Opportunities and Challenges in the Era of Polycrisis
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December 13, 2022
The Empire Club of Canada Presents
Opportunities and Challenges in the Era of Polycrisis
Chairman: Sal Rabbani, President, Board of Directors, Empire Club of Canada
Leslie Woo, CEO, CivicAction
Distinguished Guest Speakers
Achim Steiner, Administrator, United Nations Development Program
Rhonda Lenton, PhD, President & Vice-Chancellor, York University
Head Table Guests
Dr. George L. Cooke, Chair of the Board of Directors, OMERS Administration Corporation; Past Board President, Empire Club of Canada
The Honourable Elizabeth Dowdeswell, Lieutenant Governor of Ontario
Dr. John Kirton, Director, G7 Research Group, G20 Research Group, BRICS Research Group, Professor Emeritus, Political Science, University of Toronto
James Orbinski, Director, Dahdaleh Institute for Global Health Research, Professor, School of Global Health, York University, Professor (Adjunct), Clinical Public Health, University of Toronto Dalla Lana School of Public Health
Val Ramanand, CEO, TBM Service Group, Solaris Robots, Airport and Aviation Services Canada
Julia Zhang, President & CEO, JD Development Group
It is a great honour for me to be here at the Empire Club of Canada today, which is arguably the most famous and historically relevant speaker’s podium to have ever existed in Canada. It has offered its podium to such international luminaries as Winston Churchill, Ronald Reagan, Audrey Hepburn, the Dalai Lama, Indira Gandhi, and closer to home, from Pierre Trudeau to Justin Trudeau; literally generations of our great nation's leaders, alongside with those of the world's top international diplomats, heads of state, and business and thought leaders.
It is a real honour and distinct privilege to be invited to speak to the Empire Club of Canada, which has been welcoming international diplomats, leaders in business, and in science, and in politics. When they stand at that podium, they speak not only to the entire country, but they can speak to the entire world.
Welcome Address by Sal Rabbani, President, Board of Directors, Empire Club of Canada
Good afternoon. Welcome to the 119th season of the Empire Club of Canada. To our in-person attendees joining us at the Arcadian Court in Toronto, I'm delighted to be here with you today. And to our virtual audience joining in live or on demand, thank you for your participation and support. This incredible community of colleagues and peers is the driving force behind our mandate to engage, debate, educate, and advance the dialogue on issues of importance to Canadians. Welcome. My name is Sal Rabbani, and I'm the President of the Board of Directors of the Empire Club of Canada.
To formally begin this afternoon, I would like to acknowledge that we are gathering today on the traditional and treaty lands of the Mississaugas of the Credit, and the homelands of the Anishinaabe, the Haudenosaunee, and the Wyandot Peoples. We encourage everyone to learn more about the traditional territory on which you work and live.
As President of the Empire Club, my goal is to extend our reach to include the rising stars of our generation. Today, we're proud to host students from York University, Toronto Metropolitan University, and the University of Toronto. You are the leaders of tomorrow, and your participation is critical to shaping Canada's institutions and thought leadership toward a brighter future. You'll find that a brighter future is possible if we take shared responsibility for reducing poverty, developing inclusive societies, and being thoughtful about how our cities and industries impact the environment. I hope you will find insight in today's conversation about where you can begin to take responsibility and shape a better world.
Turning to today's program, I want to recognize the Empire Club's distinguished past presidents, many of whom are in the room today, board of directors, staff and volunteers. Thank you for your contributions to making this event a success. And welcome to our special guests sitting with us today, The Honourable Elizabeth Dowdeswell, Lieutenant Governor Ontario. Thank you, Your Honour.
The Empire Club of Canada is a not-for-profit organization, and we'd like to recognize our sponsors who generously support the club and make these events possible and complimentary for our online viewers to attend. Thank you to our lead event sponsor, York University; thank you to our VIP reception sponsor, Toronto Metropolitan University; and thank you to our supporting sponsor, Trinity College, University of Toronto; thank you also to our season sponsors, Bruce Power and Hydro One.
