How the world changed in 2009

Perhaps it’s the end of a decade that gets you thinking about how things have changed, and are changing. This post just pulls together some of the articles and sites that I’ve enjoyed for giving a useful insight into the shifts happening in global economics and international relations, which you might find interesting too.

In global politics, Copenhagen cemented a seismic shift and global power and interplay, with Mark Lynas’ article in the Guardian; How do I know China wrecked the Copenhagen deal? I was in the room as essential reading.

Copenhagen was much worse than just another bad deal, because it illustrated a profound shift in global geopolitics. This is fast becoming China’s century, yet its leadership has displayed that multilateral environmental governance is not only not a priority, but is viewed as a hindrance to the new superpower’s freedom of action.

Meanwhile, whatever you might think about Gordon Brown, his TED talk on the web and our growing interconnectedness is, I think, a fantastic 15 mins on showing how the growing power of technology is strengthening global humanity to fight poverty and injustice.  At the same time, Evgeny Morozov‘s RSA talk warning of how the internet is being manipulated to, at best, influence popular opinion and, at worst, to find, target and destroy dissenting voices is both compelling and terrifying.

The economic crisis has caused many to question whether a debt-fuelled money system is really the best way for the future, reinvigorating economic thinking in the effort to try, test and prove what might make things better. The New Economics Foundation, among others, are doing a lot of research in this area, and argue:

Money and credit have become disconnected from the real economy, from productive investment and sustainable growth. New, more democratic forms of money are required in the transition to a low-carbon economy.

Amidst all the economic turmoil, some have looked at the paltry sums of money dedicated to development assistance and aid in the developing world and asked themselves what exactly is the point? Given no one any longer has much of a clue how to sustain growth in an unpredictable global economy, can development aid really make a difference? Yes, says development specialist and blogger Owen Barder in his excellent article on Open Democracy and on his blog:

Although the effect of aid on economic growth is uncertain, there can be no doubt that aid makes a huge difference to people’s lives.  Aid provides food, health care, education, clean water, financial services, and modest incomes which transform the lives of the people who receive them.

Finally, I loved the AP new’s picture of the decade. A picture is worth a thousand words.

Got any other interesting links, sites, pictures or articles that show us how the world is changing? Post them here.

Climate Crisis: This recession could be good for us

Is it just me, or has climate change fallen a few places in our agenda this year?

Thinking back to a couple of years ago, when it seemed like anyone with an altruistic bone in their bodies was getting to grips with the inconvenient truth that a) the is world heating up, b) the consequences are fairly terrible, and c) we’re the ones responsible. Buoyed by the urgency of the situation, we all swiftly began recycling our rubbish and calculating our carbon footprints. I think it was the Christmas of 2007 that my brother told us instead of giving us regular presents, he had put money towards planting trees in Wales to offset all the flights we had taken that year.  

But no one is talking about climate change anymore. Instead, we’re focused on cash flow. We’re interested in reducing our gas bills, but that’s because it’ll save us some money. We’re not flying as much, but who can afford to go to Europe when the euro is so strong. Up and down the country people are organising clothes swap shops and growing their veggies in their back gardens. But ultimately, the underlying reason for our new found excitement for sustainable living has been the possibility of saving some cash, with saving the planet being a welcomed side-effect.  And once the economy gets back on its feet, the chances are that most of us will forget our sustainable credentials in favour of long-haul holidays and a new wardrobe.

The stark reality is that, in the short term at least, a strong economy does not make for a sustainable environment. And while green fuels, electric cars and low-carbon technologies might help the situation in the longer term, in the short term the planet is just going to keep getting hotter, having a devastating effect not just here in the UK, but more importantly on people already living in hot countries in extreme poverty, who are reliant on farming, agriculture and rapidly depleting water supplies to stay alive.  

