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‘Governance and Values’

Oslo, Norway

Kofi Annan calls for an urgent return to a value-based system of governance to guide the international community in tackling the economic, climate, food and poverty crises.

I am very pleased to be back again in Norway and, looking around the room, to be in the company of so many good friends.

And I am particularly pleased to be speaking at the Oslo Centre for Peace and Human Rights today.
Its founder is a man of great achievements, high standing and strong principles.

Throughout a distinguished career, Kjell has not wavered in his commitment to peace and human rights which is at the heart of the ambitions of this institute.

In its short history, the Centre has already shown it is not afraid to follow this lead in promoting dialogue and tackling seemingly insurmountable problems.

The need for such vision and determination has, I’m afraid, rarely been greater.

It is clearer than ever that the old saying “we are all in the same boat” has never been more relevant to our world.

But despite the storms all around us, this message seems not to have been learnt yet by many in government and business. Or, if learnt, has failed to change their decisions.

The fact that we now live in an extraordinarily interdependent world – that we are a true global village – has not led to the fundamentally different policies and tools needed to tackle this new reality.

Nor are our discussions or decisions yet shaped by the values needed to allow us to overcome successfully the challenges we face.

It is as if the bad habits of our recent past still have a grip on our collective and individual systems of Governance.

We may, thankfully, be turning our back on greed and selfishness as a guiding principle but we will be dealing with the pernicious effect for years to come.

And the severity and cumulative weight of the multiple crisis we are faced appears to be having a paralyzing effect on those who must act to solve them.

The global economy is in deep trouble. Every day brings bleaker headlines.

Every country is being affected, but the heaviest price will be paid by the poorest countries and citizens.

We have already seen worrying signs that the crisis will set back hopes of a system of fair and free trade, so important to help communities lift themselves out of poverty.

Countries across the world are erecting protectionist barriers to safeguard jobs in the short-term with little thought to the long-term consequences for them or the wider world.

There are fears, too, that richer countries will use the excuse of tougher financial times to break development promises to poorer nations.

Even before the present financial crisis, millions more people were going hungry because of higher food prices.

And the challenge of food security will only be worsened by the impact of climate change.

Climate change is an all-encompassing threat – the greatest our planet faces – to our food and water supplies, to our health, our security, stability and prosperity.

All this spells more poverty and misery for an increasingly greater number of people unless we start to think differently and to act proactively.

But as the financial crisis has underlined dramatically, problems which were once national now quickly become international.

In the 21st century, no one’s stability and security can be guaranteed unless we tackle despair and conflict wherever it is found.

All our prosperity will come under threat unless we act decisively together to tackle the gross disparities in wealth in our world.

This is what it means to live in a global community, where what we do and don’t do, has an impact on everyone else.

And just as in any local or national community, we need common values to govern the way we live. All communities are held together by common values and a set of rules.

Fairness, equality, justice, liberty, and solidarity are the values that formed the basis on which our societies were built.

They belong to all of us and are there to help us organize our societies fairly and ensure people live their lives with respect for others.

So we don’t need to re-invent them. But we do need to re-assert them and put them into practice.
Globalisation has brought us closer together in the sense that we are all affected by each other’s actions.

But not yet in the sense that we all share fairly in the benefits and the burdens.

And without actions based on these values, the risk is that we will be driven further apart, with increasing disparities in wealth and power both between societies and within them, fueling anger, despair and intolerance.

Too often, we have seen narrow national or political self-interest, rather than the search for the long-term good, drive decisions in our international fora.

Whether one looks at peace and security, at trade and markets, or at social and cultural attitudes, we must guard against drifting towards an age of mutual distrust, renewed selfishness, intolerance and fear.

So how do we put this right? How do we put values back at the heart of governance and the way we behave as nations, businesses and individuals?

How do we ensure that justice and fairness become the bedrock of our policy decisions? How do we make sure these policies promote the principles of liberty and equality ? And how do we do all this in a true spirit of solidarity?

And more importantly, how do we move from pious protestations of intent to real and meaningful action?

If the universal values I mentioned – and on which the UN were founded – are genuinely agreed, then their practical applications will be much easier.

If, on the other hand, we continue to approach our collective plight based on national and parochial interests, then I fear we shall get nowhere.

Co-operation and multilateralism can work. Indeed, it is the only thing that does work in the long-term.

At international level, we need the courage and vision to fundamentally reform our institutions.
The international architecture is outdated and woefully inadequate to meet the challenges of today – and much less those of tomorrow.

We must insist on greater accountability. The trust between those who govern and those who are governed must be restored.

It requires greater respect for International Law by all countries. The rule of law is as essential between countries as it is within them.

It is the only way to check the excesses of the powerful.

We need to see our responsibility to protect our fellow men and women taken much more seriously.
The principle of “Responsibility to Protect” must move from mere rhetoric to decisive and collective action.

It means little to deplore the tragedy in Darfur if we fail to provide the manpower, support and resources needed to end the conflict, help those affected and hold those responsible for this nightmare to account.

There is no point in uniting around the Millennium Development Goals if the rich countries of the world fail to meet their promises to increase aid to the poorest.

Billions in bailouts of banks and car manufacturers may make good financial sense under current economic thinking, but it is it difficult to understand for the average person if it is not matched by equal efforts in combating hunger and poverty.

And we should demand as well solid progress towards a fairer trade deal and radical, decisive and urgent action to reach climate change agreement at Copenhagen.

Only a multi-lateral approach based on justice and solidarity will meet the scale and urgency of the challenge to us all from climate change.

We need a universal agreement to cut emissions, with the most industrialised countries accepting the biggest cuts and the costs of transferring knowledge and technology, investing in sustainable energy and helping developing nations with adaptation costs.

This is why the Global Humanitarian Forum, which I chair, will help push climate justice up the agenda by launching a major campaign aimed at ensuring a fair deal in Copenhagen this year.

The message is that pollution has a cost and that it must be borne by the polluter.

Payments will help the poor countries adapt, reduce their vulnerability, increase their resilience and help transfer green technologies to them.

We can’t leave action and decisions to Government alone. Our leaders will respond to what we – their voters – demand.

Every single one of us has the responsibility to live by our agreed values and play our part in ensuring that our leaders do the same.

So we must come together as individuals to demand that our Governments work together to find solutions to these global challenges.

We need to see even greater involvement of academics and think tanks to discuss the way forward and propose innovative solutions, as well as see greater investment in research and innovation.

Business, too, must accept their responsibility. It is a decade since I called for a new global compact from business to help build a prosperous world in which all could share.

There has been progress and the importance of corporate responsibility has entered the mainstream.
But we need to go further. For example, it is no longer enough for business leaders to say they meet national standards in the countries in which they operate.

If we are to make globalization work for all and not just a minority, if we are concerned about the sustainability of our planet, then businesses at local and global level must take the lead in driving up standards on labour and human rights and on the environment.

Nor is good enough for businesses again to ignore the impact of their reckless pursuit of profit at the expense of everyone and everything else.

We are now seeing the results of such skewed priorities for the businesses themselves, the people they employ and wider society.

Whether as Governments, communities, businesses or individuals, we need to ensure that our universal values drive our decisions and the way we behave.

It is a big challenge. But then so too is the prize of a fairer, more prosperous and peaceful world.

Thank you.