For those joining us online, if you require technical assistance, please start a conversation with our team using the chat button on the right-hand side of your screen. We're accepting questions from the audience for our speakers. You can scan that QR code found on your program booklet, or through the Q&A under the video player. It is now my pleasure to invite Rhonda Lenton, President and Vice Chancellor, York University, to introduce our guest speaker. Rhonda, welcome, and thank you very much.
Opening Remarks by Rhonda Lenton, PhD, President & Vice-Chancellor, York University
So, good afternoon, everyone, bonjour, boozhoo. As the President and Vice-Chancellor of York University, and one of the lead sponsors for today's event, I am delighted to be able to welcome you all here today. To be among distinguished guests, colleagues, and friends of the Empire Club is a welcome opportunity. And I look forward to hearing from our keynote speaker, and being part of the discussion that will ensue. Scientific evidence paints a compelling picture of the damaging and irreversible effects of climate change on the planet. Political polarization, war, and conflict, and the pervasive inequality experienced by women, newcomers, Black, Indigenous, and other racialized peoples, continues to perpetuate harmful divisions that may reverse decades of progress. And global health crises, such as COVID-19 and antimicrobial resistance, are challenging equitable and affordable healthcare, and severely impacting our most vulnerable populations and countries. These global challenges are critical inflection points in society, and our response to them will determine the future wellbeing of people and the planet.
A strong theme that has been raised by our keynote speaker is the importance of stronger and inclusive multilateralism. While this tends to be used in reference to an alliance of multiple countries pursuing a common goal, the principle is equally important for cross-sector collaboration. And higher education has an essential role to play in working with the private sector, non-profits, and governments, in tackling the problems facing the world right now. At York, our vision is to offer a broad demographic of students access to a high-quality university that is research-intensive, and that is committed to driving positive change. Therefore, at the center of our University Academic Plan is a challenge to elevate our contributions to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. And we're proud of the fact that we are ranked 33rd in the world in the Times Higher Education Impact Rankings for our contributions to advancing the SDG's. We do that through a combination of our academic programs, driving the talent needed for tomorrow, through our research, our innovation, and our own campus operations.
Our commitment to achieving carbon neutrality before 2049, with the establishment of an expanded Office of Sustainability and a recent commitment to set aside a million dollars to incentivize sustainability initiatives across the campus that, hopefully, will lead to larger projects. Through our organized research units, we have established One WATER, a new center of excellence that leverages artificial intelligence and other technologies to address the ongoing water sustainability crises, and led by Director James Orbinski, who's at our table today.
The Dahdaleh Institute for Global Health Research brings together researchers, policymakers, and community partners from around the world, to address and translate the most urgent global health challenges of our time, through policy and practice. In other areas, our York researchers—many of whom are around this table over here—are driving innovation in areas that will help us better understand and protect the planet's biodiversity, promote green energy solutions, and a reduction in greenhouse gases, through innovations such as electric vehicles; remove harmful contaminants from our oceans and drinking water, particularly in remote and Indigenous communities; and support the development of disaster and risk management policies and tactics that can be applied worldwide. And we are also strengthening strategic partners, locally and around the globe, to help us advance these important contributions. Including, in Costa Rica; we have a campus, and we work with the community in advancing grassroots education and awareness programs that will help empower communities to protect, restore, and promote sustainable use of our forests and lands.
We have another opportunity here today to build connections, to explore transformative solutions, to mitigate the threats facing people and the earth, and to support a more equitable and sustainable world. So, without further ado, I would like to introduce our keynote speaker, Dr. King Steiner, a well-known environmentalist, and currently serving as the administrator of the United Nations Development Program, who I fully expect will leave all of us with a renewed sense of purpose after today. Thank you so much, merci, miigwech.
Achim Steiner, Administrator, United Nations Development Program
Sorry, this was the toll of arriving late on the plane—that the papers are not quite in the order, but here we are. Your Honour, Lieutenant Governor of Ontario—my dear friend, also—Liz, to the President of the Empire Club, to the Board of Directors, distinguished guests, dear colleagues, what an honour to be here in Toronto, and to have been invited to address you in a tradition that I understand is almost 120 years old here in Toronto, namely that the Empire Club convenes conversations, dialogues, invites speakers, and reflects on what's next. And certainly, with a track record of well over a century, this is obviously an extremely proud tradition, that I'm very honoured you have also given me, today, an opportunity to address you.
