The UN's Efforts in International Development: Relevant or Not?

May 12, 2015

TV Show


Which development initiatives really work? Drawing on his personal and professional experience, the UN's David Malone notes that experts' projects often fail and there are many paths to growth--take India and China, for example. The trend now is to move away from grand schemes. What's important are each group's social preferences.


JOANNE MYERS: Good afternoon, everyone. I'm Joanne Myers, and on behalf of the Carnegie Council, I want to thank you all for joining us.

It is my pleasure to welcome David Malone back to this podium. Each time David has spoken here, whether talking to us about the UN and the operations of the Security Council, Haiti, or India, he has always stimulated an interesting discussion, one that has been known to continue long past his formal remarks. I anticipate a similar experience today when he shares with us his thoughts about the UN's efforts in international development and asks, are these undertakings relevant or not?

For quite some time, David has been involved with issues that involve development, most recently as head of Canada's International Development Research Centre. He is currently the rector of United Nations University and holds the rank of under-secretary-general of the United Nations. In this position, David continues to pursue his meticulous skills as a researcher and educator, as he seeks solutions to challenging global problems, problems that are of concern to the United Nations, its peoples, and Member States.

Development continues to be at the top of the list. In a recently edited work by David entitled International Development: Ideas, Experience, Prospects, you will find an extremely useful volume of work that examines the ideas behind development, their origins, how they have changed and spread over time, and how they may evolve over the coming decades. This book also looks at how the real-life experiences of different countries and organizations have been inspired by and contributed to thinking on development.

This book will prove invaluable in the coming months, especially in September, when heads of state convene at the United Nations to agree upon a set of Sustainable Development Goals. The first target is to eradicate extreme poverty for all people everywhere by 2030. The second target is to reduce at least by half the proportion of people living in poverty according to national definitions. Down the line, the eighth among 17, is to promote sustained, inclusive, and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment, and decent work for all.

These are noble and historic targets for global progress, but are they plausible? In the end, who is morally responsible for beneficial change?

Knowing David as I do, we should listen carefully, as this discussion will be infused with knowledge and laced with wisdom. Please join me in giving a very warm welcome to a very special friend, David Malone.


DAVID MALONE: Thank you very much. Thank you all for coming. It's such a hot and humid day outside, I think anybody here is heroic to be here.

I am going to talk very briefly about the book. Then I am going to talk a bit about development more generally. Then I will zero in on the UN and what may or may not be going on there at the moment.

The book was the product of a number of us working in the development field, having an interest in it, and sensing that the wider field of development was captured in very few places. We had the perhaps insane ambition of trying to slice and dice development in different ways, and in particular to relate the key ideas that drove the international development efforts as of about 1950 to what applying them in the field yielded and how the results of applying these ideas created a feedback loop and led to new sets of ideas.

By the way, most of the efforts in development, which were carried aloft on gusts of enthusiasm, didn't work out at all as planned. Many of them had unintended benefits, but often not the ones that had been designed, and there were unintended negative consequences also that obviously weren't tried.

What was our purpose in putting together the book? We wanted to have mainly voices from the developing world. It's their story. When you think of development scholarship, most people default thinking to Harvard University, which is great, but actually it's not Harvard University's story. We looked for interesting people in the developing world. I need hardly add that there were lots of them. We also wanted to get a number of younger, newer voices in. We wanted a degree of gender balance. Most of this, I hope, we achieved.

We were very lucky in our publisher. We wanted the book to be available free of charge in the developing world. That is obviously extremely difficult. The only way you can do it is by putting the text online. As an experiment, our publisher, Oxford University Press, let us do that on the website of the book, which is It's all available in the developing world, because even a $5 book, for a student in the developing world, that is a huge investment. The problem with the web for many students in the developing world—many others in the developing world—is that there is lots of garbage, as well as good stuff, and it's always hard to sort through what is garbage and what is not, especially if your prior education didn't lead you to have techniques for doing so.

Enough about the book, except to say that it gave all of us involved great pleasure. Indeed, one thing that might intrigue you is that the ideas that drove development from the outset were the ideas from the Scottish Enlightenment, particularly in the 18th century, starting in the 17th century. There is a very direct line between them. And, of course, these ideas, as I mentioned, then underwent change. A lot of the ideas of the Scottish Enlightenment were quite generous. We tend to remember Smith and Hume as rather market-driven and so on, which they were, but they also had a broader, much more generous vision that plays out in their books and which is hardly remembered at all.

