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UN Week – 1/31/11

February 6, 2011

by John and Douglas Carey, editors,

Contents of this issue: our “global suicide pact”; Egypt’s agony.

Our “global suicide pact”. 

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon addressed these prophetic words to the World Economic Forum in Davos on January 28th:

“For most of the last century, economic growth was fuelled by what seemed to be a certain truth: the abundance of natural resources. We mined our way to growth. We burned our way to prosperity. We believed in consumption without consequences.

“Those days are gone. In the twenty-first century, supplies are running short and the global thermostat is running high. Climate change is also showing us that the old model is more than obsolete. It has rendered it extremely dangerous. Over time, that model is a recipe for national disaster.  It is a global suicide pact.

“So what do we do in this current challenging situation? How do we create growth in a resource-constrained environment? How do we lift people out of poverty while protecting the planet and ecosystems that support economic growth? How do we regain the balance?  All of this requires rethinking.

“Here at Davos — this meeting of the mighty and the powerful, represented by some key countries — it may sound strange to speak of revolution. But that is what we need at this time. We need a revolution.  Revolutionary thinking. Revolutionary action. A free market revolution for global sustainability.

“It is easy to mouth the words ‘sustainable development’, but to make it happen, we have to be prepared to make major changes — in our lifestyles, our economic models, our social organization and our political life. We have to connect the dots between climate change and what I might call here WEF — water, energy and food.

“I have asked President [Tarja] Halonen of Finland and President [Jacob] Zuma of South Africa to connect those dots as they lead our High-Level Panel on Global Sustainability. I have asked them to take on the tough questions: How we organize ourselves economically?  How we manage increasingly scarce resources?

“Those same questions guide our discussion here. I have asked them to bring us visionary recommendations by the end of December so they can be fed into intergovernmental processes until Rio 2012.

“But as we begin, let me highlight the one resource that is scarcest of all: time. We are running out of time. Time to tackle climate change. Time to ensure sustainable, climate-resilient green growth. Time to generate a clean energy revolution.

“The sustainable development agenda is the growth agenda for the twenty-first century. To get there, we need your participation, your initiative. We need you to step up. Spark innovation. Lead by action. Invest in energy efficiency and renewable energy for those who need them most — your future customers. Expand clean energy access in developing countries — your markets of tomorrow.

“Join our United Nations Global Compact, the largest corporate sustainability initiative in the world. Embed those sustainability principles into your strategies, your operations, your supply chains.

“To Government leaders sitting here and elsewhere around the world, send the right signals to build the green economy. Together, let us tear down the walls. The walls between the development agenda and the climate agenda. Between business, Government and civil society. Between global security and global sustainability. It is good business, good politics and good for society.

“In an odd way, what we are really talking about is going back to the future. The ancients saw no division between themselves and the natural world. They understood how to live in harmony with the world around them. It is time to recover that sense of living harmoniously for our economies and our societies.

“Not to go back to some imagined past, but to leap confidently into the future with cutting-edge technologies — the best science and entrepreneurship has to offer — to build a safer, cleaner, greener and more prosperous world for all. There is no time to waste.” SG/SM/13372-ECO/ 186-ENV/DEV/ 1182.

Egypt’s agony.

 As we witness the heart-rending scenes of chaos in Cairo and other Egyptian cities, we think with special sorrow of Egyptians we have known and worked with over the years.

Most prominent is Mohammed ElBaradei, who was a student in a class I taught at the Law School of New York University. I have followed with pride his achievements in the years since then. I pray for his safety as he is navigating dangerous waters. He has demonstrated enormous capability and is a natural to lead his country in these dark hours.

Then there is Nabil Elaraby who, with his wife, stayed overnight at our house when a blizzard arrived at the same time as various dinner guests. Another couple chose to chance the train ride back to New York, and spent the night in a frigid railroad car.

And there is Amr Moussa, with whom I worked in a three-man UN drafting committee in 1971. He and his wife Leila paid Pat and me a high compliment when they invited just us to dinner at their New York apartment when her parents were visiting. Leila was then studying at Columbia for a Ph.D in artificial intelligence. They also entertained us when we were in Cairo.

Amr Moussa became Egyptian Foreign Minister in 1991 and in more recent years has served as Secretary-General of the League of Arab States. Despite his past connections with the regime, I can’t help wondering if he might also be a consensus candidate to help lead the country in the time after Mubarak.

That’s all for this January 31st issue of United Nations Week: News and Views. We’ll be back with the next issue. Meantime do send your own views on these or other UN-related matters to

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