So, we have very little time, because we really want to have more of an interactive session. So, let me try and do the impossible and quickly share with you the insights. If you want from ground zero, in an analogous sense of what is happening to the world right now, which is not pretty. It's complicated. It's messy. We are, in a sense, a world disrupted. We are a world under stress, we are distressed. And in so many ways, what we're experiencing right now, as a global family of now 8 billion citizens since a few weeks ago—we just had the eight billionth person born on the planet—in the sense of our current population, really is not one that gives us much confidence. The UNDP Human Development Report when it was written for this year—and I urge you if you have an opportunity to have a look at it—it is the most widely read reflection on where the state of development of humanity is today.
Profound in that report was a finding that six out of seven citizens feel insecure. Worse than that, we are losing trust. Losing trust in each other, losing trust in our neighbours, losing trust in our institutions, losing trust in the future. This is the generation that lives in an era that, basically, you can summarize by saying we are the wealthiest generation ever. We have the greatest amount of science at our disposal to think about what's next. Whether antimicrobial resistance, or indeed dealing with the pandemic, where it took us less than 14 months to come up with a vaccine. We live in a technologically advanced era, where not just AI, and the cyber universe, and digital are simply taking us into entirely new frontiers.
We are probably close to being able to envisage a world in which access to energy and electricity will no longer have anything to do with things we dig up from the ground, that ultimately have caused us often a great deal of grief, a great deal of wealth also generated on the back of it, but ultimately taking us to the precipice where we are today. Namely, eight years away from essentially not being able to give our children even a fleeting chance of living in a world with global warming below 1.5 degrees. This is extremely serious. And so, whether it is conflict, whether it's climate, whether it's COVID-19, or whether it is the cost of living crisis that just in the last few weeks, again—and months—has illustrated how much things that happen in one part of the world can translate immediately into impacts in an entirely different part of the world; are a reminder that when I describe a world disrupted and in distress, it's not just statistics, it's not just the empirical evidence. It is the very real experience of literally hundreds of millions of people.
Polycrisis is one way of describing this perfect storm, or what a terrible moment in history. I mean, there are many ways in which we can describe this—and I want to apologize, Polycrisis is simply one of those terms that carries with it an element of intellectual fervor, but also captures a little bit a moment in time. Because this is not just another crisis following on another crisis. This is all of it happening at the same time. And happening to all of us in a strange sort of way that we have often envisaged could happen in the future. That was the science fiction of the 21st century, pandemics, cyber warfare. Well, we're living right in the middle of it. And on top of that, with the reality of climate change now reminding us that we almost have lost control of something that is fundamental to at least an equitable way of looking to the future.
Let me introduce another complex term that I found intriguing—and to any geoscientists in the audience, I ask for forgiveness, because the scientific community is still debating its validity, its veracity—but it's essentially the transition. And I find it important to think of it in epochal terms, what is happening right now. It's the transition from the Holocene to what is now often invoked as a new concept, namely the Anthropocene, the age of humans. The moment when this planet truly has become increasingly the product of human actions. Decisions taken—with increasing information and intelligence available—with growing ignorance about the degree to which we are actually undermining the very fabric of life.
And as I speak, just to the east, no, to the west of you, no, to the east of you in Montréal—I was just thinking, where am I looking—Canada is hosting COP15, the Convention on Biological Diversity. Essentially, everything that grows, breathes on this planet, that keeps us alive. Whether through clean air, through food, just understanding soil fertility—something that most of us just take for granted, because we just walk on it every day—we tarmac it. We consider it to be one of those free goods that the environment provides. And whatever we do with it, there is no consequence, no cost. All of this is essentially taking us to the point where we live at a moment in time where we are understanding the extent and the degree to which we are causing destruction.