A couple of personal experiences to anchor my own interest in development: When I was eight, my parents went to live in a country I grew to love deeply, a great nation historically in the world, Iran. It's hard to believe today, but in 1962 Iran was the poster child for development. According to the experts, it was doing everything right—mainly because it was doing what the experts had told them to do. What the formula was for Iran was essentially a forced march towards Western-style modernization. All of the indicators, by the way, for those who think everything can be quantified successfully, were positive. The indicators suggested huge success.

There was a very lonely group of sociologists and anthropologists of Iranian and French origin who kept publishing articles saying, "The storyline isn't really true. Society in the country, particularly rural society and poorer urban communities, is under great strain. They don't like the project, and the project is moving too fast for them."

Six months after my parents got to Iran in June of 1963, there were some very violent riots in Tehran and one or two other Iranian cities, fomented by clerics in the nearby holy city of Qom, but clearly finding quite a large following. You might have thought this would draw the attention of the so-called experts, but it didn't. It was comprehensively ignored as an aberration. And from that point on, things started to go downhill for the triumphalist narrative that all of this was working so well.

We all know how the story ended in historical terms. At the blink of an eye, we had the Iranian Revolution in 1978. The country hadn't been so happy after all.

I mention this because some of my classmates were involved in some of this. Some of them died. Many of them were in jail. Many others' lives had been affected by this. As well, as I was growing up—although as a child, of course, I had no political consciousness—because I loved Iran, I was constantly thinking about it. This whole sad tale internalized itself in me and made me extremely skeptical of consensus and so-called experts in the field of development. They are nearly always self-interested, like other experts. That is the one thing experts tend to have in common. Many of them do fabulous research work and so on, but I'm fairly skeptical.

The second example, not too far from Iran, was when I was a very young professional in the Middle East, working for the Canadian government. Somebody in the government called me up one day and said, "We have an awful lot of aid projects in Sudan, and we actually have nobody keeping an eye on them. Would you perhaps do this?" I was all of 23. It was actually a huge development program, but I said, "Sure. Why not?" It was an opportunity to discover Sudan, an extraordinary country with marvelous people, remarkably elegant people. It was rather thrilling for me.

What did the Canadian aid program consist of? It consisted of a number of very large projects in quite diverse fields, dry land farming, for example, because we were told at the time—and it is still potentially true—that Sudan would be the breadbasket of Africa. Some of you will remember that description of Sudan. We also, like many others, were supporting the building of roads, forestry inventory. We have lots of forests in Canada, my country, and so we know that forestry inventories can be useful. Things of that nature, all of which were well intended and might have been useful.

Twenty-five years later, I visited Sudan and had some downtime and was able to go in search of these projects that I had been tangentially involved in. Interestingly, there wasn't a trace of any of them—only 25 years later. This, as Hercule Poirot would have said, gives one powerfully to reflect. I asked some of my Sudanese friends—the Sudanese are very faithful in friendship, so they were still speaking with me—why this outcome? They said, "We're basically a pastoralist country. What matters here is cattle. Cattle don't really need roads. In fact, roads rather interfere. Cattle may like forest shade, but they don't actually need it. Dry land farming is actually the enemy of grazing. So perhaps, with your good intentions, you projected your fantasies onto Sudan and came up with these very well-intended projects, none of which really responded to who we are and what we like to do and, with all our faults, how we saw our own country moving."

I think there was profound truth in those remarks. I wish I had known all of that when I was 23, but I didn't.

Again, these experiences inspire a degree of caution, skepticism of a positive sort, a sort of questioning skepticism, about the breezes of enthusiasm that waft through the world of development.

If there is a trend in the thinking on development in recent decades, it's to move away from grand schemes, actually. Some of you may remember the very exciting at the time dependencia (dependence theory) model in Latin America, which actually had one very good outcome—it caused Latin Americans to believe in themselves much more than they had done—but in practice, didn't work terribly well. There were a number of other grand schemes which read better than they implemented, so to speak inelegantly.

