PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Thank you for joining us again. We’re coming to you today from New York City—United Nations. We’re with Jomo KS. He is the assistant secretary-general for economic development at the United Nations. Thanks for joining us again.
JOMO KWAME SUNDARAM, ASSISTANT SECY. GEN., ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT, UN: Pleasure.
JAY: So in previous segments of our interview, we’ve kind of talked about what the problem is. But your work at the United Nations is to try to imagine what a kind of new economic world order might look like. So what is your prescription?
JOMO KS: Well, for want of a better term, let’s call it a global green New Deal, okay? I think what is clear is that a New Deal of the type which came out in the 1930s is no longer possible in our day and age for a number of reasons. The basic framework, I think, is still very relevant, but obviously the agenda has changed, times have changed, and new priorities, and so on, so forth. As a consequence of globalization, the deal which has to be made today has to be a global deal, and you need an inclusive multilateral framework. And part of the initiative of the outgoing president of the General Assembly at the United Nations was to try to ensure that the United Nations lives up to its original promise, which Roosevelt shared, of being the forum for an inclusive multilateralism, a post-colonial forum, because the League of Nations was basically compromised by its imperial character. So this, I think, is a promise which has to be realized, fully realized, given what has happened in the past in the post-war period. Now, the case for a global deal is, I think, quite clear. There have been many aspirations to this in the past. In the 1970s there was a great deal of talk about the new international economic order. Some aspects of those aspirations are still relevant; others are less relevant. But it all basically points to the need for a basic new international economic framework.
JAY: So what would that look like?
JOMO KS: It would basically recognize the need for significant transfers of resources, easier access to new technologies, and so on, not encumbered by strong intellectual property rights. If you think about how the United States caught up in the 19th century and earlier 20th century, if you think about how, you know, other countries in the world—Japan, Korea—how they have been able to catch up, they have not caught up precisely by starting off, you know, recognizing the importance of intellectual property rights and adhering to everything, you know, to the letter. They have taken rather creative approaches to that. So financial resources, technology resources would be a very important part of any type of much more even and much more equitable world. That kind of equity should not just be intercountry; often it needs to be replicated at a national level within national borders. The kinds of inequalities which we have in the world today are not necessary to provide economic incentives for people to work hard. There’s no evidence of that. If you look at, for example, the kinds of—there’s a measure of inequality called the GINI coefficient. If you look at the GINI coefficients in the Northeast Asian economies—in Japan, the Republic of Korea, and so on, so forth—they are in the range of about 0.3, okay? If you look at what you have in the settler colonies of Southern Africa, a place like Namibia, it’s 0.8—it’s extremely high, very, very unequal. And the United States is at the higher end among the rich countries. But in many of the other countries, you know, other countries lie in between. There’s no reason why we cannot move to a 0.3 sort of ideal in terms of the distribution of income. Distribution of wealth may be slightly more unequal. But, you know, these are all real possibilities.
JAY: You say there’s no reason, but there’s a reason: ’cause the people that are benefiting from that don’t want to change.
JOMO KS: Yes, but you also have a situation where in many countries you have—for want of a better term, you can call it a "stakeholder capitalism", you know, where people are able to affect the decisions which involve their lives, even though they may not necessarily own the majority of shares in a corporation, and so on, so forth. These instruments of stakeholder capitalism were actually developed under American occupation in Japan, for example, you know, after the Second World War, where workers, for example, were guaranteed lifelong employment, where seniority and experience were rewarded with incentives, and so on and so forth. There are different ways we can organize society, including capitalist economies. We can see this from Northern European experiences and the Japanese experience and many other experiences. And all I’m saying is that basically what seem to be imperatives often turn out not to be imperatives, are options. If these options are deliberately recognized and deliberately chosen, then of course there’s nothing much you can do about it. But very often we get into a particular way of doing things, partly because of path dependence and a whole bunch of factors, rather than because of choice. So the ability of people to be able to exercise choice in terms of determining their own livelihoods and futures is a very important element in the kinds of reforms which are possible within the broad framework of capitalism.
JAY: We are moving towards Copenhagen, and the world’s going to, some people say, decide whether humans get to stay on the planet as we know it. Do you think the situation’s that urgent? And what are your expectations of Copenhagen? And is there a sense of urgency here?
JOMO KS: I do think that the situation is urgent. I won’t recycle the scientific findings and the revisions, the recent revisions, because things are accelerating for reasons which were not previously anticipated. And so the situation’s actually getting quite bad.
JAY: The pace of climate change.
