework, work together to manage the earth’s environmental resources more equitably and sustainably.

Alongside all this “The Report of the Panel on United Nations Peace operations” chaired by Lakhtar Brahimi and published in August 2000, made proposals which were unanimously supported by the Security Council for improving the effectiveness of the UN at peacekeeping. There was UN success in bringing a vicious civil war to an end in Sierra Leone and an end to the conflict in Angola. At the same time, freed from the manipulation of aid for Cold War purposes, development efforts became more focused on creating genuine partnerships. The Millennium Development Goals created agreed targets and donors came to accept that a multitude of projects, each flying the flag of the funding agency, undermined sustainability. There was a shift to support a more sustainable model of development where support was provided to countries by strengthening their own institutions so that public finances were better managed and Education and Health Ministries were capable of developing universal basic services. The effectiveness of development interventions improved and in the reforming countries substantial progress was made.

None of this was of course perfect. The new thinking needed to develop and improve but there were globally agreed ideas for managing the era of globalisation more equitably, many of the old ulterior motives were being removed from development thinking and a genuine spirit of partnership growing between developing and OECD countries.

But then came the declaration of “the War on Terror” and the plans for war in Iraq. This involved a ditching of multilateralism and an undermining of international law and the authority of the UN, which had disastrous consequences for the Middle East but also undermines the capacity of the international system to work together to reduce poverty and promote sustainable development.

The reality is that it is current levels of poverty, population growth, environmental degradation combined with weak states experiencing growing conflict, disorder and suffering that is the greatest threat humanity faces. There are of course more poor people in Asia than in Africa, but current development in China and India suggest that in thirty years time these two massive countries will be economically and politically much stronger players on the world stage. The developments taking place in India and China demonstrate how the forces of globalisation can be harnessed to the sharing of technology and the reduction of poverty. But they also show the limits to the economic growth, the planet can bear. According to Lester Brown of the Earth Policy Institute in Washington DC, who is one of the leading US environmental analysts, if growth in China continues at 8 per cent a year, by 2031 China’s income per head for its 1.45 billion people will be equal to that of the US today.

He said:

China’s grain consumption will then be two thirds of the current grain consumption of the entire world. If it consumes oil at the same rate as the US today, the Chinese will be consuming 99 billion barrels a day – and the whole world is currently producing 84 billion barrels a day, and will probably not produce much more. If it consumes paper at the same rate that we do, it will consume twice as much paper as the world is now producing. There go the world’s forests. If the Chinese then have three cars for every four people – as the US does today – they would have a fleet of 1.1 billion cars compared to the current world fleet of 800 million. They would have to pave over an area equivalent to the area they have planted with rice today, just to drive and park them.

Mr Brown, who has been tracking and documenting the world’s major environmental trends for 30 years then said:

The point of these conclusions is simply to demonstrate that the western economic model is not going to work for China. All they’re doing is what we’ve already done, so you can’t criticise them for that. But what you can say is, it’s not going to work. And if it does not work for China, by 2031 it won’t work for India, which by then will have an even larger population, nor for the other three billion people in the developing countries. And in some way it will not work for the industrialised countries either, because in the incredibly integrated world economy, we all depend on the same oil and the same grain. The bottom line of this analysis is that we’re going to have to develop a new economic model. Instead of fossil-fuel based, automobile centred, throwaway economy, we will have to have a renewable-energy based, diversified transport system, and comprehensive reuse and recycle economies. If we want civilisation to survive, we will have to do that. Otherwise civilisation will collapse.

Africa in contrast, is still getting poorer. What is holding Africa back is conflict and disorder and lack of adequate international effort to drive forward peace processes in the large potentially rich countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan and Angola. The exploitative state structures and unnatural national boundaries imposed on Africa in the colonial era, followed by Cold War manipulation, have held back the development of the continent. But now the threat is weak states and the consequent disorder which makes development impossible. The same danger extends to the people of Afghanistan where the failure to plan for the development of the nation after a short military conflict has left a state dominated by warlords, with an economy based on narcotics and terrible levels of poverty which could destabilise the wider region. The disorder in the Middle East has the potential to continue to spread and its possible consequences for the Horn of Africa and the North could impose further barriers to development in the poorest continent.

All of this may sound very gloomy but my exasperation with the present cul-de-sac into which world leaders have put us is that, despite the enormity of the challenge, there is a new era waiting to be born where we at last face up to the fact that humanity is one people. We can then go on to share our knowledge, capital and technology. We are the first generation of human beings who are in a position to eliminate extreme poverty. This means large scale conflict must be ended and our forces used to prevent disorder and help people to achieve security so that they can build the structures of competent modern states capable of promoting development. And such states will be in a position to participate in international agreements that will ensure that our environmental resources are used in a way that ensures that human life on our planet is sustainable. This will mean we will have to move to a higher level of civilisation where all people have the basics that they need and then we must develop a new way of living which gets beyond an obsession with the ownership of material goods and economic growth for its own sake and we must learn to enjoy nature, literature, the arts, philosophy and the spirituality for which western people in particular are yearning as they find that material plenty does not provide any meaning to their lives.

All of this may sound fanciful, but as Mrs Thatcher once said about less significant matters “there is no alternative”. We either look forward to mounting catastrophes that threaten our survival or we create a more equitable and sustainable world order. This is of course a long way from the thinking that leads to the “War on Terror” but much expert opinion believes that current US policy will fail in Iraq and this will mean a future US President, when faced with the need to create a settlement, will understand that the strong as well as the weak need international law and the UN. And at that point the US – which played such a major part in the creation of the League of Nations and the United Nations – will come back to multilateralism.

Thus I conclude that we are in a pessimistic moment but we must not allow this to depress us into inaction. At times of deep historical change, ideas can be very powerful. It is the values of those working in development that point the way forward. Instead of being the poor relation of our foreign policy, development ideas must take centre stage. But they must also enlarge their ambition and effectiveness and move from an old mindset built upon notions of charity and manipulative self- interest to a global framework of equity and sustainability. This is an enormous but noble challenge. And there is no other way to hand on a decent world to our grandchildren’s children.

Posted by

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published.