What we see the world of development moving away from are those grand schemes, a greater interest in specificity on the ground. If there is one thing that emerges from the book, to return to it briefly, it is that we tend to think, when we think of other countries, of them as polities, political organizations, or economies. We read quite a lot about the economies of other countries. We read about their political situation. It's more unusual for us to read about how they function as societies and what their social preferences are and how these might differ from those of neighboring countries and how there might be different social preferences within a given country.

One of our conclusions in the book is that actually, for development, social preferences of populations have mattered much more than economic planning, helpful as that sometimes is, and political leadership, although that played a very important role in Asia particularly.

The reason I mention this is that the last gasp of efforts to come to a unified scheme for development were encapsulated in something that came to be known as the Washington Consensus in the very late 1980s. It was an idea that involved policies that were basically applicable to all countries, sound financial practices—that was a good idea—many other things, but basically a one-size-fits-all model. Need I add that it failed miserably? Not only did it fail miserably, but it became so controversial as to kill itself in very short order. Rather wisely, nobody since then has tried one of these grand schemes.

By the way, if you need any convincing on how different very successful development tracks can be from each other, think of India and China over the last 30 years. These are the two large countries that have produced consistently the two highest rates of growth over the last 30 years. They had completely different development models. China first, after Deng Xiaoping came to power, focused on feeding the population, so much of which had starved during earlier waves of economic policy in China, then moving to export-oriented industries, for which they needed strong infrastructure, which they somehow or other managed, such that, within 30 years, probably the greatest growth in history, and also the largest adventure in pulling people out of absolute poverty unfolded in China over the last 30 years. It's worth reflecting on, as we are often quite critical of China, what they have achieved in the last 30 years.

India never achieves anything in as linear a fashion as China is able to. But they had a green revolution, an agricultural revolution, during the 1960s and 1970s, rather reluctantly, but because essentially the prime minister of India felt it was undignified to accept food aid from the United States at a time when you disagreed with the United States over Vietnam. India then liberalized its economy in the early 1990s—not a great deal, but just to unleash the Indian genius for entrepreneurship and, as it turns out (but nobody knew at the time), the Indian genius for services. So a lot of back-office jobs and so on helped propel India forward. Not much of a trace of industrialization in India, and even less of successful agriculture, which was so vital in China.

So two completely different models of development that each produced quite a lot of growth, which inevitably, by design or not, pulled quite a large number of people out of poverty—by the hundreds of millions in China over the last 20 years or so.

So countries differ, and within countries, as I say, a lot of different preferences contend.

Where are we today? First of all, it's important to remember that since 2008—and that is quite a long time; that is seven years now—the industrialized world has been either in crisis or post-crisis recovery. It, in many ways, started in 2007. Meanwhile, the confident predictions of many people that the developing world would immediately crash and burn were disproved. Asia continued to chug along with very impressive rates of growth, and, in a way, more surprisingly for all of us, so did Africa. Africa quietly, without anybody much noticing, had, as of about the year 2000, on average, started growing at rates of growth somewhere between 4 and 6 percent. Compounded, that is very serious growth.

Latin America, which has done less well on growth, has done brilliantly on social progress and experimenting on social development.

In many ways, we are the problem children of the global economy, and the developing world is not. That is a very difficult shift for us in the West to adjust to, because we always thought we were teaching them what to do because we were ipso facto (by that very fact) developed. And we are, but we always thought, I think, that we would perform better somehow than these laggard societies. But today, in terms of economic growth and in terms of dynamism also, sometimes, particularly in Asia, they may be ahead of us.

Secondly, we had been focused for a very long time simply on growth in the developing world, because it's true, by the way, that without growth, I don't know of any country that has developed. For those who are against growth, you might as well own up to the fact that there may not be a great deal of development without it. But on the other hand, the single-minded focus on growth was missing other things that were very important in development, particularly in fields of social, policy endeavor, education, health, and so on. That was Amartya Sen's great insight, and his friend, Mahbub ul Haq, who eventually produced the idea of human development rather than economic development, which has gained considerable traction and which led to the UN's most impressive economic report every year, the Human Development Report.

Human development came to be accepted to be very important. Today—which you wouldn't have believed 40 years ago—the World Bank and the IMF [International Monetary Fund] are both fairly focused on social policy, as well as strictly economic growth and balance of payments. Those lessons are now widely, I would say, shared.

