Tony Blair on "A year of huge challenges"
BRITAIN takes over the presidency of the G8 this week. As each member-country holds this position in rotation, critics sometimes dismiss the presidency as little more than a chance to show-case the host nation at the annual summit. I believe they are wrong. I see it instead as an important opportunity to influence the international agenda of some of the world's most prosperous and powerful countries.
This doesn't mean, of course, that any country can successfully push the G8 in a direction the other members do not want to go. But the presidency can give an important impetus to tackling problems that the rest recognise need addressing. This is certainly the outcome I want from Britain's presidency in 2005. I have made it clear that our efforts will focus on progress on Africa and climate change.
Why? Firstly because, along with the threat from international terrorism and the spread of weapons of mass destruction, I believe they are the most serious problems facing the world today. Second, because they are both problems beyond the power of any single country, no matter how well-intentioned or powerful, to tackle on its own. A solution requires co-ordinated international action and, above all, leadership, which the G8 is uniquely placed to give.
Africa is a continent of breathtaking beauty and diversity with an extraordinary, energetic and resilient people. As I have seen from my own visits, given a chance, no matter how small, to better themselves, they seize it.
But Africa is also a place plagued with problems—debt, disease, conflict, corruption and weak governance—so embedded and widespread that no continent, no matter how prosperous, could tackle them on its own. And Africa is not prosperous.
It's the world's poorest continent. Half the population of sub-Saharan Africa lives in absolute poverty. And, uniquely, Africa is getting poorer. Average income per head is lower now than it was 30 years ago.
It is also the continent worst hit by the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Twenty million Africans have already died from the disease, and it is going to get much worse. In some countries, four out of ten people are infected. Life expectancy is falling, and will soon be down to just 30 years. This catastrophe has single-handedly wiped out half a century of development gains.
In Sudan, and elsewhere, we have seen the tragic effects of war. At least 2m people have died in Sudan's north-south conflict over the past 21 years, and millions more have been affected. A comprehensive peace agreement could turn Sudan around; but Darfur remains a catastrophe, and we cannot turn our attention away from it. In Zimbabwe we see the great damage that can be done to a country, its economy, its people and their potential by the destruction of democracy and the failure of governance. We have worked with the international community to identify benchmarks to help Zimbabwe restore the rights and prosperity of its people.
Why we should care
Should this matter to the rest of the world? For democratic governments, it should, because it matters to our citizens. They give millions of dollars to help Africa and its people. They campaign for their governments to do more. They passionately believe, as I do, that it can't be morally right, in a world growing more prosperous and healthier by the year, that one in six African children still die before their fifth birthday. The worldwide campaign to make poverty history rightly challenges us to act.
But the state of Africa is also a case, unusual in politics, where heart and head are pushing us in the same direction. We must now all accept the utter futility of trying to shut our borders to problems abroad. Famine in Africa will affect our countries because it will be a trigger for mass migration. Conflict, too, drives millions to flee their homes. Both create the conditions for terrorism and fanaticism to take root and spread directly to Europe, to North America and to Asia. We spend billions on humanitarian aid to help pick up the pieces. A prosperous Africa, where its people have the chance to fulfil their talents, is in all our interests.
The sheer scale of Africa's problems can induce an understandable sense of hopelessness that progress can be made. It helps explain the shocking fact that aid to Africa, notwithstanding Britain's increased contribution, has fallen since 1995. But there are reasons for optimism. We have seen the emergence of a new generation of democratically elected African leaders, determined that their governments will work cleanly and effectively to improve life for their citizens. Their New Partnership for Africa's Development sets out a challenging agenda.
According to the World Bank, governance has been improving faster in Africa than in many other areas of the developing world. Conflict in Africa, although still devastating where it occurs, is also decreasing. Mozambique, a country brought to its knees by vicious fighting, has cut its levels of poverty by almost a third since peace. The civil war in Sierra Leone, thanks to the intervention of British forces, is over and the country is slowly recovering. The African Union is playing an increasing role in settling conflicts.
