Simon Maxwell

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altSummit on the Global Agenda 2013


This was the sixth iteration of the World Economic Forum’s Summit on the Global Agenda, and the fifth time I had participated. There were about 1000 people present, representing some 86 separate Councils, on everything from future technology and design to sustainability and catastrophic risk. I previously chaired the Humanitarian Council and am now on one called Poverty and Sustainable Development, basically on post-2015. The other +/- 999 people were thought leaders from different disciplines and countries, some academics, some agency leaders, some business, a few politicians.

The discussions act as a kind of feeder for Davos and the regional WEFs, and the Councils also have independent work programmes. Products include books and papers, political statements, methodologies, new partnerships etc . . . Active efforts are made to link up discussions across Councils..

The Poverty and Sustainable Development GAC is chaired by John McArthur (UN Foundation and Brookings). We worked on programmatic issues related to post-2015, as well as procedural issues. The former included: incorporation of climate, financing, universality and some specific goals and targets. The latter mainly included timetables and the incredibly complex choreography

A key recurrent issue was ‘what to do about climate’ in the post-2015 context. One person described the climate issue as ‘toxic’, and liable to derail the whole post-2015 Process. Others worried that the post-2015 framework is expected to be normative and the climate agreement legal, and that these are incompatible. There have been long discussions about aid and other financing for post-2015, as if climate financing did not exist. Climate emergencies and climate disaster risk management (DRM) have been divorced from wider and social protection issues. I have argued that all this is intellectually indefensible, and that the two agendas are inseparable, programmatically and on the ground. ‘True’, some said, but ‘politically incompatible’.

It eventually came to me that there are actually three separate processes, (a) post-2015, (b) climate, and (c) DRM. None of these can be allowed to colonise the others, but they must be coordinated. And the people running each of these (viz Amina Mohammed, Christiana Figueres and Margareta Wahlstrom) each report to Ban Ki Moon, and that is where the buck must stop. The image I offered was of Ban as Ben Hur, driving a chariot with three horses, who must work in tandem. I looked up Ben Hur afterwards, and annoyingly he had four horses. Is there another process, or will I have to photoshop the pictures?

Thus, the issue is how to pull the three processes together, and create unstoppable momentum. This is not a technical problem but a political one. I wonder how the Secretary General can be supported in this process?. The important decision made at CHOGM, to set up a leader’s group, could help identify the right people to broker a North-South deal.

On other points of substance, a pot pourri of notes and observations:

  • There were three interactive inter-GAC sessions on climate, all of which I attended. The first one started out by imagining a 4 degree world (referring to the ‘Turn Down the Heat’ report which CDKN co-financed). There were strong statements  that ‘2 degrees is toast’, and ‘the 2 degree train has left the station.
  • In parentheses, I was engaged in a side correspondence with the UNEPUnited Nations Environment Programme Bridging the Gap team about my calculation that the impact of the lowered Japanese CO2 reduction commitment, announced at Kyoto, was equivalent to the total emissions of about 120 countries. I have had it confirmed that Japan will be putting an additional 352 million tonnes into the atmosphere in 2020, compared to if they had met their previous pledge. I now estimate that that is equivalent to the 2010 emissions of the 112 lowest emitting countries.
  • I also discussed the $US 16bn over three years pledged in Warsaw, to compensate for the lower targets., there was no detail available on where this would come from, especially whether it would be new money. This was thought to be highly unlikely, and it was suggested that most would be re-labelling. Another reason why Post-2015 and climate finance cannot be separate.
  • David Victor argued strongly that the consensus-based IPCC process underplays the risks in the tails, i.e. of low probability but high impact events.
  • A really good discussion about what ‘having a legal basis’ to the new climate deal might mean, led by the former chief appellate judge of the WTO. One option we looked at was to learn from human rights and enact national legislation which provides for ‘progressive realisation’.
  • It seems clear that private sector initiatives of the kind brokered by the WEF will sow the way forward, deal or no deal. There is good WEF work on ‘pre-competitive partnerships’ e.g. on technology and financing.
  • Innovation is a key theme of private sector discussions. Walmart is said to be the largest researcher in renewable energy in the US . . . black carbon shows real promise as a means of sequestration . . . etc . . .
  • The Danish environment minister, Ida Auken, is really excellent. She described a multi-stakeholder process to produce local adaptation plans in Denmark, with strong design content to produce better communities. For example, if you separate storm water from sewage, you can channel storm water to parks and lakes. In one case, a reservoir has been created which acts as a skateboard park when there is no excess water to deal with. Home insurance bills rose significantly in Denmark following floods, but the Government has introduced support for home protection, and persuaded insurance companies to reduce their bills for those who take action.
  • On the growth front, interesting to note that the WEF Competitiveness Index is being developed to include a sustainability element, with the hope that the index as a whole will eventually transition to being a Sustainable Competitiveness Index.
  • On finance, both post-2015 and climate, all the talk is of oda continuing but becoming progressively less important, esp for MICs. Instead, the emphasis will be on leveraging private flows, blending, risk finance and innovative uses of finance. It seems to me the big issue is how to get some certainty into future flows, in the sense that there can be targets for total flows, including private sector, that developing countries will certainly be seeking. There may be a Monterrey II Conference in April 2015.
  • The DACDevelopment Assistance Committee (of the OECD) talks on new definitions of oda is being tracked with interest, but the consensus seems to be that a conservative solution is likely, close to status quo.

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