There has also been an effort to focus on a number of groups within society. Obviously education is of interest to young people, but the role of women in society, in economies, I think has become much more of a priority nearly everywhere, including in reluctant societies like Japan, where I live today. The conclusion is that Japan will never break out of stagnation, whatever the social preferences of the men of Japan might be, unless there is more openness to the women of Japan playing a strong role in the economy. [Editor's note: For more on women and Japan's economy, check out Carnegie Council Senior Fellow Devin Stewart's recent Foreign Affairs article.]

Civil society, the world outside of the private sector and government, has come to play a much bigger role in development around the world, campaigning for various things throughout the developing world, including China. When people are unhappy in China today, they make it known with local authorities or others. We are so used to it that we take it for granted, but 50 years ago it was not a dominant feature of the developing world.

How might one think of the next 50 years in development, writ large? What are some propositions that might be worth debating? First, ongoing trends in international migration, in financial flows, in climate change will determine outcomes for all of us, actually, not just developing countries. Here, we are in a global boat, together with lots of others, on these very broad international trends, and it is no longer really us against them, which is a change for us on a pedestal and them striving beneath us.

Secondly, a lot of instability in developing countries, researchers and others have concluded over the last 20, 30 years, comes from inequalities within societies, not the fact that there are rich people and poor people—all societies exhibit those forms of inequalities, in more or less stark ways—but rather groups within society that are disadvantaged and, if they are disadvantaged enough, be they ethnic groups, religious minorities, others, may choose to rise up in one way or another. I think there is a greater awareness that various forms of inequality can destabilize societies, and that needs a bit more attention.

Development assistance, aid, will play much less of a role in the next 50 years. Many of us have as an intuition that it never played that much of a role, but quite a lot of money was spent on it, most of it at home, by the way. When you investigate how aid is actually spent by various aid agencies, a great deal of it is spent in the home country before any of it is ever seen. That is not just the United States. It's a universal factor.

I think, if we are lucky, there will be by the end of this year broad agreement—perhaps not a full consensus—on new approaches to climate change. The agreement between China and the United States last year was critical in opening up that perspective. Until then, the UN had been locked in a very unpromising and contentious debate over who needed to do what. China and the United States set an example and challenged others to follow their example. Coming from China and the United States, that is a pretty powerful call. Other countries are now trying to figure out what they are prepared to do individually.

I think, increasingly, thinking on development and action on development is going to come from the developing countries themselves. I think the role of the World Bank in all of this—and the World Bank has been a very strong institution, the UN development actors—all of that is going to become much more important because the developing countries, which have already demonstrated that they can develop rather impressively, are going to be the ones in the driver's seat. That gives me personally a great deal of satisfaction.

The UN and development: You will all know or have a sense that the UN has been deeply engaged with development, since the era of decolonization particularly. Indeed, this caused the UN system to grow enormously. All sorts of agencies were created, in one way or another, to promote development, or at least they reoriented themselves from their primary mission towards promoting development.

In the run-up to this year, which will see heads of state debate and probably agree on a set of Sustainable Development Goals this September, a few new insights have arisen. One, any new set of Development Goals should apply to all countries rather than just developing countries. It's not like all of us have fixed everything at home. Thinking of my country, Canada, which has done reasonably well overall, we have huge gaps and deficits—for example, the situation of our aboriginal people and the gap in human development of many of those communities and the rest of the population, something we should be addressing at home rather than preaching to other countries. So that, I think, is a happy insight. How much the industrialized countries will actually do on the Sustainable Development Goals remains to be seen.

The second insight is more profound: When the Millennium Development Goals were adopted shortly after the turn of the millennium, they were fairly succinct, and they were mostly about quantities of things—for example, universal primary education available to all kids around the world. That was a goal because many kids didn't have access to primary education around the world.

This time round, the goal is much more qualitative. Experts, societies themselves are quite worried about the quality of what kids get in school, and quite rightly so. Just having bums on seats in schools doesn't achieve a great deal in terms of rapidly changing economies and societies. You need to be learning useful skills and knowledge that is valuable to kids. That insight on quality more than quantity is increasingly reflected across a wide range of fields of human endeavor in the developing world, and it shows how much progress there has actually been in development, that you have moved from worrying about the number of kids in primary school to thinking about things like quality education, and perhaps even—although it is very aspirational for many—lifelong education, which is a great idea.