JOMO KS: Yeah. Part of the problem, of course, is that some rich countries—for example, in this country, New York Times carried a feature: two pages were devoted to the benefits from global warming; how, for instance, you would have a longer planting season, crop harvests would be higher; how with the melting of the Arctic ice you would have cheaper Maritime transportation and you wouldn’t have to bother with lengthening the Panama Canal and anything like that. You know, all the joys of global warming were being recited, whereas in other parts of the world you have people lamenting, being extremely worried about their own futures. I mean, what happened with Katrina in this country is a regular occurrence in much of the Caribbean and also in other typhoon-, hurricane-prone zones. And this had been exacerbated partly because of global warming. You have the sea water levels rising. And then for a country like the Maldives, where the highest point is about 2.4 meters high, that becomes very—you know, it certainly focuses the mind.
JAY: Is there a focusing of the mind in the United States? We read recently in The New York Times that the Congress seems to be quite committed to coal for the foreseeable future as the main means of producing electricity. The bills that are working their way through Congress on climate change, do you think they address the questions?
JOMO KS: You know, practices which in the rest of the world would be called corruption and influence peddling are quite legal in this country as political lobbying. And, obviously, many of these interests are very, very powerful interests and have been able to have their aspirations supported by legislation and so on and so forth. I would say that as far as this particular problem is concerned, I think one of the major problems in the Christian right, so to speak, in this country, as I understand it, was that a significant faction of the Christian right saw it as their responsibility to look after God’s inheritance to humanity, and they were green. They were not comfortable with the rest of the right’s anti-, you know, sort of disrespect for, you know, this responsibility which they saw as being God-given. And I think what we see around climate change are very different alliances from the usual sort of left/right kind of divide. There are elements of labor, for example, who would be very supportive of climate change and other types of environmental concerns, but also elements which are less supportive, especially when their jobs are at stake—if you think, for example, of what the coalitions which organize around the coal miners strike in the United Kingdom almost three decades ago, and so on and so forth. So it’s a very, very complex issue. I do think that you really need a great deal of public education and need a great deal of compromise at the national and international level to move forward. But a lot of this cannot be done without public leadership, without national leadership. And that, I fear, is wanting in this country.
JAY: What has to be accomplished at Copenhagen? Like, what do you think is the minimum if this problem’s going to really begin to be dealt with?
JOMO KS: I think firstly there has to be a recognition of the obligations under Kyoto, and there’s a real possibility that the US, Japan, Australia, and Canada may be reluctant to work with the Europeans. The Europeans have set the bar. I think some of the other rich countries want to lower the bar. That’s one problem. The other big problem is between the North and the South. Developing countries generally feel—in my view quite correctly—that part of the problem of climate change is not just the current problem of carbon emissions but a stock problem of accumulated emissions over the last two centuries. And this has obviously been largely due to what has happened in the currently industrialized economies. And so there is a strong sense that there has to be some, you know, reparations, if you will, or some kind of redistribution and burden-sharing. And there is a principle coming out of Kyoto called "common but differentiated responsibilities". There was an attempt in recent years to change, to have a game-changer, not to recognize this, not to even move forward as Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany suggested, by talking about per capita emission rights, but instead by thinking in terms of so-called large emitters, so focusing, putting a lot of pressure on China, India, and a couple of other larger developing countries, even though their per capita emissions are actually very, very low. And in the case of China, much of their per capita emissions are for producing products which are actually exported and consumed in the West. So it’s a very complex thing. I think we’re very, very far from it. But I think the basic framework would involve agreement to make significant financial transfers, significant technology developments and transfers, and, very, very importantly in my view, a recognition that for developing countries, especially the poorest developing countries, you cannot expect them to immediately reduce carbon emissions. You will see a temporary increase—hopefully, very, very temporary increase—in the carbon emissions as they begin to develop, and then followed by a rapid decline. But the only way they’re going to do that is if they are helped to be put on a low-carbon emissions path by the energy infrastructure, the energy services being largely renewable and of a new type.
JAY: But the Americans are saying even if per capita emissions in China and India are relatively small, the aggregate emission is very significant. And China’s emissions are starting to compete with American emissions. So the feeling here is, if China and India don’t buy in, the Americans aren’t going to buy in, right? How do you deal with that?
JOMO KS: There is a lot of evidence, especially in the case of China. The Chinese have been doing a lot, but it’s not as if they have just been twiddling their thumbs and taking advantage of Kyoto for their own purposes. They have been doing a lot. But a lot more needs to be done. And one of the major problems all these economies face—US, China, India, and so on, so forth—is that coal continues to be the single cheapest source of energy. And unless we find a way of dealing with coal, we find substitutes—. We’re not going to find easy substitutes for gas, for petrol. And the other is large hydro. And you have a lot of environmental groups, for example, who campaigned against large hydro dams, and this also poses some problems. There are no easy choices involved. I think we run the real risk of lowering the bar for reasons which are described earlier and of not doing enough. So we might be able to strike a compromise, but the compromise does not address the problem of very imminent climate change and accelerating processes which are leading to climate change.
Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.