United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan is calling on the leaders of the “Group of Eight” industrialized countries to adopt at their upcoming summit bold trade liberalization measures, including duty- and quota-free access for the least developed countries, while also tackling the energy crisis in a way that respects the environment.
“The lack of significant progress on trade is conspicuous, even perilous,” he said in a letter to the leaders of Canada, the European Union, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States, who will meet in St. Petersburg, Russia in July.
“Developing countries need genuine market access opportunities for their goods and services, and the least developed countries should enjoy duty-free and quota-free access for theirs,” he added, according to a text of the letter released today.
“It is also time for all trade-distorting subsidies for agriculture to be eliminated, and to do so rapidly for sensitive products such as cotton,” he wrote noting that many countries will need assistance in order to benefit from current and newly created opportunities, such as the so-called Aid for Trade programme.
“These are just some of the many sensible steps which, while fostering prosperity and opportunity for people everywhere, would allow poor and marginalized people, especially in the least developed countries, to lift themselves out of poverty,” Mr. Annan said.
“Yet I fear that the difficulties the negotiations have encountered have led some participants to contemplate settling for something less than a true development round. That must not be allowed to happen,” he added, referring to the Doha Round, which is meant to restructure world trade policy in favour of development in poorer countries.
Turning to the issue of energy security, Mr. Annan noted that 1.6 billion people in developing countries live with no electricity at all and lack of access to modern energy services – a formidable barrier to poverty reduction. These countries will need to nearly double electrical generating capacity over the coming years to support industrial and broad economic development.
Moreover, indoor air pollution, resulting for example from burning traditional biomass, contributes significantly to respiratory infections in children under five years of age, killing almost 2 million of them, according to UN World Health Organization (WHO) estimates.
He stressed that energy security cannot be reached if the environmental effects of energy consumption, especially the overwhelming reliance on fossil fuels, are not addressed.
“This reliance puts the very future of humanity at risk, since these fuels produce greenhouse gases and other pollutants, which affect the sustainability of life itself,” he wrote. “Burning fossil fuels causes air pollution, which triggers an estimated 800,000 premature deaths every year. And it generates greenhouse gas emissions, contributing to climate change.”
Mr. Annan said the scientific consensus is overwhelmingly clear that climate change is happening and humans are contributing to it, presenting one of the greatest challenges of our time.
“While almost all of us will suffer, poor people above all are vulnerable and will bear the brunt of the damage, especially in terms of rising sea levels and more frequent extreme weather events,” he wrote.
The Secretary-General regularly sends the G8 leaders a letter ahead of their annual summit, which he usually attends. Last year, before the summit in Gleneagles, Scotland, he called on them to rise to the challenges before them and provide leadership on a raft of issues, from improving the lot of Africa’s poor to combating terrorism to countering global warming.