So, in some ways, the notion of living in the age of the Anthropocene derives, first of all, from that realization. But equally—and in my mind, much more important—is actually the other half of that story. That this is the most privileged generation ever to live on planet Earth. Privileged, not in terms of wealth alone, but in terms of possibilities. It is actually the age of possibility. Imagine to, perhaps, a woman who lives in Kenya—where both you, Lieutenant Governor, and I have spent years of our lives, called it home—you, at a time when a Kenyan woman would never have been able to, in general terms, to even open a bank account. She would have no track record financially; she would probably not have a land title; she would not even be really taken seriously as an entrepreneur by a bank, because banks didn't deal with women. And they certainly didn't deal with people who didn't have a financial track record, didn't have a house to secure a loan.
Fast forward to the year 2022. There are 18-year-old women traders in the markets across Kenya today, who borrow in the morning on their smartphone a microloan in order to buy, for example, produce in the wholesale market, take it to the village, sell it, and repay the loan in the evening. Digital Economy at work; financial inclusion at work; Fintech having brought hundreds of millions of women into our financial system. And we're not even beginning to talk about AI yet, and everything else that is knocking on the door. So, between that technological realm of possibility and the extraordinary ingenuity of nature, that we are only just really unraveling in the sense of discovering what it means to industrial design, to the materials of the future. There are extraordinary possibilities.
And yet, here we are, meeting in December of the year 2022. We look at the state of the world, what do we see? We are struggling to respond. You saw the world come together again at COP 27 on climate change. We barely made progress, except on one issue that is symbolically an advance, the loss and damage discussion, for years and years stuck, but essential on advancing accelerating ambition. That COP did not find a world ready to come together around the table. It's distracted, it's distressed, and it is foregoing possibilities to act together.
But you know, it's happening to us in the G20 as well. The G20 is barely functional at the moment, in the midst of an extraordinary economic crisis that is unfolding. Where more than 54 countries, according to our latest analysis, are now one step away from being debt distressed. Meaning, one step away from not being able to pay the interest on their loans anymore. Become countries, such as Sri Lanka, that may have to default, with all the catastrophic consequences that implies. The UN Security Council, you've seen it in the glaring light of our public scrutiny of how we struggle to fulfill that pledge of 1945. But also, the Bretton Woods institutions. Where are they right now? The world is in financial distress. It is close to having significant parts of the poorer world, literally, implode. And all we can offer at the moment are incremental steps that are not solving the problem. And, in some respects, are simply offering countries to borrow more, when they cannot afford to repay even what they have already borrowed.
So, how does that world look to a Canadian? Very briefly, I would venture to say—and forgive me, because I only have a few minutes, it's very oversimplifying—the world out there, it's bad. It's a mess. And it's not looking good. We here in Canada seem to be doing remarkably well, given with everything else that's happening in the world. Remember the financial crisis? Canada kind of managed to get through that better than most other countries. The pandemic was traumatic. But not traumatizing to the point of what we witnessed in other societies that, literally, almost fell apart over the response of how to deal with COVID-19. And so, that sense of, okay, we'll manage, is probably still a prevailing sentiment in Canada. And I salute you forward, because it speaks to the extraordinary spirit, the resilience, and perhaps also the clarity of who you, as Canadians, believe you are.
But let me tell you, as you look inwards for reassurance, do not underestimate what the implications of what is happening outside will be to Canada. It is one of the strange phenomena, that at the moment in time, when we have more reasons to actually believe in what our predecessors, when they shaped the idea of the United Nations, for example, after the Second World War, envisaged as a fundamental way of dealing with the risks the uncertainties that develop in the world that is "growing together" (in inverted commas). But right now, what we are witnessing is a growing sense of uncertainty, of insecurity, of lack of trust. Also, of the relationship between governments and citizens being challenged, even in Canada. And the fundamental metric seems to be one of us versus them, however you define it. And this translates all the way into the global arena, where us versus them is the defining narrative of the moment. And at a moment in time when a pandemic should have reminded us, more than anything else, how vulnerable we are to something that begins on a completely other planet, as far as many are concerned, who might live in Ontario, or in Québec, or in other parts of Canada.
