Foreign Aid and Climate Change, with Nobel Prize Winner John Sulston

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GEG Seminar Series: Foreign Aid and Climate Change

1) Sir Tim Lankester, Sir Ivor Crewe, and John Toye: When Aid Goes Wrong: British Foreign Aid and the Pergau Dam Affair

At the joint GEG-BSG seminar on 1 February 2013, Sir Tim Lankester gave a fascinating account of the Pergau dam, the most controversial project in 50 years of British aid.  Fallout from the Pergau scandal led to an unprecedented overhaul of British foreign aid. Sir Tim, Permanent Secretary of Britain’s aid agency at the time of the Pergau project, had a ringside seat.  With remarkable honesty and humility, he shared personal and academic reflections about the project and how the personalities involved shaped the affair.  He drew lessons and candidly discussed the broader questions about whistle-blowing and accountability raised by the affair.

Professor John Toye and Sir Ivor Crewe, his discussants, both complimented Sir Tim for a dispassionate, balanced, and detailed account about a very bad piece of government. Professor Toye noted that in his work on the Pergau affair for the National Audit Office, it was clear that firms had been ruthless in their lobbying.  Regulatory capture is still a serious concern today; transparency and limits on the ‘revolving door’ between the civil service and industry are crucial.

Sir Ivor distinguished policy failure from bad governance, and argued that Pergau was certainly bad governance, but was it a policy failure? Not entirely.  It was a failure for the ODA and possibly for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. It was not, however, a failure for the Defence Secretary or the Prime Minister. For Sir Ivor, it was the steps taken to limit the damage – or limit the appearance of wrongdoing – that are most troubling, as they illuminate how easily the culture of a ministry can lead ministers and civil servants to become too cavalier. Former senior officials from the ODA and the Department for International Development were in the audience and contributed to a lively question and answer period on civil service, foreign aid, and how best to protect against ‘regulatory capture’ and cavalier ‘culture’ in a ministry.

2) Dieter Helm, Cameron Hepburn, and Robert Falkner: Tackling Climate Change: is it time to give up on a multilateral solution?

This year, thousands of diplomats, NGOs, companies, and others will again try to negotiate a legally binding global deal on emissions, despite the dismal record of the Kyoto Protocol. Why? Outside of a multilateral agreement, what tools, if any, do other actors possess to influence the actions of the US and China (together accounting for over 40% of global emissions)? It has been suggested that focusing on a few major emitters or specific policies and using those as “building blocks” might offer a more pragmatic approach to reducing emissions.  But some of the vocal opponents to this approach are the world’s poorest countries, who bear scant responsibility for climate change, yet will face the most severe effects. Would a fragmented approach take away the modicum of bargaining leverage that the multilateral framework affords them?

3) Nobel Prize Winner John Sulston: People and the Planet: How can we all live and flourish on a finite Earth?

The 21st century is a critical period for people and the planet. The global population reached 7 billion during 2011 and the United Nations projections indicate that it will reach between 8 and 11 billion by 2050. Human impact on the Earth raises serious concerns; this report addresses three principal challenges.

First, the world’s 1.3 billion poorest people need to be raised out of extreme poverty. This is critical to reducing global inequality, and to ensuring the wellbeing of all people. It will require increased per capita consumption for this group, allowing improved nutrition and healthcare, and reduction in family size in countries with high fertility rates.

Second, in the most developed and the emerging economies unsustainable consumption must be urgently reduced. This will entail scaling back or radical transformation of damaging material consumption and emissions and the adoption of sustainable technologies, and is critical to ensuring a sustainable future for all.

Third, global population growth needs to be slowed and stabilised, but this should by no means be coercive. A large unmet need for contraception remains in both developing and developed countries.

There are opportunities to reframe the relationship between people and the planet, including the discussions at the UN General Assembly revisiting the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD+20) scheduled for 2014/2015 and the review of the Millennium Development Goals in 2015. Successfully reframing this relationship will open up a prosperous and flourishing future, for present and future generations.