Digital Global Solutions Summit 2020 Closing Address

Dennis J. Snower, President of the Global Solutions Initiative, shares his closing address for the Digital Global Solutions Summit 2020.

Closing Address of the Global Solutions Summit 2020

This is a transcript of the Closing Address to the Digital Global Solutions Summit 2020. Watch the video and browse through other contributions here.

The Global Solutions Summit draws to a close – a gathering unlike any we could have imagined half a year ago. We have come together while forced to remain at home. Despite lockdown, so many people of conscience have joined us at this historic time to reconceive our common future, backed by the latest research in support of G20 policy coordination. Young and old, policy makers and business leaders, academics and civil society activists, Young Global Changers and established politicians, thought leaders and decision makers from across the G20 and beyond.

People from diverse nations, religions and cultures have been drawn together because the COVID-19 pandemic has made us understand that we – the people of the world – are all in this together, facing a global challenge that demands global collaboration. This Global Solutions Summit has unleashed a flood of visions and recommendations concerning all the domains of G20 concern. We feel the urgency of the moment. At this time when health systems, economies, political systems are convulsed in worldwide crisis, we sense that we have crossed a threshold into a new world, which could bring prosperity or destitution, depending on what we – the people of the world – do next.

Throughout the copious contributions in this Summit, we have all sought a common thread. What is the driving force underlying this outpouring of ideas? We must all reach our own distinctive conclusions. But let me give you mind, in full awareness that this is only one thread in an emerging tapestry of insight.

The first strand concerns the need to bring economic value into harmony with our values. I believe that many of the visions and recommendations generated by this Global Solutions Summit come from an awareness, at the local level, that the pandemic has made us confront what is truly important to us our lives. The heroes of the pandemic are people to whom the lives of others matter. They are people who make others – often complete strangers – understand that their lives matter. They are people who give self-worth and dignity to others. And, surprisingly, they are often people who have not been held in particularly high regard in our economies and societies – nurses, carers of the elderly, delivery personnel, immigrant agricultural workers, complete strangers who show up on your doorstep to inquire whether you are alright. These can be people on low salaries in precarious jobs, whose most important service lies in the civility and kindness for which they are not paid.

We need to find new and better ways of according social esteem, political voice and economic reward to people whom we should value, not just in times of current need, but always.

This awareness, I believe, has given new urgency and importance in the Summit to the calls for reforming capitalism, measuring economic performance beyond GDP, and measuring business performance by stakeholder value rather than shareholder value. We must say farewell to the view that economics is “value-free,” concerned merely with the means whereby resources are allocated and distributed; business activity is value-free, concerned merely with the maximization of shareholder value; economic growth is accepted as a value-free measure of economic performance; and policy making is concerned primarily with value-free economic efficiency, making contact with values only by influencing the distribution of income and wealth.

We need to find new and better ways of according social esteem, political voice and economic reward to people whom we should value, not just in times of current need, but always.

This view misses something vitally important: Human beings are not merely creatures that seek to maximize their consumption as efficiently as possible. We are creatures who seek to lead meaningful lives and these are lives lived in accordance with our values. To do so, we need to be empowered not only to pursue our immediate self-interest, but to learn and adapt, to shape our environment sustainably, to give and receive care and respect in our social communities. These are all value-driven activities. Consequently our sense of purpose in policy making and business, as well as our measures of economic and business performance, must be value-driven as well.

A second strand of ideas in this Summit arises, I believe, from a new appreciation of our responsibility towards the natural world. The pandemic has reminded us that as we humans have displaced, captured and misused ever more wildlife, the pathogens in these animals host can lead to zoonotic infections. We are reminded of something that we should have long been aware of, namely, that worldwide zoonoses give rise to an estimated 1 billion cases of human illness and millions of human deaths annually.

Furthermore, we have become aware of the many ways in which nature has benefitted from the current worldwide recession: clean air and clear waterways around major cities. However the pandemic has also reminded us of humanity’s ever-present capacity for natural destruction under the current economic and political regimes, as deforestation, wildlife poaching and illegal mining has increased in Latin America, Asia and Africa.

And on a personal level, the lockdown has reduced travel, immobilized work and slowed life down for many people, giving them a chance to notice things that they had previously overlooked: a tree, a bird, a flower, a blade of grass, an insect. Thereby the pandemic has made us aware that despite all cities we have built, despite all the gadgets that accompany every aspect of our lives, despite all the mechanization and commercialization of our lives, we remain embedded in the natural world. We are not the creators of the products we use, we merely transform them from their natural state into a manufactured state; and when we have finished using them, they do not disappear, but accumulate as waste – much of it nondegradable – in the natural world from which we took them.

These observations, I believe, has given new impetus in the Summit to fight climate change, reform land use, protect our oceans, and preserve biodiversity.

Economic performance should be measured not just in terms of the goods and services that we produce and consume, but also in terms of how these production and consumption activities affect the life-sustaining powers of our ecosystems.

Along the same lines, business performance measures must take account of natural capital and ecosystem services.

