Conferences

2005 G8 Pre-Summit Conference

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Can G8 Scotland Change the World

First Minister Jack McConnell

I'm very pleased to be able to speak to you at the opening of such an important conference and outline Scotland's hopes and ambitions for the G8 Summit.

I am delighted to welcome you to Scotland – this is a great time for you to be here.

Six years ago Scotland underwent the biggest constitutional change for 300 years with the devolution of legislative and administrative power from the UK parliament in Westminster. Whilst remaining part of the United Kingdom, we have powers over our domestic affairs, the power to create laws and run our own public services and justice systems.

With the consent of the Scottish people we enhanced our democracy. And I believe that democratic renewal is invigorating Scotland economically, socially and culturally. And with devolution, our international profile and our international activity have, too, been rejuvenated.

In those six years there have been considerable challenges internationally. Climate change, terrorism and desperate poverty provide a backdrop that presents challenges for all of us in our day to day lives.

While the powers of devolution have meant that we have power over our domestic affairs, I have always believed there is a duty at every level of government to be outward looking and be aware of our place and our responsibilities in the wider world.

Scotland is proud that the G8 leaders will be meeting here in seven days time. And we will be even more proud if the decisions made on Scottish soil help change the future of our world.

G8 Scotland could help transform Africa from a continent where thousands of children die needlessly every day, to one where young people can flourish in peace and prosperity.

So, I'd like to speak today about the immediate challenge facing the G8 in Africa.

In particular, I'd like to focus on three things:

  1. Firstly, I'd like to spell out what I believe the G8's responsibilities to the developing world should be.
  2. Secondly, I'd like to say something about what we in Scotland are doing to help in the international aid effort in Africa
  3. Thirdly, I'd like to elaborate on what I believe we in the developed world can all learn and gain from our involvement in Africa.

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Climate Change

But before I do that, I'd like to consider, briefly, the other issue for discussion at G8 Scotland. Climate change.

We in Scotland are proud of our record so far on climate change. We know it isn't enough, but we do know we must help to create an economy and society less reliant on carbon.

We are contributing to the UK's Kyoto target. We take our responsibilities to reduce carbon emissions very seriously. We have set a very challenging target of generating 40 per cent of our electricity from renewable resources. And we are on track to meet it.

However, we know tackling this problem needs global attention. No one country acting alone can make a significant difference.

Over the next 25 years the world's energy needs are set to increase by 60 per cent. That increase will be driven to a large extent by people in the developing world – and, if we really are to make poverty history, we have to ensure that the developing world gets its rightful share of the world's energy.

On the other hand, climate change hits the poorest hardest, although it is a global problem that will impact on lives of every one of us. And it requires leadership from the top to bring about real changes in behaviours across the world.

G8 Scotland can build the international consensus and examine the technological advances which will help. We hope they will do so.

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G8 and Africa – a moral responsibility

African development has been considered many times before by the G8. Some might argue that this consideration has had little effect.

There have, of course, been recent ground breaking international agreements.

The Millennium Development Goals were an outstanding commitment for the world to make at the turn of this millennium.

But, every one of us knows that those promises have meant little so far to the vast majority of people in Africa. There has been little development, and disease and hunger still prevail.

Next week, I believe that the G8 has a moral responsibility to re-commit to those Millennium Development Goals, and put in place the means for delivering them.

Global security and peace are in all our interests – and that will only be achieved if we eliminate poverty, and work towards a more evenly distributed pattern of economic development around the world.

This isn't a question of securing further economic gain for an already rich West.

This isn't about investing now to create new business partners that we can exploit in the long run.

It's about right and wrong.

In the 21st century, we cannot, and must not, stand by and witness the horrors that are unfolding in Africa each day - the terrible poverty; the thousands of infants and mothers dying at birth; and the children dying from treatable diseases that their ill-nourished bodies cannot withstand.

We all know the figures. But they do not fail to horrify.

In Africa today:

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G8 and increased aid

I know there are some who argue that the G8 cannot solve these problems by increasing the amount of money we give in aid.

I know there are some who argue that money will be wasted or misused.

But, there is compelling research by the World Bank and others suggesting that there is a clear link between aid and economic growth in developing countries.

Aid has transformed agriculture in many countries, bringing modern techniques and innovations, improving the lives of millions of people. Aid has strengthened public institutions and policies so that public services can be more effectively delivered. And aid has helped to ensure the education and health of so many children - helping to secure a better future for them and their countries.

There's no doubt that we can get better at providing aid – monitoring it closely, in a way that doesn't put an administrative burden on governments that receive it.

There is a history of donor arrogance and of not paying enough attention to the economic and social programmes of developing governments.

There's no doubt that we need to work more closely with governments as a coherent group of G8 countries.

Whatever we do, we must work with the grain - and respect the dignity of our partners.

By doing do they will begin to build up capacity and see the kind of results that we would all like over the long term.

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International debt

I welcome the agreement on multilateral debt made by the G8 finance Ministers earlier this month.

This is an important step forward.

We all know that eradicating the debt of the most indebted developing countries alone, will not solve Africa's problems. But while there are countries paying more to service debt re-payments than to fund education and health services, there is little chance of the millennium goals ever being met.

And we don't want to see a situation where we end the developing countries' debt to multilateral institutions by using aid money to service this debt ourselves.

It is crucial that the total amount of money to developing countries is increased as part of this deal.

Only then will developing countries genuinely have access to the resources they need to make a difference in health, in education and in the fight against poverty.

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Fair Trade

Above all, our efforts should be about helping the developing world help itself.