With a little more help, he can prosper
We know that the best way to reduce poverty is through economic growth. And we know that economic growth can be increased by aid. Fifteen countries in Africa had average growth rates above 4% throughout the 1990s. Half of Africa had growth of over 5.9% in 2001. Many of the countries which have benefited from increased aid, such as Uganda and Mozambique, have seen poverty fall over an extended period. Targeted British assistance, for example, has already enabled Uganda to introduce universal primary education and free basic health care.
We can also increase the effectiveness of our aid. Tied aid, directed by the priorities of the donor rather than the recipient and bypassing government systems, actually undermines effectiveness and internal accountability.
Getting others involved
I am proud that Britain's involvement is helping this progress. We are doubling our bilateral aid to Africa; it will reach £1 billion ($1.9 billion) in 2005, and will rise further. We have written off 100% of the debts of the poorest countries. We have dramatically increased help to tackle the big killers such as AIDS and malaria.
But to help Africa continue this progress we need a concerted, co-ordinated global effort. Ad hoc, short-term measures will not do. A comprehensive programme of action is needed with sustained commitment to implementation by Africa and by the international community. Truly, a new partnership is required. We need concerted action to improve opportunities and growth, to reduce debt, to tackle HIV, malaria and TB, to fight corruption and to promote peace and security. We also need to tackle trade barriers which push up prices for our consumers, prevent African countries exporting their products and see Europe spending more on subsidising its own farmers than on aid to Africa. This is an investment for our, and Africa's, future: more than half of Africa is under 15.
It is already clear what sort of measures are needed, and I believe the recommendations of the Commission for Africa, which will report in the spring, will take us further.
Action requires more resources, and now. There will be calls to double aid to Africa. I believe all the G8 members can do more: extending debt relief, providing more resources to tackle HIV, giving more girls the chance of education, reducing rates of infant mortality, building the infrastructure needed for private-sector growth. Investment is needed now, and we must look at ways to bridge the gap. Gordon Brown has set out one way we can do so through the International Finance Facility, which would raise extra aid money by leveraging capital markets and issuing bonds.
I hope the G8 will agree not only to a plan of action but also to its implementation, a process of monitoring and review. We all need to be accountable for carrying out the commitments we have made.
The changing climate
Africa, of course, is also seen by experts as particularly vulnerable to climate change. The size of its land-mass means that, in the middle of the continent, overall rises in temperature will be up to double the global rise, with increased risk of extreme droughts, floods and outbreaks of disease. It is estimated that African GDP could decline by up to 10% because of climate change.
But no country will escape its impact. And there can be no doubt that the world is getting warmer. Temperatures have already risen by 0.7°C over the past century, and the ten hottest years on record have all occurred since 1991. It's the fastest rise in temperatures in the northern hemisphere for a thousand years.
This temperature rise has meant a rise in sea level that, if it continues as predicted, will mean hundreds of millions of people increasingly at risk from flooding. And climate change means more than warmer weather: other extreme, increasingly unpredictable, weather events such as rainstorms and droughts will also have a heavy human and economic cost.
It is true, of course, that some scientists still contest the reasons for these changes. But it would be false to suggest that scientific opinion is equally split. It is not. The overwhelming view of experts is that climate change, to a greater or lesser extent, is man-made and, without action, will get worse. And as the evidence gets stronger by the day, the sceptics dwindle in number. From Arnold Schwarzenegger's California to China's Ningxia province, the world is taking climate change seriously.
But just as technological progress and human activity have helped cause this problem, it is also within our power to lessen its impact and adapt to change. Science has alerted us to the dangers our planet faces and will help us meet these challenges.
But we need to act now. Delay will only increase the seriousness of the problems we need to reverse, and the economic disruption required to move to more renewable forms of energy and sustainable manufacturing in the future. And the G8, again, needs to lead: not just because we currently account for 47% of global CO2 emissions, but also because it is our scientists, our industries and our economies that must help solve this problem.
