Conclusions on the VI Roundtable on Trade, Climate Change and Development

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Monkelbaan, Joachim

Conclusions on the VI Roundtable on Trade, Climate Change and Development

IMD, Evian, France, 24-26 September 2009

Joachim Monkelbaan
International Center for Trade and Sustainable Development (ICTSD)
Geneva, Switzerland

Published in the
Report of the Multi-Stakeholder Dialogue on Trade, Climate Change and Development
available at

part was also included as a comment to a BBC article on 19 October 2009

My conclusion after having attended the VI Roundtable on trade, climate change and development is that I am afraid.

I am afraid because I come from the Netherlands and most of my country lies below the sea level.

And I am afraid that this statement might be too long.

But I am much more afraid of something else.

What is the problem we have been talking about at the Roundtable? It is climate change, and also poverty and development. And what is the solution? Here I heard it is environmental goods and services, energy efficiency, renewable energy, the right investment decisions, cap and trade systems, changes in consumer behavior and more international cooperation.

So we know what the solutions are and they are already out there. What is the problem then? Why don’t we implement the solutions? We heard that a major problem is ‘political will’. But do you have a definition of ‘political will’? 1 This is my first question.

How long do we need to wait before we mobilize ‘political will’? Do we wait until the temperature rises with 2 degrees? Or 4? Or 6?2

We live in 1933. In 1933, people thought that the Great Depression was ending, and that the crisis was overcome. A few years later, Germany invaded Poland, which should have not come as a surprise, and then the real crisis started. How surprising will disruptive resource scarcity and climate change be, a few years after the current economic crisis?

World War II made the UN and GATT necessary. The next crisis, which will be a resource and environmental crisis, will not just create another institution, but maybe a ‘world government’. Again, this will not be for fun, but because it will be necessary to solve global problems at an unprecedented scale. This would be very sad, because it would not show action but again only reaction.

Now I get to what I am really afraid of: the fact that we as human beings believe that we are powerless, powerless to make any change beyond what is immediately necessary and in the self-interest. I believe in the opposite: human beings are capable beyond imagination: we learned to harness nature, connected all corners of the world and put a man on the moon.

Yesterday we heard that we should not expect nations to live up to international trade laws and rules. But I believe that there is a set of universal values and principles that can encourage a constructive solution for environmental and other problems, especially at a global scale.

Currently the main principle for most individuals, companies and nations is economic (GDP) growth, so material growth. This is totally legitimate, especially for developing countries with young, growing populations where growth is simply an issue of survival. But for developed countries, economic growth is only one stage in development. Also, growth itself is not bad for sustainability because environmental goods and services are in general expensive and if we buy more of them instead of cheap, dirty goods, the economy in theory will grow. This is a question of the quality of growth.

Another example that an energy transition has economic and social benefits is offered by a recent ILO study: a $1,000,000 investment in the oil industry creates 5 jobs whereas the same investment in the renewable energy industry creates more than 15 jobs.

But we need more than material growth as a guiding principle.

We need to put new values and principles into practice at every level of society to make difficult decisions on climate change, because climate change is maybe just like trade not a zero-sum game, but whereas trade is about dividing the pie, climate change is about dividing a rising bill.

Some of the values and principles that were mentioned during the Roundtable are:
- Unity in diversity
- Justice (4 criteria were mentioned at the Roundtable: the right to development; equitable sharing of burdens; common but differentiated responsibilities; and regulatory capture)
- Public and individual responsibility, both in developing and developed countries
- Leadership
- Trust
- Act local and think global; seeing the world as one country while respecting local circumstances
- Equity
- Cooperation
- New, inclusive forms of decision-making
- A long-term vision3
- Transparency and independent search for truth
- Elimination of extremes of poverty and wealth
- Abandonment of prejudices
- The value of knowledge
- The understanding that human development is much more than material growth

What for example is the meaning of a value like democracy if trade negotiations that are in the interest of the majority of the world’s population cannot be finalized because of minority interests?

What is the meaning of the equality of men and women if a recent survey showed that only 10% of men would change their lifestyle to change the environment while 70% of women would do so? What does this mean in a world in which women have very little influence?

Women represent the biggest emerging market in the world, more than double the size of the China and India market together and at higher growth rates. As women get better education and more spending power, their tendency towards more sustainable spending and decreased birthrates will have an enormous effect on sustainable development.

I would bluntly like to posit that a transition to a truly prosperous and sustainable global society is impossible without a shared understanding of values like these. Imagine. Imagine all people shared these values and acted upon them. What global problem could not be overcome?

Of course it is easy to list some principles. So my question to you is not only which values and principles come to your mind in relation to solutions for global challenges like climate change, but especially how the values and principles that I mention can practically be implemented. This is important because if we keep on making decisions on the basis of how we win the next elections or how to keep up the next quarter’s profits, we are in serious trouble. If the basic values and principles are clear to everyone and people understand their importance, people are more likely act on them more. Maybe I’m an idealist. Maybe I’m an optimist. At the Roundtable I got the impression that I should feel sorry for that. So I want to finish by quoting from the documentary ‘Home’ about the environmental crisis:

It is too late to be a pessimist


2 We are likely already set on the 4 degree track:

3 E.g. 80% of potential carbon emission cuts in 2050 will come from energy efficiency improvement, many of these efficiency measures will pay for themselves in the long run but require big upfront investments.

Last updated 20 October 2009