These are fundamental shifts in thinking about what is achievable in the developing world and what the developing world wants to achieve for itself.

So the draft Development Goals are much more ambitious, they are more numerous, which may be a good or a bad idea, and they are qualitative and quantitative. I say the number may be a good or a bad idea because the negotiations at the UN were accretive, so to speak. Everybody who spoke had six ideas, so you added those to the last six ideas, and the next thing you know, you have 17 goals and 169 targets. There aren't many governments—certainly not mine in Canada—that can cope with 169 priorities at any given time. So the actual outcome may not be all that sensible, but the ideas behind it and the reality behind it are much more encouraging than that.

I should mention that the Sustainable Development Goals and targets, which are pretty well set, may undergo some further change because there were no indicators on which they could be measured, and many of them are actually unmeasurable. They are aspirational. The Statistical Commission of the UN, drawing on statistical bodies in Member States, are working on seeing what could be perhaps quantified and used for accountability purposes in all of this.

By the way, it isn't clear that big countries want to be accountable for anything to anybody. Small countries tend to object to that much less, but the really big countries are very resistant to accountability of any sort. And they aren't alone. There are other countries that don't like it much either.

Where are we headed? First of all, for the UN, there needs to be again some modesty. The idea that we can project 15 years, to know what the circumstances of the world will be in 2030—I think we need to be fairly modest about that. Why? Because the news in 2015 is so much better for development than anybody expected. The news in 2030 may be different in that way or some other way. Other changes may intervene.

But that is no reason not to have a plan. So I think the UN has come up with a plan. It is a very generous plan in vision. It's overreaching. There is very little doubt about that, in terms of the capacity of governments. But I think many citizens of developing countries will see reflected in the goals and targets many things that matter to them. And so should we, in our societies—things reflected that are unfinished business in even the most advanced societies that we could perhaps work on, too.

I'm going to stop here. That is enough from me. It would be very interesting to hear from all of you and answer any questions you have.


QUESTION: Ron Berenbeim.

I'm involved somewhat with the UN. We're deveolping a global curriculum for business schools. I'm interested especially in the area of corruption. The two countries that you mentioned that are the fastest-growing and have contributed most to growth are ones where, for each of which, corruption has been a big issue. It's a signature issue of the new Chinese leader. In India it may have contributed to the win of the new prime minister. There is a very active anti-corruption initiative.

Also, in most of sub-Saharan Africa—not all, by any means; Ghana is an exception—the fastest growth is coming in the areas that are in the basement of the anti-corruption list.

What are your thoughts on that?

DAVID MALONE: Thank you. I think in many ways my thoughts parallel yours. One thing I try to bear in mind is that both of our countries were prodigiously corrupt 100 years ago. It was, so to say, a stage of development we went through. Perhaps some of the good things that happened in our countries wouldn't have happened without that era of unrestrained self-interest. So that's one thing.

Secondly, it's interesting—because for a bit of the last 10 years, I have been living in Asia—to notice that the Asians are much less upset about this than we are. Naturally they hate the idea of corrupt officials skimming off lots of money, but in the wider picture, they seem to regard a reasonable amount of corruption as basically hard to get below in society.

Of course, it's not just India and China, but some of the other very fast-growing countries in the world are fairly corrupt ones.

I think it may be a phase. Frankly, as society develops, citizens become much more demanding, and as citizens become more demanding, governments have to become a bit more attentive. We do see that in China. I think that is why Chairman Xi has an anti-corruption campaign. The natives are restless, the way the natives in Canada became restless as of the end of the First World War, let's say.

So I think some of this will look after itself. How much international campaigning on corruption will lead to progress within countries—I am very skeptical. It's not a reason not to document what's going on, but I think change comes from within societies ultimately. I think it helps campaigners in India to have the figures. It really does. There are lots of admirable campaigners in India, as there are in China, very brave ones, and elsewhere. But I think the change will have to come from inside.

In that sense, adopting a more historical perspective—I'm somewhat less excited about this than I might be, simply because I hope—and I may be wrong—that it is a transitional phase.