Finally, a third strand of Summit ideas arise from a new appreciation of our vital need for multistakeholder and multilateral cooperation. I believe that the pandemic and resulting economic crisis has shown clearly that despite the many differences in outlooks and convictions among the people of the world, a new and better future can only be shaped together. In this age of the Anthropocene, we are finally being called collectively to account. Humans being have become so plentiful and so powerful that our activities dominate the health of our planet. We are coming face to face with our responsibilities. Our actions have consequences that extend far beyond our immediate goals, in both time and space. We are interdependent economically and environmentally, and thus also politically and socially, beyond anything we could possibly have imagined even a generation ago. We are encountering a common vulnerability that has arisen because we have thus far failed to recognize the terrible implications of acting independently in pursuit of short-sighted goals.

Thereby we are beginning to appreciate the interdependence of our needs, despite all our national, religious and cultural differences. The interconnected vulnerabilities of our health systems shows us that we are not sustainably well when others are ill. The interdependence of our food systems indicates we cannot be sustainably full when other starve. The looming refugee crises are beginning to reveal to us that we cannot be sustainably free when others are in chains.

Economic performance should be measured not just in terms of the goods and services that we produce and consume, but also in terms of how these production and consumption activities affect the life-sustaining powers of our ecosystems.

But this emergent understanding brings us face to face with a daunting global challenge. While our global economy and our global environment are integrated, our political and social structures – within which our decisions are made – remain fragmented. The existing global system – which emphasizes individual autonomy in economics, national autonomy in politics, shareholder autonomy in business, and reliance on all these autonomies in mastering nature – this system is broken and needs to be rebuilt. We must shape a world that better meets our needs and purposes, rather than returning to the dysfunctional system that has led to so much suffering for so many people and so much destruction of our natural world.

There are no merely procedural solutions to these problems, I believe. Self-interest and autonomy alone, in both economics and politics, cannot solve our growing problems of inequality, resource depletion, biodiversity loss, climate change, cyber threats, forced migration, financial instability, and more. The fundamental problem is not procedural, but moral. We require a new sense of purpose in business, politics and civil society, one that makes our existing social norms, values and identities compatible with our common global goals. Only with this new sense of purpose can the rapid development of our digital and genetic technologies be directed towards the fulfillment of human needs and moral purposes, rather than dividing societies and creating global discord.

Our current institutions of multilateral governance are based on the edifice erected in the aftermath of the Second World War. It was designed to maintain rules of behavior that enable people and countries to reap advantages from pursuing their self-interest, such as by reducing tariffs, arbitrating trade disputes, providing maritime security and promoting peace. We now need to build a new edifice to manage global common pool resources and provide global public goods.

For this new edifice to become legitimate, the new sense of purpose in business, politics and civil society requires a new balance between individual autonomy and collective goals, including global ones. Correspondingly, we need a new balance between individual rights and collective rights, matched by individual and collective obligations.

As our global problems multiply, people are recognizing ever more clearly the importance of pursuing global goals. As our global problems multiply, people are recognizing ever more clearly the importance of pursuing global goals. Consumers are making their appreciation of these goals known through their purchasing behaviors; shareholders, employees, and voters are increasingly expressing their collective awareness through their decisions; and even children (as for example through Fridays for Future) are also making their voices heard in this regard.

Just as a biological ecosystem requires a wide variety of different organisms in order to thrive, so our social ecosystem requires a wide variety of different national, religious and cultural forms in order to generate broad-based prosperity for humans within their natural world.

This pursuit of global goals does not call for a monoculture of norms, values and institutions. On the contrary, national, cultural and religious diversity is desirable in the quest to satisfy human needs and purposes. While some of these needs and purposes are common to us all – social solidarity, agency, material sustenance and environmental sustainability – others are diverse. Our norms, values and institutions must serve both this commonality and diversity.

Beyond that, diversity of outlooks is necessary in guiding our global learning process to create resilience in these rapidly changing times. Just as a biological ecosystem requires a wide variety of different organisms in order to thrive, so our social ecosystem requires a wide variety of different national, religious and cultural forms in order to generate broad-based prosperity for humans within their natural world. Just as a biological ecosystem is compromised through the extinction of species, so our social ecosystem is degraded through the elimination of social diversity.

The time has come to adopt a new mindset in policy making, business and civil society. One that sees people not just as self-sufficient individuals each achieving their self-determined goals, but also as organisms in the grand ecosystem of life – natural, social, political and economic. With this new mindset, we will be concerned not just with what we take out of the system, but what we return to it. With this mindset, we can become united in diversity.

These are three strands of ideas, among many others, that have flowed through the Global Solutions Summit – bringing economic value into sync with our values, renewing our responsibility towards the natural world, and understanding the need for multistakeholder and multilateral cooperation. The coming years will tell which ideas will crystallize to drive the rebuilding of our world.

The Global Solutions Summit, with its recommendations and visions, is meant to provide support for the G20 and beyond in envisioning a new world, where we share a common awareness of our global goals and a common respect for our local differences. The Global Solutions community aims to be a germ cell for global problem solving across national borders and across the domains of research, policy, business and civil society. Therein, we believe, lies the way to recouple our economic prosperity with our social and environmental prosperity.

 

Dennis J. Snower is President of the Global Solutions Initiative

 

 

The Global Solutions Initiative is a global collaborative enterprise that proposes policy responses to major global problems, addressed by the G20, the G7 and other global governance fora. The policy recommendations and strategic visions are generated through a disciplined research program by leading research organizations, elaborated in policy dialogues between researchers, policymakers, business leaders and civil society representatives. Most recently, the GSI proposed an alternative to measuring prosperity through GDP, the Recoupling Dashboard.

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