WASHINGTON — The world does not need to be reminded of the urgency of this historical moment. We sense it every day in the news. One day a major bank, insurance company, or automaker announces a record loss. The next brings word of the impact on nations and peoples least able to cope with these blows — the poorest of the world’s poor.
During the last two years, I have dealt with many crises, from Darfur and the Democratic Republic of Congo to such global challenges as the food crisis and climate change. But the financial crisis is unique and potentially overwhelming.
What was purely a financial crisis has become an economic crisis, spreading across the globe. Every projection of growth has been revised downward. And while there are signs that mature economies are recovering from the panic that froze credit markets, we are by no means beyond the danger zone.
My greatest concern is that today’s financial crisis evolves into tomorrow’s human crisis. We need to recognize what Martin Luther King Jr. called the “fierce urgency of now” if we are to safeguard millions of people’s livelihoods and hopes for the future.
Many financial experts have diagnosed the causes of the crisis. Policymakers have offered prescriptions for solving it. We hear talk of new banking regulations and even of a new global financial architecture.
All this is desirable. Yet, while I welcome this debate and fully recognize the need for long-term measures, I am acutely conscious of time. Immediate problems require immediate responses. Nor can we allow the financial crisis to become a reason for neglecting other critical issues: unacceptable levels of poverty and hunger, the food crisis, climate change. For that will only exacerbate the already fragile political and security situation in many of the hardest hit countries.
At the Group of 20 financial summit in Washington on Nov. 15, I delivered four messages reflecting my conversations with various U.N. member states: • We need a global stimulus package to turn this crisis around. The International Monetary Fund recently projected that virtually all global growth in 2009 will come from emerging and developing economies. Large increases in public and private expenditures will therefore be required in many regions of the world to counteract falling demand. • These financial rescue and assistance packages cannot stop at the borders of the richest countries. Emerging markets and other developing countries will need oxygen in the form of credit lines and trade financing. And we must stand against protectionism. Without open trade, growth and development could break down entirely. • Some part of our global stimulus should come from commitments that the international community has made on aid. In today’s environment, fulfilling the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) is more than a moral imperative. It is a matter of pragmatic economic necessity. • Finally, inclusivity must be our watchword. In our interdependent world, these tasks can be met only through reinvigorated multilateralism — one that is fair, flexible and responsive, with leaders coming from all quarters. While the G20 nations whose leaders met in Washington account for nearly 80 percent of world production, trade and investment, more than 170 other countries, representing one-third of the world’s people, were not there. It is our responsibility to listen to their voices and respond to their concerns.
The next few months will be crucial. Many of us will meet again soon in Doha to review progress on financing for development. Six years ago, President George W. Bush and other leaders adopted the ambitious goals that constitute the core of the MDGs. History will judge us harshly if we fail to live up to these commitments. I therefore urge all nations, rich and poor, to send their highest-level representatives to Doha with full determination to do what must be done.
In December, our climate change negotiators meet in Poland. We have one year until they meet in Copenhagen — one year to reach an agreement that all nations can embrace. The sooner we have such an agreement in place, the sooner we will see the green investments and green growth we so badly need.
The great challenges before us are interrelated: the global economy, climate change, and development. We need solutions to each that are solutions to all.
Ban Ki Moon is secretary general of the United Nations. © 2008 Project Syndicate (www.project-syndicate.org)