Gorbachev’s address to the Club of Rome

Your Majesty,
Dear Members of the Club of Rome,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

The theme chosen for discussion at this Assembly, the interdependency of environmental problems, energy and the overcoming of the global economic crisis, indicates that the Club of Rome continues to be highly responsive to the trends observed in the global development. It is the interconnectedness of these problems that is of fundamental importance today. However, by no means everybody has come to realize this.

 (Credit to Robert Goddyn)

The events of the recent years and months have shown with renewed sense of urgency just how tightly all the key challenges and threats the humanity confronted during the last decades of the past century are intertwined. Today, they are felt increasingly keenly.

The environmental challenge is the biggest of them.
It has accumulated virtually every problem of concern to humanity. Today we are no longer talking of a purely environmental agenda. It relates directly to the problems in the area of security, to the probability of increasingly dangerous inter-ethnic and international conflicts. It relates directly to multimillion migration flows that are already having their destabilizing effects on politics and the economy. It relates directly to the growing poverty and social inequality, water crisis, and the shortage of energy and food.
The latest climate science is deeply disturbing. It is the last wake-up call. All the excuses and justifications for inaction, as well as pseudoscientific arguments should be finally discarded.
And another very important point I need to make: the talk about the efforts to save our environment undermining the economy has been refuted by life itself. We have seen even more clearly in the recent months that it is not the desire to ensure normal conditions of life for current and coming generations that undermines the economy. Crippling the economy are factors of a very different nature: the irresponsible drive for profit at any cost, the blind faith in the “invisible hand of the market”, failure of the state to act, and the patterns of consumerism that have been forced onto the world.
The current economic crisis is, in my view, far from over. Those who have been on the periphery of the economic development before are yet to fully see and comprehend its consequences. For the rest of us, the implications of the crisis will be severe as well. However, they will be deemed inconsequential compared to the devastation that the threat to the environment might bring to the world. And this devastation is inevitable if the efforts to steer ourselves out of the financial and economic crisis are confined to stop-gap measures, leading to the preservation of the old model and business as usual.
We must take action to save our planet. This should be a common task for the governments, the business and scientific community and civil society. Each of the stakeholders in this noble cause has a role to play and opportunities that are offered in the process. However, the world today is such that the main burden of responsibility lies with the states and their institutions.
Only the state can enforce strict standards and norms without which the efforts to tackle the climate change are meaningless. Only the state can mobilize resources and funds to encourage and deploy breakthrough technologies. Only the state can provide adequate support to those who find themselves particularly vulnerable in the context of the changing climate. And this support will be definitely needed. It is already clear today.
However, the states today are all too often acting quite the opposite: spending hundreds of billions on weapons, the trade in which has blown into a corruption scandal on a global scale, subsidizing the past century’s fossil fuel-based industries, not the energy sector of the future, saving money on social programs instead of investing in human capital.
A few weeks from now, state representatives will gather in Copenhagen to usher in a new and important era of cooperation between the states in addressing the climate change. It depends on them whether it will be a strong and convincing start or a weak and hope-shattering act.
Green Cross International, of which I am the Founding President, is concerned by the gap between the negotiating process and the latest scientific evidence. Proposals that are now on the table are more consistent with a path to 3-4°C warming than the science-based ‘maximum of 2°C’ endorsed by the leaders of the major economies in L’Aquila. Because of the differences between the industrialized and developing countries the official UNFCCC negotiating process has run into gridlock.
Much is determined today by the US position. President Obama’s personal commitment to success in Copenhagen is obvious; however, his opportunities are limited by the systemic difficulties related to the position of the US Congress. Without meaningful contribution by the United States no success is possible in cutting emissions or assisting developing countries.
A number of countries have already achieved significant progress.
China is on track to meet the energy targets in its 11th Five Year Plan and has announced its intentions to do more.
India has unveiled an ambitious solar program. Brazil, South Africa, Mexico, and other developing countries have also taken far-reaching steps.
The European Union appears to be holding firm on its target, and the new Japanese government recently announced an ambitious plan to cut emissions 25% by 2020.
Russia has set for itself ambitious goals in cutting the energy intensity of production and reducing gas flaring.
At the recent UN climate summit, the tone was more positive than it has ever been. The speeches were already about ‘how’ not ‘whether’. The state leaders can no longer fail to hear the alarm bell ringing. A strong effective agreement in Copenhagen or soon afterwards is feasible. This should be the baseline assumption and the goal to be sought vigorously.
