Climate change: A serious global challenge

By Kofi Annan | 29 March 2010



The last five years have seen severe global food shortages, soaring energy costs and, of course, the gravest economic crisis for over 60 years. No continent, no country or community has escaped the fall-out.


We’re also confronted by environmental degradation and climate change which threatens to reverse significant progress towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals. Today’s multiple crises – of extreme poverty, famine, conflict, disease, natural disasters – all will be made worse by climate change.


Global terrorism, nuclear proliferation, piracy and the collapse of governance in various parts of the world, have brought home the reality of our common vulnerability and the need for collective action. At the same time, the old certainties of the political and economic order are disappearing.


A system of global governance largely shaped by powerful countries in the North has shifted towards the emerging economies in the South. All these developments have left countries struggling to adapt. But they need to catch up fast. The scale and urgency of the challenges demand it.


It requires a new style of leadership – one that looks beyond narrow national interests and recognizes that durable solutions will only come through multilateral action based on shared values and agreed goals. This also means improving the quality of governance at international and national levels to ensure the demands of countries and citizens for voice and fair representation are met.


At the national level, leaders should strive for good governance based on a democratic political system, respect for human rights and the rule of law. And at the global level, governments should ask themselves whether the existing architecture of international institutions is up to the tasks they’ve set them.


I believe the unprecedented and decisive global response to the economic crisis shows what we have learnt and explains why we have to go further. It quickly became clear to the leaders of the G8 that they would not be able to contain the damage alone. Instead, the G20 became the forum to shape the response.


This shift, providing a greater voice for emerging economies, demonstrated a welcome and more inclusive approach to tackling the world’s problems. It was a good first step. But on its own, it is not sufficient. The G20 cannot become yet another exclusive group. I hope that members such as Indonesia, feel a responsibility to use their voice to expand this arrangement and champion the interests of the least developed countries. We know now that the G20’s collective commitments to stimulate, regulate and restructure global economic activity helped to calm nerves and restore confidence.


Recession has not led to global depression. But we are not out of the woods yet. Crucially, we have not taken the steps needed to ensure that the mistakes and misjudgments that led to this crisis are not repeated.


Also needed are measures to prevent such imbalanced growth and to ensure that the major economies reduce their long-term deficits. There is a danger, too, that the lessons which should have been learnt from the initial success of the global response are quickly being forgotten.


While anxiety levels in boardrooms and stock markets may have come down, the daily drama of survival has worsened for many in the world’s least developed countries, including much of Africa. For we risk forgetting the damage that has been caused to countries and communities which played no part in provoking this crisis.


Jobs have gone, incomes and opportunities lost. Tens of millions more people have been added to the already scandalously high number living below the poverty line. So as well as collective action to prevent any repeat of this crisis, we also have to consider how we are going to step up protection for the most vulnerable on our planet.


Our common values and international solidarity require that we do more to tackle the inequalities in our world, not allow them to widen further. But worryingly, we are actually seeing wealthier countries use this crisis to wriggle out of their development pledges. Many African countries, who are not asking for charity but for stronger partnerships, fear their appeals may be rebuffed.


If the G20 is to maintain its effectiveness as the right forum to tackle global economic issues, it must act in the interests of all. And I know I can count on Indonesia to use its membership of the G20 to ensure that the interests of a greater part of the world are considered.


We need to see commitments met to mitigate the social impact of the crisis by ensuring that some of the enormous sums raised for global stimulus plans reach the least developed countries. Reform of global financial institutions should also be stepped up to give a bigger voice not just to emerging economies but also to other developing countries.


It must be complemented by agreement on a timetable to tackle the unfairness in global economic rules and market distortions which heavily disadvantage developing countries. We must look again at the conditions so often attached to aid and loans which unnecessarily constrain the policy autonomy of developing countries.


The measures to fix the immediate crisis, and create greater stability in the long term, will unravel if poor countries and poor people are left out or further disadvantaged. These same lessons, based on shared values, must also guide us – and urgently – in tackling the crisis of climate change. And as with the global economic crisis, those countries which have done least to cause global warming are paying the highest price.


Climate change must remain a top political priority for all countries. This means raising their levels of ambition, educating their publics and rebuilding confidence in a multilateral process that delivers an agreement that is universal, effective and fair, with climate justice at its heart.




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