The Clock Is Ticking

As the world population clock ticks past 7 billion, alarm bells are ringing. The gathering force of public protests is the popular expression of an obvious fact: that growing economic uncertainty, market volatility and mounting inequality have reached a point of crisis. 

Too many people are living in fear. They are discouraged by uncertainty and angry at their diminished prospects. Around kitchen tables and in public squares, they are asking: who will deliver for my family and my community? In these difficult times, the biggest challenge facing governments is not a deficit of resources; it is a deficit of trust. People are losing faith in leaders and public institutions to do the right thing.

The forthcoming G-20 meeting in Cannes takes place against this dramatic backdrop. The leaders of the world’s largest economies have an historic opportunity — and an historic responsibility — to reduce the trust deficit. To do so, they must unite. Amid crisis and uncertainty, they must offer clarity of purpose and bold solutions. The time for haggling over incremental steps is long gone. At the 2009 summit in London, G-20 leaders showed courage and creativity in stabilizing the global financial system. We need similarly ambitious leadership today. 

We all recognize that budgets are stretched thin. For much of the world, fiscal austerity is the new order of the day. Clearly, the immediate priority in Cannes will be to support the decisions taken in Brussels on the crisis within the euro zone. Yet just as clearly, any effective response to these multiple challenges must be global. 

More, it must be coupled with an ambitious long-term social agenda. We cannot afford to cut loose those who are most vulnerable — the poor, women, young people, and the planet itself. Those least responsible are paying the highest price. Asking them to wait while other problems are solved is not only counter-productive but immoral. In Cannes, leaders should agree to a concrete action plan that advances the well-being of all nations and people, not just the wealthiest and most powerful. 

For the poor: At last year’s G-20 summit in Seoul, leaders recognized a fundamental reality — there can be no sustainable growth without development. Emerging economies are the drivers of the future. In Cannes, leaders must show strong support for the pro-poor, pro-growth agenda embodied in the Millennium Development Goals. We know what works; we must continue to invest in policies and programs that yield outsized gains — in women and children’s health, food and agriculture and gender equity, to name but a few.

By Ban Ki-moon

Original article published at

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