Tony Blair Speaks to the World Economic Forum
Davos, January 27, 2007
Thank you very much indeed, Glazon. It is a very great honour to be asked to speak to the Davos forum, this closing section. You know, this will be my last Davos forum. Prime ministers, I look forward to coming back in future years, telling other leaders where they went wrong and how easy the job is. You know, despite the…I shall want to start on this note…despite the multiple challenges we face in the world today, I am optimistic. Mind you, in my job, you have got to be. But I think there is a tremendous spirit about the forum, I sense that in the time I have been here. I think it’s wonderful, for example, there is such instructive meeting for Middle East, and such a good atmosphere around the talks on trade and it’s a wonderful news that they are going to restart the WTO talks in a comprehensive manner. That’s a great thing and congratulations to everyone that has participated in that.
You know each of the issues that has dominated Davos, particularly world trade, climate change, Africa, each of those issues hangs in the balance. But on each, there is progress that would have been unimaginable even a short time back. And what I’d like to do in my address to you today is to state where I think we are on each issue and then give a broader context for the optimism I just outlines; and end with an analysis of what we have to do.
On the World Trade, within the past few days not merely we had the meeting here,but I have held discussions with President Bush, President Lula and Chancellor Merkel. We had a great discussion with trade Ministers under Pascal Lamy’s expert eye yesterday. “Cautious optimism” was how it was described. And I think with the announcement today it is now more likely that not, though by no means certain, that we will reach a deal within the next few months. Countries are moving closer together; there is a re-ignition of political energy and drive; and an increased recognition of the dire consequences of failure.
A trade deal would be a big boost to the notion of multilateralism; help the world's poorest escape their poverty; and achieve an impact on overall trade and business, three times the amount of the last trade round. This is a critical priority for me in the coming period and that determination, I am pleased to say, is shared by the other major players in the negotiation.
The other topic at the top of the Gleneagles agenda was climate change. Kyoto was an extraordinary achievement, over 100 countries coming to an agreement with profound implications for their future economic growth. But in reality, even if implemented – and Britain is one of the few nations that will hit, indeed exceed our Kyoto targets –In reality, even if we did Kytoo, it would only stabilise emissions. In truth, we need them cut, probably by an order of 60 per cent by 2050 – something we have now set as a UK domestic target.
And the mood in the United States, I think, is in the process of a quantum shift. The President's State of the Union address built on his “addiction to oil” speech last year and set the first US targets for a reduction in petrol consumption.
The German G8 Presidency gives us an opportunity to agree at least the principles of a new binding international agreement to come into effect when the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012; but one which is more radical than Kyoto and more comprehensive, one which this time, includes all the major countries of the world. It is a prize of tantalising significance and I think it is within our grasp.
So across all three issues, there are signs of hope. But this is part of a bigger shift in the politics of the global community. And it is in this shift that the real possibilities of progress lie.
What is really happening is that nations – even the most great – are realising that they cannot pursue their narrow national interests without invoking broader global values. They are obliged to recognise that interdependence is the defining characteristic of the early 21st century.
These topics which have dominated Davos in 2007,all of them, are global in their impact, their political relevance and in their prospective solutions. The Shifting Power Equation, the title of Davos this year, is in part, obviously, about emerging new powers; but it is equally about the fact that power over global issues can only be effectively wielded today by global alliances, in turn based on global values.
You know, there is the curious mix today in politics of moral cause and strategic interest. We know we have a clear interest of course in combating climate change; but we feel it too, as a moral duty to successive generations as well as our own.
Business is here in Davos not simply to talk about information technology, or commerce, or industrial trends, but also about its role in tackling the great issues of the day. Business has moved way beyond traditional notions of corporate responsibility. Business believes that it, too, has a strategic interest in the moral cause. The world today is in a kind of perpetual global conversation. Campaigns are begun and intensified almost instantly. Tragedy or injustice, like war, leaps into our living rooms, assaulting our senses, bringing us to a judgement on events that may be thousands of miles away but of which we, as human beings, feel a part.
And above all, nations find that they need to confront and deal with challenges that simply do not admit of resolution without powerful alliances of other nations. And every nation, even the most powerful, is obliged to find such alliances or find their own interests buffeted and diminished.
That is why we call it interdependence. It is the ultimate joining together of self-interest and community interest. Afghanistan was a failed state, its people living in misery and poverty but in days gone by it would have stayed that way without the world much noticing. September 11th brought it to our notice in the most unforeseen but catastrophic way. Look how the world has changed because of those events.
We know Africa’s plight is shameful in a world of plenty. But I personally have never shrunk from confessing another motive. I believe if we let Somalia or Sudan slip further into the abyss, the effect of their fall will not stay within their region never mind their nation. I will argue for the presence of peace in Palestine on its own terms; but there is no question that its absence has consequences on the streets of cities even in Britain amongst people who have never been anywhere near Gaza or the West Bank. And, of course, there is climate change. Assume even a possibility of its threat being real. It would be madness not to act to prevent its realisation – just as a precaution. Its challenge is the supreme expression of interdependence.
Consider what is at stake in these issues. Then consider how hard we have found it to put the right alliances in place; to reach agreement; and to take the appropriate measures to get the job done.
This is my major reflection on 10 years of trying to meet these challenges, 10 years in which, as a deliberate policy, Britain has been at the forefront, for better or worse, of each of these major global issues. Interdependence is an accepted fact. I believe. It is giving rise to a great yearning for a sense of global purpose, underpinned by global values, to overcome challenges, global in nature.
But we are woefully short of the instruments to make multilateral action effective. In other words, we acknowledge the interdependent reality. We can sketch the purpose and describe the values. What we lack is capacity, capability, the concerted means to act in furtherings of our purpose. We need a multilateralism that is muscular. Instead, too often, it is disjointed, imbued with the right ideas but the wrong or inadequate methods of achieving them.
None of this should make us underestimate what has been done. There have been great achievements, but there is too often a yawning gap between our description of an issue’s importance and the matching capability to determine it.
In this regard, there is often an easy, in my view rather lazy critique that puts this down to an absence of political will. Bur in my experience actually, dealing with this over 10 years, there is, usually, not a problem of political will. By and large it’s there. It is translating that will into action that is the problem. And why? Because it requires focus, time, energy and commitment and though individual leaders and nations can provide these qualities intermittently, sustaining them over time, with all the other pressures is just practically impossible.