QUESTION: Good evening, Dr. Malone. Thank you for this presentation. My name is Youssef Bahammi.

Among my sets of expertise is sustainable development. You mentioned earlier during your speech something regarding the agencies that have been created after the decolonization era. I was thinking about the UN Regional Commission. I want to have your opinion in regards to the impact within the 2015 development agenda of these agencies, specifically in regards of sustainable development. Also, how do they operate for countries, from the center or from the periphery? Thank you.

DAVID MALONE: Thank you.

You are quite right. The UN created a number of regional economic and sometimes social commissions. There are four I can think of today, in Latin America, in the Middle East, in Africa, and for the Asia-Pacific region. There is one for Europe, too, I should add.

I think they vary. The Economic Commission in Latin America has been hugely influential at the level of ideas. It has produced and employed many of the people who went on to lead their countries in Latin America. So the imprint of the Economic Commission of Latin America and the Caribbean is huge in the continent. It's somewhat less important today than it was, simply because Latin America has been developing in all sorts of ways. So it is playing a slightly less vital role, but it is very well led.

In Africa, there is at the moment a very dynamic Economic Commission for Africa. For the last 30 years, the Economic Commission for Africa has been on a roll, starting with a very strong Nigerian leader, a pretty brave figure, Adedeji, about 30 years ago to 20 years ago. It has been very good at fundraising, and it is very influential within the continent. It's a continent that is beginning to be able to help itself a lot. So its own institutions matter a lot.

In the Middle East, the UN's Economic and Social Commission for West Asia, which is the youngest, is extremely well-led by a remarkable woman called Rima Khalaf Hunaidi, who was at the root of the Arab Human Development Report. I think it reflects both the opportunities and the problems of the Arab world. It will be sorting itself out in years to come. But the quality of the leadership is remarkable.

The problem of the Economic and Social Commission of Asia and the Pacific is that it is responsible for 50 very diverse countries, with a rather limited budget. That is a whole lot of business with a very limited budget. It is again very well-led. Most of these commissions are led by very strong women, as increasingly UN agencies and UN departments are. It will be a hallmark of Ban Ki-moon's era that women in leadership positions in the UN have made a huge leap forward.

Have these regional commissions made a profound difference simply because they existed? No. Only the ones that were in sync with their region, those that were in sync with their period also, that were good at seizing opportunities and taking risks, wound up mattering. It's not because you exist that you matter, to answer your question.

QUESTION: My name is Maria Lugani. I come from Argentina, from the Buenos Aires city government. I just finished an internship at the UN.

I want to ask you two specific questions. The first one would be, do you think that having 17 goals will be better than having eight? Having eight broader objectives could be sometimes better in order to accomplish them.

The second one would be, why do you think we have to be more modest towards 2030?

DAVID MALONE: It's a very good question. I suppose my answer is, because my background has been about half of my life working for a government, I know that by and large governments can't focus on more than two or three priorities at once. That is as true of Washington as it is for Bujumbura. The idea that a government can have 17 priorities—although presidents can give 17 speeches on 17 different subjects—I think is in practice quite difficult. That would be my perspective of that.

But where the goals are helpful is that they encapsulate in their subject areas a certain consensus on what matters. For example, quality education now is what matters, and I think that's right. Whether every government will be able to give priority to education over health—by the way, that is a big debate in my country, Canada. Are we spending too much on health and not enough on education? These sorts of debates are useful.

But can you have 17 government priorities? I doubt it. And when you unpack the goals, there are many hidden priorities within them. I think for governments to wrestle with that is going to be difficult. By the way, most of them don't even realize that they will be subscribing very soon to 169 targets, if they do.

But what is good about it, looking on the positive front, is that governments will pick and choose, and that is rather democratic. Depending on the society, they can pick the ones that are most urgent for them.

But the delusional idea that sometimes one picks up from the UN community that all of this will be mandatory for all countries—that, I fear, is not very realistic.

QUESTION: Susan Gitelson.

David, thank you for your remarkable insights, based on your experience. They are so realistic—instead of what is supposed to be happening, what really happens on the ground, as in Sudan.

