The price? An admission that the nation-state is an old-fashioned concept that has no role to play in a modern globalised world where financial markets have to be harnessed rather than simply condemned. In a groundbreaking move, the UN Development Programme (UNDP) has drawn up a visionary proposal that has been endorsed by a range of figures including Gordon Brown, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and Joseph Stiglitz, the Nobel Laureate.
It says an unprecedented outbreak of co-operation between countries, applied through six specific financial tools, would slice through the Gordian knot of problems that have bedevilled the world for most of the last century.
If its recommendations are accepted - and the authors acknowledge this could take years or even decades - it could finally force countries to face up to the fact that their public finance and growth figures conceal the vast damage their economies do to the environment.
At the heart of the proposal, unveiled at a gathering of world business leaders at the Swiss ski resort of Davos, is a push to get countries to account for the cost of failed policies, and use the money saved "up front" to avert crises before they hit.
Top of the list is a challenge to the United States to join an international pollution permit trading system which, the UN claims, could deliver $3.64trn of global wealth.
Inge Kaul, a special adviser at the UNDP, said: "The way we run our economies today is vastly expensive and inefficient because we don't manage risk well and we don't prevent crises." She downplayed concerns over up-front costs and interest payments for the new-fangled financial devices. "The gains in terms of development would outweigh those costs. Money is wasted because we dribble aid, and the costs of not solving the problems are much, much higher than what we would have to pay for getting the financial markets to lend the money."
The UNDP is determined to ensure globalisation, which has generated vast wealth for multinational companies, benefits the poorest in society. It urges politicians to embrace some groundbreaking schemes put in place in the past 12 months to tackle global warning, poverty and disease, based on working with the global markets to share out the risk. These include a pilot international finance facility (IFF) to "front load" $4bn of cash for vaccines by borrowing money against pledges of future government aid. The scheme, which is backed by the UK, France, Italy, Spain, Sweden and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, was born out of a proposal by Gordon Brown for a larger scheme to double the total aid budget to $100bn a year.
In an endorsement of the report, Mr Brown said: "This shows how we can equip people and countries for a new global economy that combined greater prosperity and fairness both within and across nations." The UNDP says rich countries should build on this and go further. It proposes six schemes to harness the power of the markets:
* Reducing greenhouse gas emissions through pollution permit trading; net gain $3.64trn.
* Cutting poor countries' borrowing costs by securing the debts against the income from stable parts of their economies; net gain $2.90trn.
* Reducing government debt costs by linking payments to the country's economic output; net gain $600bn.
* An enlarged version of the vaccine scheme; net gain (including benefits of lower mortality) $47bn.
* Using the vast flow of money from migrants back to their home country to guarantee; net gain $31bn.
* Aid agencies underwriting loans to market investors to lower interest rates; net gain $22bn.
Professor Stiglitz, the former chief economist of the World Bank and a staunch critic of the way globalisation harms the poor, said: "Globalisation has meant the closer integration of countries, and that in turn has meant a greater need for collective action. "One of the most important areas of failure is the environment. Without government intervention, firms and households have no incentive to limit their pollution." He said a global public finance system would force countries to acknowledge the external damage their policies had, "the most important being global climate change".
Solving the environmental crisis tops the UN's $7trn wish-list. It calls for an international market to trade pollution permits that would encourage rich countries to cut pollution and hit their targets under the Kyoto protocol. But - and the UN admits it is a big "but" - the US would have to sign up to Kyoto and carbon trading to achieve the $3.64trn that it believes the system would deliver over time. "We are dealing with a global problem as pollution can only be dealt with internationally,"
Ms Kaul said. Richard Sandor, the head of the Chicago Climate Exchange, added: "Many encouraging signs are emerging. When the business case is clear, private entrepreneurs step forward." But, the proposal is unlikely to get support from some green groups who believe that action to curb consumption, rather than market incentives, are the way to reduce carbon emissions. Andrew Simms, director of the New Economics Foundation, said it left unanswered questions over how these markets would be managed and how the benefits and costs would be distributed. "We have nothing against markets so it would be missing the point to get into a pro- or anti-market stance. The point is how you distribute the benefits."
Posted on 9th February 2006
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