A New Agenda for Davos

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As Prime Minister Vladimir Putin prepares to address the opening of the World Economic Forum in Davos on Wednesday, the world looks a gloomy and uncertain place. Every day the prospects for the global economy look bleaker. Russia, now firmly integrated into the world economic system, has found itself not immune to this crisis.

In every crisis, however, there is opportunity. If we have the courage to learn the lessons of the last 18 months and put them into practice beyond the economic sphere, we can put in place new foundations to reshape our world for the better.

The roots of this crisis go beyond an abject failure of financial governance and neglect of warnings of the risks being run. Connections between economies have been revealed that were clearly not fully understood, let alone regulated. There may have been endless talk of globalization, but it is very clear there has been a lack of recognition of what this means for us all.

We have now learned decisively that no country -- no matter how powerful or prosperous -- can control the forces of globalization on its own. The lack of inclusive processes and institutions needed to manage the risks and ensure all gain from the benefits has also been exposed.

There has been co-ordinated action to protect the financial system from collapse, to try to stimulate the global economy and find new rules and structures to prevent this disaster being repeated. But while the Group of 20 is a better and more legitimate forum than the G8, it does not go far enough to give the poor and excluded a voice. After all, they are the ones most affected by the decisions made.

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The real lesson of the past year is the urgent need to build on and extend this multilateral approach. It means accepting that the rich and powerful alone can no longer rule the world.

It means, too, recognizing that the only lasting and effective solutions to the challenges we face will be those that have the security, opportunity and welfare of all at their heart. No one's stability, security and prosperity can be guaranteed unless we strive to tackle the gross inequality of wealth, opportunity and influence in our world.

What is needed is a fundamental change of mindset. Solutions to the financial crisis must look beyond the impact on the market, financial institutions and developed countries. They must also focus on jobs, family incomes and the effect of the slowdown on the poorest countries. Market forces are the engine for economic growth, but they need to be well regulated to ensure fairness and equal opportunity for all.

Governments must also look beyond their borders and at the long-term picture. Richer countries can not use the excuse of tighter finances to renege on their aid promises to the poorest on the planet. As global trade contracts and protectionist instincts are emboldened, the danger is that those least responsible for the present crisis will be hardest hit.

Africa's progress, in particular, is under threat. We need not just to continue but to increase support as promised to help the continent overcome its problems. Development aid must be targeted at encouraging long-term economic growth, good governance and human development as well as immediate crises. We need a uniquely green revolution in Africa, transforming every aspect of farming to ensure food security.

It is Africa -- and the developing world as a whole -- which will also be hit hardest by climate change. We can waste no time. Only by working together can we hand over a healthy and sustainable planet to future generations. There must be a radical, effective and universal agreement at Copenhagen this year based on climate justice and the principle that the polluter pays.

The developed economies must accept their responsibilities to our planet and future generations. They must take the lead in cutting their emissions. They must also fund the transfer of knowledge needed to help the rest of the world to grow their economies sustainably and to adapt to the inevitable change in our climate already underway.

The consequences for our children if we fail to rise to this challenge are immense. Breaking our addiction to fossil fuels and investing in green technologies will also help us deliver energy security, jobs, prosperity and sustainable economic growth.

This will, however, require robust and inclusive global economic, financial and political institutions. We need fundamental reform to involve a far wider range of countries and voices meaningfully in decision-making. Without this, the solutions reached will neither match the scale of the problems nor have the legitimacy to be effective. As the woeful international response to the conflicts in the Middle East and elsewhere highlights, our structures are at present incapable of meeting the challenges of today, let alone tomorrow.

The new U.S. administration under President Barack Obama gives us hope that, in all of these areas, progress can be made. But other governments and actors must play their part in building on this momentum. At Davos, business and political leaders must show they understand that our world has shifted for good and that we have to change with it or perish.

Kofi Annan, secretary-general of the United Nations from 1997 to 2006, is chairman of the Kofi Annan Foundation and co-chair of the World Economic Forum's 2009 annual meeting.