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Ways to fix the world’s problems

18 June 2021

Co-operation between nations is needed to tackle global challenges, says Gordon Brown


President Biden speaks during a virtual climate summit, in April, in preparation for COP26, to be held in Glasgow, in November

President Biden speaks during a virtual climate summit, in April, in preparation for COP26, to be held in Glasgow, in November

THE Methodist Church has argued in its new project, Walking with Micah: Methodist principles for social justice, for a society that welcomes the stranger; a society where the poorest and most marginalised are at the centre; a planet where our environment is renewed. To achieve that, we need a new commitment to economic and environmental justice, and we’ve got to avoid a two-speed global economy in which rich and poor countries diverge.

We need global fiscal and monetary co-ordination to ensure balanced growth; debt restructuring to enable low-income countries to recover; and concerted investment in infrastructure that, as the IMF has shown, would, if synchronised, add a massive one trillion dollars — indeed, perhaps two trillion — to world economic output.

At least half of that new investment should be directed towards job creation in the green economy of renewable energy, energy efficiency, sustainable transport, and regenerative agriculture. Such an agreement at the G20 in Italy could be the starting point for a successful COP26 climate-change summit in Glasgow.


IT IS great news that 60 per cent of countries now have some sort of net-zero carbon goal, and companies and charities have also made net-zero carbon targets. But the commitments — and particularly the near-term commitments for the 2020s — that the largest countries have made are sadly not nearly sufficient to limit warming to the 1.5º promised in the Paris Climate Agreement.

So, all of us, over the next few weeks, will have to play our part in raising COP26’s level of ambition: first, by proposing tougher near-term carbon-reduction targets, and, second, by making good the promises made to low-income countries and the coastal states that would assist their transition to green economies. I set out most of these proposals in my book Seven Ways to Change the World.

One of my most ambitious aims — and that of the Methodists — is a world that actively works for peace. The long-postponed review of the Non-Proliferation Treaty is to be held in August. Our aim must be to halt what is becoming a new nuclear-arms race involving the United States, Russia, and China, and also address the very real risk that up to half a dozen Middle Eastern powers, such as Saudi Arabia — not just Iran — will seek, at some point soon, to become nuclear-weapon states.

When running for office, President Biden offered his support for a ban on nuclear tests, and an end to the enrichment of uranium and plutonium. Mindful also of his promise to reduce the part played by nuclear weapons in defence strategies, he has also set the scene for what I believe should be a historic offer to nuclear-weapons powers: that all declare that they will not ever use nuclear weapons first, and that they will never use them at all unless attacked by nuclear weapons.

Such a nuclear-weapons policy, which is often called “sole purpose”, or “no first use”, would end talk of proliferation, and slow — indeed, put into reverse — the nuclear-arms race; and it can be done.


THIS is where I want to conclude: the power of hope. Hope is more than the absence of despair. It is hope that provides us, as human beings, not just with the energy to get things done, but with purpose and a sense of direction. It is a bridge between what we are and what we have in ourselves to become.

As it has been put by a French writer, an individual can survive for 40 days without food, eight days without water, eight minutes without air, but not for a second without hope. Immanuel Kant, when asked what were the three biggest questions in life for anybody seeking a meaningful existence, said that the first would be to know who I am; the second would be to know what I can do; but the third, for him, was “For what may I hope?”

Growing up in a small industrial town in Fife, in Scotland, as the son of a Presbyterian minister, I was taught early on the words of one biblical text, and soon knew it off by heart: “Those that have hope shall renew their strength. They shall take wings as eagles. They shall run and not be weary: they shall walk and not faint.” These word have stayed with me ever since, about the power of hope, and the energy, and direction, and sense of purpose that it gives you.


Gordon Brown is a former Prime Minister. This is an edited extract from the Methodist Justice Lecture, which he delivered online, on Sunday evening. The full lecture is available to watch on the Methodist Church YouTube channel.

Seven Ways to Change the World: How to fix the most pressing problems we face, by Gordon Brown is published by Simon & Schuster UK at £25 (Church Times Bookshop £22.50).

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