Co-operation for a new world


Reflections on this year's Dimbleby lecture given by the Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund.

I know almost nothing about the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and although I had heard of Christine Lagarde I might well have been hard pressed to name her as their managing director. However, on Tuesday 4 February I found myself watching the broadcast from London’s Guildhall of this year’s Richard Dimbleby Lecture, with the title ‘A New Multilateralism for the 21st Century’, and was impressed by what she said.

She referred to the meeting in 1944 at Bretton Woods, where 44 nations met to ‘set a new course – based on mutual trust and cooperation, on the principle that peace and prosperity flow from the font of cooperation, on the belief that the broad global interest trumps narrow self-interest’ and pointed out that we are again at a turning point. Now, ‘as we move from the industrial age to the hyperconnected digital age’ we will be defined by how we respond and, as we look to the middle of the 21st century, ‘toward the world that our children and grandchildren will inherit from us, we need to ask the question: what kind of world do we want that to be’?

Although Ms Lagarde’s over-arching themes were tensions in global interconnections and tensions in economic sustainability, she nevertheless painted a broad picture and in considering the latter she specifically mentioned environmental degradation, calling it ‘the newest and greatest challenge of our era’. While it is right that we should seek more prosperity for many more of the world’s population, this will further impact the environment and the prediction is that by 2030 ‘almost half of the world’s population will live in regions of high water stress or shortage’.

Ms Lagarde may not have framed her remarks in terms that those of us approaching these issues from a Christian perspective would use but she was not far off when she remarked that it is because of humanity’s hubris that the natural environment is turning against us and that it is the world’s most vulnerable people who will suffer most.

She was, however, optimistic about the possibility of overcoming climate change – and, not surprisingly given her role, it was ‘solutions’ in the field of economics that she talked about, stressing that people should pay for the damage that they cause. This direct linking of environmental damage and pricing must be sensible: helping to reduce harm and to ‘spur investment in the low-carbon technologies of tomorrow’. She criticised the use of subsidies for fossil fuel energy and made clear the madness of so much current policy: ‘Think about it,’ she said, ‘we are subsidizing the very behaviour that is destroying our planet, and on an enormous scale … The worst part is that these subsidies mostly benefit the relatively affluent, not the poor. Reducing subsidies and properly taxing energy use can be a win-win prospect for people and for the planet.’

As part of her concluding remarks, Christine Lagarde went on to say that ‘combating climate change will require the concerted resolve of all stakeholders working together – governments, cities, corporations, civil society, and even private citizens.’ This was a rallying call for co-operation, reinforcing the message that together we can achieve much more than the sum of our individual actions, campaigns or initiatives.

The full text of Ms Lagarde’s lecture can be found here.

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Nicky Bull