We are devoted to the idea of development, but, unfortunately, the headlines and the pictures in the newspapers are about people uprooted from their homes—ISIS [Islamic State of Iraq and Syria], Syria, Iraq, one country after another where people are persecuted for their ethnic backgrounds or whatever it is and have no chance for development, for proper education, for more enlightened policies for women, and everything else. What can you do when you see this catastrophe in front of you?

DAVID MALONE: Thank you, Susan. It's great to see you again.

Again, it's food for thought. First of all, just as a technical matter on peace and security, might the UN—but it would have required the consent of all of its major members—have moved to create safe areas within Syria, which would have been possible at the outset of the conflict, for the people who were displaced, rather than having them flee to neighboring countries, where they are, as you point out rightly, completely uprooted and won't be indefinitely welcome either, because it's not their country? I would say there, there is something the UN needs to think about the next time there is a crisis on the scale of the Syrian crisis at present.

But there are many other questions we might ask ourselves, including about our own societies. For example, in my country, Canada, there is a minor debate about whether we should be taking more Syrian immigrants at the moment. I wish we would, personally. They have always been great immigrants in the past. I don't know why they wouldn't be now. So we have a role to play in all of this, too.

But obviously the scale of the problem, as you say, is extraordinary in the Middle East, the scale of trouble, not all of it interconnected in narrow ways. But if you move from Libya, going south to Yemen, up north towards Iraq and Syria, that is an awful lot of disorder, and it's very violent, as you rightly pointed out.

This requires reflection. Whatever we thought we were doing right clearly wasn't very helpful to the region.

There are factors within the region that are very particular to it. It's a region that doesn't take prisoners easily. That is a reality of the region that we aren't going to change from the outside.

I would say, though, it is important to remember, while all of that is true, for the overwhelming majority of the developing world, the story is good rather than bad. Of course, the stories we focus on are the stories of great distress, but in much of the developing world, where people would certainly like to be richer than they are and they would like to have more opportunities for their kids as they grow up as well, the last 30 years or so have been very, very good, and those countries have had more to do with that than we have.

Thanks so much, Susan.

QUESTION: I'm Nahid Mozaffari, New York University. Thank you for your wonderful talk, David.

Among the new factors that we have to worry about in the next 50 years, you mentioned the connection between instabilities due to inequalities within disadvantaged groups, within countries. But also there is the question of porous boundaries and then international migration, which sort of relates to what was talked about before. When you see all of this happening now in the Mediterranean—lots of people coming over to Europe, Italy not being able to deal with the numbers and all that—are there any ideas among the experts or within the UN about how to deal with displaced people in general, not only from areas like Syria, where there is a civil war going on, but around many areas of the world?

DAVID MALONE: It's a wonderful question, Nahid. Thank you.

I think, myself, that a lot of what is scaring Europe in terms of migration is, at root, a problem of Syria and Libya. In Syria I am not sure that the West bears much responsibility, but in Libya we certainly do, because we intervened militarily in the country to protect civilians. I think protecting civilians in Benghazi was the right thing to do. But then, rather absentmindedly, we stayed on, hunted down the leader of the country, contributed to the leader being killed, and then walked away from the instability that resulted from all of this. It's the instability in Libya that is leading people, who often just went to Libya to work, to want to move on to Europe, because many of them don't want to go back home. Syria has a similar dynamic.

So I don't think it's like all of Africa is blowing up and moving to Europe or all of the Middle East is moving to Australia. I don't think that is right at all. I think where there is mass migration, there is often mass violence. That is what we have seen in Libya. We have seen it in Afghanistan. We have seen it in Syria. I think that's what leads to mass migration.

I think those of us who are interested in peace and security need to think about this a little bit more. I think we tend to think each problem is compartmentalized, but actually there is a pattern there. Some of the things we do absentmindedly perhaps we could stop doing, and perhaps we could think of strategies when these types of problems break out with no involvement of our own.

In Syria there was no involvement of our own, really. We need to think of strategies that would help us contain the difficulties. We weren't at all successful in Syria, and now Syria is well beyond our control, whereas I would argue, perhaps in the first year of difficulties, we might, as an international community—not we, United States or Canada—we might have been able to make a difference and the outcome would have been much better for Syria, which is a terrific country.

QUESTION: My name is Moustapha Echahbouni.

