Although Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s speech on Thursday in Davos was received well, many of the delegates that I spoke with told me they thought Harper’s vision was too blinkered.
With the conspicuous exception of global warming, Harper acknowledged that many challenges face the world, but told delegates that the two most appropriate arenas for discussion and decision making are the G8 and the G20. He described the latter as “the world’s premier forum for economic cooperation.” And each country should be guided by “enlightened self-interest” and a better “attitude.”
But the mood in Davos is that the planet is facing urgent, complicated, 21st century problems, and we need to craft 21st century systems to develop the answers. We should involve all of our planet’s best talent in the solution-seeking process, including the private sector, civil society and individual citizens.
Doubtless Harper placed emphasis on the G8 and G20 because this year’s meetings will occur in Canada and he is the Chair. But that doesn’t mean he should be indifferent to the enormous contributions that could be made by others, or closed to the exciting new approaches to solving global problems.
Following last year’s World Economic Forum at Davos, many delegates went on to participate in the Forum’s Global Redesign Initiative in meetings around the world. The Initiative brought together diverse stakeholders to develop fresh solutions to the many challenges facing our small and fragile planet. Much of this year’s Forum was devoted to discussing the proposals developed by the Initiative.
The Initiative itself was driven by the belief of Forum members that our international collaborative processes are tired and too constrained to meet current needs. In Davos, the failed Copenhagen global-warming conference was frequently cited by delegates as a metaphor for the inadequacy of existing processes. To be sure, no one is suggesting that nation states do not need to sit down and hammer out accords. But many Davos delegates believe that such meetings, while necessary, are by themselves insufficient to grapple with the thorny issues confronting us.
Davos delegates feel all issues on the global agenda should be addressed in a systemic, integrated and strategic way, and are frustrated many government leaders aren’t embracing this view.
Had Harper come a day earlier, he would have heard French President Nicolas Sarkozy deliver a withering critique of how the planet’s issues are managed today. “From the moment we accepted the idea that the market was always right and that no other opposing factors need be taken into account, globalization skidded out of control,” Sarkozy said. Many systems in the world, including capitalism, were in serious need of reform. “Each of us must hold the conviction that the world of tomorrow cannot be the same as the world of yesterday.” A text of Sarkozy’s remarks can be seen here.
While Harper promotes the notion of enlightened self-interest, that got us nowhere in Copenhagen. . And the irony of Harper’s remarks is that many here think one country with needing a better “attitude” on climate change is Canada. And it is an uphill battle for Canada to turn around its reputation as “the dirty old man of the climate world.”
In fact Harper further damaged Canada’s reputation on this issue, and undermined his approach to global cooperation in a panel discussion after his speech. When questioned about Canada’s position he said that countries needed to take into account the economic costs of being green. To be sure Canada, as an energy producer has more complex issues than European countries. But some in the audience were disturbed by the remark.
Liberal MP Scott Brisonsaid to me that Prime Minister Harper was “the only leader at Davos who didn’t understand the opportunities for economic growth and jobs in becoming a green nation. Environmental laggards will become economic laggards in the emerging global carbon-constrained green economy.”
Yes the G8 and G20 meetings will be important and they may even make some progress on climate change. But today there are collaborations involving millions of people, along with governments, private companies and civil society organizations that are actually doing something about climate change. Government leaders need to listen to fresh thinking about how to harness this power, rather than relying on old approaches that have the world stalled.