Ultimately it will be economic growth that pulls people out of poverty.

Developing countries need to live within their own means, to grow their own economy, and to tackle their own poverty. They need more private enterprise, better business skills and a fair chance to use them.

That's why the G8 – and later this year the World Trade Organisation – must do more to remove barriers to trade for developing countries and to help create the economic stability that every one of those countries needs.

Developing countries have many important trading advantages – important natural resources in many economies, plenty of able and willing workers and products that we in the West want.

But, too many markets remain protected from developing country products.

And cheap products are dumped on world markets that can depress world prices to the detriment of the poorest farmer or producer.

That is a challenge for the G8 who should provide leadership now before the WTO meets in Hong Kong in the autumn.

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Commission for Africa

This is a big agenda. But times can change.

Solving the problems of African nations is not the most difficult task facing the G8 leaders. Global terrorism, religious intolerance and climate change are incredibly difficult challenges with no clear answers.

Africa is different. We know what we need to do, we just need the will to do it.

Prime Minister Tony Blair's Commission for Africa Report has made it crystal clear. The Commission for Africa Report says that the developed world must get behind Africa's efforts – with one great push on many fronts at once. On aid, debt and trade. And more than that too.

Africa must be led by Africans. To build capacity in African systems and build systems of good governance.

There must be greater transparency and accountability; and African institutions such as trade unions, media organisations, and the judiciary need strengthened.

Peace and stability are a precondition for progress and much can be done to prevent and solve conflict.

There must be investment in people – in their health and their education to deliver the most basic of human rights to all throughout the continent.

And chances for economic growth must be created, with investment in infrastructure, fairer trade rules - and ultimately much greater stimulus investment from the developed world.

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What Scotland is doing

We all know that G8 Scotland is a timely opportunity for the world's most powerful countries to work on all these fronts.

Scotland is the ideal location for these discussions to take place.

We have a proud history of supporting change in Africa.

Modern Scotland is part of the UK and therefore part of the G8 and we are making our views known. We have raised our voice in Scotland and joined the global movement that is using people power to put pressure on the G8 leaders.

As you know, Scots contribute significantly through the work of the UK government and their International Development strategies. And the UK's commitment to African development has been vastly increased since 1997.

But the UK can contribute more still. And we in devolved Scotland can play a specific role too.

Our devolved government's international development strategy focuses on the powers of devolution, and on the practical things that we can do at the sharp end of world poverty. We are a small country. Ultimately our contribution is only a tiny drop compared to the scale of the problems.

Nevertheless, we believe we can help make a difference. We are focusing our efforts on one small part of Africa – Malawi.

Historical links between our two countries are strong. We are developing a bilateral relationship, and making links and connections at every level of Scottish and Malawian society.

Malawi is just one tiny part of the African continent. But the story there is the story of Africa.

Five years ago, life expectancy was 42 in Malawi. Now it is 37 and expected to drop to 35 by 2010.

It is a country that is being crippled by a lack of healthcare, with 200 to 300 healthcare workers dying each year from AIDS.

And international trade is weighted against Malawi's economy - and is undermining their agricultural cash crops.

Scotland's international development work focuses on areas where we really can help - in health, education and economic development..

Good public services are crucial if Africa is to overcome the disease and extreme poverty that destroys so many lives. That means investment in people and equipment.

Our aim is to help our schools, colleges, health professionals and others establish lasting working relationships with their Malawian counterparts.

Our approach will involve establishing partnerships at every level between Scotland and Malawi - to help build the capacity that's needed for Malawi to flourish over the longer term.

At an event like this, just before G8 Scotland, it is perhaps natural to think that there's not a lot in this for developed countries.

We constantly think of this comparison between the developed and developing world as one where life in the developing world is somehow less fulfilling.

But the truth is that, despite our advances – ours remains a wasteful, greedy and materialistic society.

Increasingly, we are coming to realise that rampant consumerism and 'must haves' lead to huge waste, and don't necessarily lead to happiness and fulfilment across our society.

I visited Malawi last month and what struck me most of all, was that despite the extreme poverty, despite the hunger, and the very real threat of killer diseases like HIV, TB and Malaria, the people of Malawi revealed a warmth, a generosity and a spirit of optimism . They are talented, creative people - and they deserve a better chance to contribute to our world.

It is a pity that, despite all our material advances in the West, we do not display the same resilience, the same eagerness for education and the same level optimism that the people of Africa so obviously have.

I believe we will have as much to gain from Africa - as Africa will from us.

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Conclusion

There is one week to go.

This conference is a regular part of the G8 proceedings, and the sharing of knowledge and analysis is an important part of the G8 process. Ultimately leaders must make decisions on the basis of evidence. And your deliberations of the next few days are an important part of that process.

In seven days time G8 Scotland begins, and the world leaders who gather in Perthshire have a decision to make.

The challenges of disease, famine and poverty in Africa demand resources from the rich world and the use of our skills and imagination to devise sustainable solutions.

But much more than that. They require political will.

If the G8 leaders have political will they can save millions of lives and change the future of the African continent.

At this unique time, in this special location, Scotland wants them to show leadership.

And I hope they have the moral and the political courage to do so.

Two hundred years ago, ideas developed here in Scotland helped to transform the world. The writings of Adam Smith and David Hume, the advances in medicine and science, and many more developments helped shape the 19th and 20th Centuries.

It would be truly memorable if G8 Scotland helped shape the 21st Century – making poverty history and creating a safer, cleaner and more prosperous world.

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