According to DFID, climate change means that in just 10 years time farming harvests in Africa will have been cut in half. At the same time as thousands of farmers are losing their livelihoods, up to 270 million people will be struggling to get hold of the water they need to stay alive. And in those areas where the annual rainy season makes water shortages less of an issue, longer and more intense monsoons will not only destroy homes and communities, but make malaria, dengue fever and polio even more prevalent.

Climate change is an inconvenience for us in the UK. But for people in developing countries, it’s an ongoing and life-threatening catastrophe.  And they’re not the ones pumping carbon into the atmosphere, so it’s a pretty cruel twist of fate that they would be the ones to bear the brunt of decades of Western industrialisation, rather than us.

So, as the economy drags itself out of recession, why not hold onto some of those new found sustainable habits and help our friends in the developing world? Why not take the bus or ride your bike instead of driving? Why not discover what the English coastline has to offer before jetting off to the southern hemisphere? You’ve already started on the vegetable patch, so why not keep it up? And if you must rush back to the high street, choose your purchases wisely – trying to buy ethically can be a bit of a minefield in terms of what actually helps people in developing countries, but at least  fair trade can be a good place to start. None of these things will be too terrible for us to endure, and while no one thing is going to save the situation, together these small changes could actually make a big difference not for us, but for the lives of people who live not so far away.

Written for Blog Action Day. To take part, visit

The UN needs some (tough) love

The 64th session of the UN General Assembly started today, with diplomats and leaders from every country in the world travelling to New York to once again try to put the world to rights. As ever, the annual fanfare that marks the beginning of what will be a long season of talks, meetings and committee sessions will begin with a short(ish) speech from the Secretary-General, following by a silent meditation, followed by speeches. A lot of speeches. And from next week, Presidents, Prime Ministers, Chairpersons and other leaders of numerous titles will take to the podium, each voicing their opinions on what should be top of the UN’s agenda.

However, most people won’t be aware of this. News coverage so far has been virtually non-existent, and when it does ramp up, it is of course more likely to focus on what’s bound to be a controversial speech from Mahmoud Ahmadinejad than it is on the plight of smaller nations like the Maldives, who come back every year screaming (as loudly as the UN protocol will allow) that climate change threatens their very existence.

Having said that, I’m not surprised or even too concerned about this lack of public awareness of the General Debate. Within the international walls of the UN itself, every speech will play out to a packed out GA, and the issues on the table will be well known and understood by those that are in a position to make the decisions. Also, a lot of the speeches are very boring. Realistically, there are only going to be a few moments that will say something new, and therefore be deemed newsworthy.

What the lack of media coverage does indicate however is how little we seem to care about what goes on in the Glass Building on New York’s 1st Avenue. And why would we? Bureaucracy and political will (or lack of it) hamper the UN’s ability to take meaningful action time and again. Virtual deadlock on the Security Council, where at least one of the P5 (USA, UK, China, Russia or France) vetoes nearly every resolution that could actually make a difference, makes the UN’s main chamber little more than a frustrated talking shop.

But I do love it. It’s a kind of tough love. I genuinely believe that it is an incredible institution and a force for good in the world. The very fact that somewhere like it exists, somewhere which invites people from every corner of the globe to work on making the world a better place, well, it really gives me hope. Where else are the major global issues – climate change, poverty, disease, human rights – going to be tackled? And tackled jointly, meaningfully, and with true international consensus? For these reasons the UN is deserving of our attention if not our support.

But it definitely a prime candidate for some tough love. And with Obama primed to take the stage – it just might get it. My big hope for the General Debate is for the USA to demonstrate that they think the UN is worthwhile. Eight years of a hostile Republican Government has marginalised the UN in the minds of the world’s only super-power, and therefore for the rest of the world. Obama offers a chance for some real commitment to making the UN work, and with the weight of the US behind it, it just might happen. No doubt Obama will have some harsh words for the UN community about reform but I, like everyone else who has worked in the Glass Building, will be hoping those words are under-pinned with a spirit of commitment, vision and hope. God knows the world needs it.

Watch the General Assembly and the General Debate on the UN webcast