Russian ratification of the Kyoto protocol means that we now have a new global treaty that is about to come into force. This is good news. But the level of change and ambition required will be far more than the Kyoto protocol is likely to provide. And with the United States, the world's largest emitter of greenhouse gases, refusing to sign up to the protocol, this makes the measures we could secure through the G8 even more vital.
The melting ice-caps: a global responsibility
Although the United States will not ratify Kyoto, other approaches, such as the McCain-Lieberman bill now going through Congress, could stand a better chance of support. Some American states and businesses are also already taking a lead on initiatives to reduce greenhouse emissions. New York has a state emissions-reductions target of 5% below 1990 by 2010 and 10% by 2020. California has a string of policies in train, including regulating carbon emissions from vehicles and increasing the amount of energy generated from renewable sources to 20% of electricity sold into the state by 2010.
The United States is also leading investment and research in the new low-carbon economy. It is not a choice, as some suppose, between economic prosperity and tackling climate change. It is technological advances and economic development that will provide the realistic solution. It is the firms and countries that lead the way in adapting to this challenge that will have the competitive advantage in the future.
In Britain our economy grew by 36% between 1990 and 2002 while greenhouse gas emissions fell by 15%. British Petroleum has set and achieved targets, such as reducing its greenhouse-gas emissions by 10% in just three years. To achieve this, the company introduced an emissions-trading scheme: it cost $20m to implement, yet saved it $650m over the three-year period.
Those companies that adapt early to the demands of a future low-carbon economy know they gain competitive advantage. So this is not just the right thing to do for the sake of the planet. It is the right thing to do commercially.
Why we should act
Advocates for action on climate change must confront three economic arguments. First, if the case is so clear, why not just leave it to business? To that point I would say it is precisely in this kind of long-term challenge, where there are demonstrable and potentially irreversible social effects, with returns accruing over periods beyond commercial discounting, that government must play a clear role.
Second, critics charge that government is picking new, untried technologies that may fail. Here I would say the approach of clever governments is not to pick technologies, but to establish conditions where innovation is supported and encouraged into the market-place.
Finally, some argue that there are more immediate problems. In some senses, they are right: over the next five years, for example, water pollution will cause more harm worldwide. It is wrong, however, to see these problems as mutually exclusive. Without a stable climate, addressing other environmental threats will be impossible, ensuring a future of more degraded water and land. Every year lost on tackling climate change will take us further along the path where the costs of action multiply. And I have never believed that simple discounting can be an adequate tool for potentially catastrophic outcomes 50 or more years ahead.
We are at a stage where the role of government and global policy must be to encourage the development and commercial viability of the new technologies that have the potential to mitigate the effects of climate change. There is no single “silver bullet” that will solve the problem, despite what some enthusiasts for nuclear or hydrogen power may tell you. But a whole range of technologies are either available now, or will become available, which, taken together, can make a huge difference.
I believe the G8 can take a global lead both in making the world aware of the scale of the problem and in proposing ways to tackle them. Through the G8, we have the opportunity to agree on what the most up-to-date investigations of climate change are telling us about the threat we face. We could also endeavour to identify and support the technological measures necessary to meet the threat, which would complement rather than undercut the Kyoto protocol. And the G8 must also engage actively with other countries with growing energy needs—such as China, India, Brazil and South Africa—to ensure that they meet their needs sustainably and adapt to the adverse effects of climate change, which seem inevitable.
Given the different positions of the G8 nations on this issue, such agreement will be a major advance. But I believe it is achievable and necessary.
I have no doubt that some may argue that aiming so high both on climate change and Africa is a hostage to fortune. I recall that fictional Whitehall mandarin, Sir Humphrey Appleby of “Yes, Prime Minister”, describing such ambitions as “courageous” when he hoped to put Jim Hacker off a particular course of action. But I remain hopeful that we can succeed in these aims. It is vital for the world that we do.
Photo courtesy AP - British Prime Minister Tony Blair on a recent trip to Africa for the launch of his Commission for Africa that is due to report by February/Spring 2005.