After the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the UN's Framework Convention on Climate Change, the world and people were kind of recognizing the impact that people have on climate change and also taking steps to negotiating and implementing solutions. But before these solutions could actually be implemented, we saw a lot of backlash. Critics claimed that scientific uncertainties were too great to justify expenses and the inconvenience of eliminating greenhouse gas emissions and that any attempt to solve the problem would cost more than it was worth. By the end of the millennium, climate change denial was a real thing and a huge problem.

With this new conference in Paris, what do you see the role of the UN will be to deal with the impact of naysayers that have a political significance in their home countries? It's one thing to say yes to supranational laws, but it's another thing to implement them in an intercultural and adaptive way.

DAVID MALONE: In fairness to the naysayers, first, I think there is a big difference between the climate science denialists, who have very weak grounds, I think, to stand on, and those who actually attack sloppy science by activists. I think some of the criticism of the science has been relatively well-founded, while denial of climate change I think is very weakly rooted.

Bjørn Lomborg has put forward a very controversial idea that is worth entertaining that perhaps trying to reverse climate change or contain it isn't the most cost-effective strategy, that a more cost-effective strategy would be to adapt in various ways to climate change. [Editor's note: For more from Lomborg, check out his 2005 Carnegie talk and his interviews from the Impact podcast.]

Now, it's risky, because we don't know what the outcome of climate change will be. But I think it is better to engage with the ideas of critics rather than rejecting them holus-bolus (all at once), myself, and actually to differentiate amongst them.

Going to the root of your question, where are we headed? As you know, after the Convention on Climate Change was agreed in Rio de Janiero in 1992, there was an effort to come to a binding treaty that would define what countries would commit absolutely to do about climate change. That was achieved at Kyoto in 1997.

The problem for the Kyoto Protocol was that it was rooted in an idea of common but differentiated responsibility. Yes, we share a responsibility for containing climate change, but poorer countries should have very different responsibilities from rich ones. That's fine in theory. It's also fine in practice as long as rich countries are doing relatively well. But as soon as rich countries are in crisis over an extended period of time, it's a lot less fine.

The United States defected early on. It signed the Kyoto Protocol, as I recall, but never ratified it. It may not even have signed it, partly because it never bought into the idea of common but differentiated responsibility. [Editor's note: The United States signed, but has not ratified, the Kyoto Protocol.] Increasingly, the view around the world was that everybody should be sharing in this effort.

I think what is hopeful about the new dispensation is that everybody has been asked to come up with their own commitments. So while we still talk in the abstract about common but differentiated, I think where we are going is a lot more common, with different capacities to do different things. I think that is very positive, because I think it will make governments want to do more. If they feel coerced into doing things that others are not doing, if they feel their own economies are at a competitive disadvantage because they are acting on climate change and some other economy which is growing very fast is not acting on climate change, then you are going to have a collective action problem, as economists and others talk about.

That's why I am at least mildly optimistic about where we are going now. It's going to be quite expensive, but humanity has faced all sorts of expensive challenges in the past, over the past 100 years. When people mention billions and trillions, don't get scared by that, because we have dealt with lots of things that cost billions and trillions, and we can't even remember them. If they matter to us, they will happen. In that sense, I think climate change has made progress.

For example, when I first went to India, the position of the Indian government, broadly supported in society, was, "We should do nothing because our first priority is growth and development." Now there is a big debate in India: "If we do nothing, we're going to suffocate ourselves, so shouldn't we, in our own interest, be doing something?" That is a lot of change since I left India in only 2008.

I think the debate has matured. I think it has become more even-tempered. I do think Obama's leadership has been helpful. I think China's leadership has been extremely helpful. China, in doing this, dropped a number of its traditional partners in international economic negotiations. It said, "Well, we are going to do these things. Why? Because we should, and because they will be good for China and the world."

By the way, China has been doing an awful lot on alternative energy for the last 15 years, for which it gets no credit here or most other places.

JOANNE MYERS: India may have changed, but one thing hasn't changed, and that is your wisdom, experience, and knowledge. I thank you very much.

I do want to clarify something. You said that this book is available to download, but that is only in developing countries.

DAVID MALONE: Mostly in developing countries.

JOANNE MYERS: But it is available for you to purchase right up here at the table. It's a beautiful book. So thank you very much.

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