Achieving meaningful progress will require the exercise of political will at the highest levels. Therefore, it is essential that the conference is attended by the heads of state and government. This is required both by the scale and the complexity of the challenge.
A kind of a ‘global deal’ between industrialized and developing countries is needed.
Industrialized countries must lead the way with both deep emission cuts at home, and strong financial and technical support for mitigation of climate change in the developing world.
Developing countries – especially those with large fast-growing economies such as China, India and Brazil – must recognize their growing responsibilities for the health of the planet and the fact that low-carbon development is the only viable future for any economy.
It is clear that fleshing out of political decisions that are taken is a colossal task. They should be converted into real technologies and mechanisms. A dramatic increase in investment in energy-efficient technology and production, renewable energy sources, new engineering solutions for power industry and transportation sectors will be required. Again, political need would be needed for this process not to be stalled.
The cost of implementing these efforts will be huge. We talk about hundreds of billions of dollars. However, these estimates should be viewed in context. Trillions of dollars have been spent to bail out the global banking system. Trillions are still being spent for military purposes. That what will be spent to build a low-carbon economy will work for the future of humanity.
However, a low-carbon economy is only a part of this new economic model we need so badly today. The model that has been around for the past five decades should be replaced. Of course, it cannot be achieved overnight, but I think we can already discuss reference points and general contours of this new model.
It means, above all, the overcoming of the economy’s ‘addiction’ to super-profits and hyper-consumption, which is not possible unless societies reshape their values. It means shifting of the increasingly larger swaths of the economy to production of ‘social goods’, among which the sustainable environment takes a centre stage.
These social goods also include human health in the broad sense of the word, education, culture, equal opportunities, and social unity, including the elimination of the glaring gaps between the rich and the poor.
Society needs all this not only because ethical imperatives dictate it. The economic benefits to be brought by these “goods” are enormous. However, economists are yet to learn how to measure them. An intellectual breakthrough is needed here. A new model of economy cannot be built without it.
Ethical re-education of the business community would also be needed. Today businesses and their leaders tend to take their stand on environmental issues depending on the anticipated impact it will have on their business over the short, or at best, mid-term. There are some exclusions to it – socially and environmentally responsible companies – but these exclusions should become a rule. It is this kind of business that will be competitive in the coming decades. This should happen under the influence of shifts in taxation and the structure of subsidies and incentives. But this not enough: civil society also has its role in ‘educating’ the business, including through shifts in consumption patterns.
I have come now to a very important point. Civil society has already played a huge role in changing people’s mindsets, in exerting pressure political processes. However, at the present, critical stage it has an even harder task to accomplish: become a full-fledged participant in the process of making and implementing the decisions that will shape the face of the environment and the economy for decades to come.
Green Cross International believes that non-governmental organizations should take action both individually – in line with their goals and opportunities – and jointly. An integrated approach is needed, reflecting the inter-related nature of the global challenges. Within this approach solutions should be sought to amplify the voices of the public. We see the emergence of increasingly more communications channels for this, including the so-called ‘social networks’.
This approach forms the basis of an initiative launched by a number of organizations including Green Cross International, the Club of Rome, the Club of Madrid, Nobel Peace Laureates Summit, and other NGOs, as well as prominent scientists to develop a joint “beyond Copenhagen” roadmap. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, with whom we had a fruitful meeting in Geneva recently, has shown support to our initiative.
We expect that the Task Force we have launched will provide an impetus to the negotiating process as early as at the stage of working out an agreement in Copenhagen. We seek to stir the public opinion on the issue by disseminating ‘alerts’ available to everybody via a cell phone or PC.
I would like to inform you that yesterday the second meeting of the Task Force took place. We had a heated debate, which helped us understand more clearly what we want and what we can do. I hope some of you in the audience would be able to join this initiative.
The other day, my family and I celebrated the first birthday of my first great-granddaughter. She is one of those who will inherit our planet from us. We, who are past our life’s meridian, bear responsibility for the disastrous, virtually emergency state of our planet, our home. Therefore, we cannot sit idle. We must take action to assure our grandchildren and great-grandchildren of a future.

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