Cybercrime, our interdependence in terms of the internet, and all things electronic, data, and information. Where we find ourselves is, if you want, in a moment in time where reality is suggesting to us a fundamental rethink is necessary. But our actions, our political paradigm, simply pulling us in the opposite direction. Nationalism, retreating into our countries, raising walls and fences, is at the forefront of trying to cope with that world out there. And yet, as many of you—otherwise, I imagine, you would not be here at a lunch on this sort of topic—will recognize that actually, the age in which we live is not only the age of the Anthropocene; it is also, if you want, an extraordinary moment of interdependence. Of things being connected in ways that, perhaps, take us closer to biology. The way ecosystems are understood and function. Well, let us understand our social, economic, political, technological systems equally. Not as parallel universes, but in fact, as conditioning each other's future.
In 2015, the 2030 agenda, the Sustainable Development Goals adopted in the United Nations General Assembly, were in fact—in the words of then Secretary General Ban Ki-moon—a declaration of interdependence. I would argue strongly that we need to remind ourselves of how important it is that we find advocates all over the world. In Canada, but also in China, maybe in Chile, or anywhere else in the world. In government and civil society, but also in the private sector and industry. To actually remind ourselves that this is an age of interdependence, on which everything that happens next is pre-conditioned on how we're able to work with others. It is, in that sense, a multilateral moment. Terrible word, multilateralism. It's not something that we all get, in the sense, energized. Maybe soccer, if Canada was still engaged, would be a counterproposition. But, you know, that World Cup is extraordinary, isn't it? The attention it can attract. Eleven men, or a few others, running after a ball, against another group of 11 men running after a ball, and the whole world is mesmerized. What is it that multilateralism does not succeed in conveying that football can? And I'm not here invoking FIFA; I'm saying football.
Let me end by doing something that may surprise you. But it is to suggest that, as we think about the future, perhaps every country needs to do what the 2030 agenda suggested. We need to come back to understanding that the future of development is not only about people in Africa, or Asia, and Latin America. The future of development, the rethinking of development as a narrative, but also as an understanding of the pathways we choose as societies, as economies, need fundamentally to be rethought. Because we need to transform our economies for the 21st century. And because we need to change and re-emphasize the notion not of competition—we will always compete with ideas, with money, with businesses—but actually of cooperation. And more importantly—and also in a city like Toronto, that's why I was so grateful for this invitation—to co-invest in one another. This idea that development cooperation, in the sense of development aid, will save the world, frankly, died many years ago. But development, and the idea of development cooperation as a 21st century platform on which we can do the kinds of co-investments that allow us to have energy transitions. To address the destructive nature of our industrial and seemingly endless appetite for natural resources taking us to the brink, also, in the natural world. All of this taken together, I think, suggests that cooperation and the ability to co-invest will be fundamental to what happens next.
And that is why I find myself in this moment in time. When so many places around the world, development cooperation is being defunded. We are retreating. We are considering our neighbour more our enemy or competitor than our ally in actually transacting the sorts of transformations we need. And I also offer the reflection that—surprising to me—Canada, one of the wealthiest countries in the world, and per capita GNI, actually, to this day, is quite low in the global league table of OECD nations when it comes to ODA. Before the pandemic, just 0.27 percent of the gross national income of Canada is allocated to ODA, or development finance. I think with the current government those numbers are going up, but it's now 0.34. Do we really believe that we can face all of these challenges? Have multilateralism survive, not just in the form of United Nations institutions or the Bretton Woods institutions, but the idea that cooperation trumps competition in this moment. When all we're willing to invest in the rest of the world—the other 7.9 billion people—is 0.3 percent of our own ability to shape the future. It's just one more reminder that we need to, fundamentally, I think, rethink how we de-risk the future. How we need to do that with others, even if we do not always agree with the others. It's not shared values that will define our capacity to work with each other alone. It may sometimes be shared interests, and then shared values might evolve from there. In that spirit, I very much look forward to the questions and the discussions with you. Thank you for inviting me, and thank you for having somebody from the United Nations in your midst, pleading for Canada's voice and engagement in that next generation of multilateralism. Thank you.
Thank you very much, Achim. Today, a respected leader with experience building sustainable communities and shaping urban development is going to guide the discussion on "Opportunities and Challenges in the Era of Polycrisis." As the CEO of CivicAction, Leslie Woo convenes established and rising leaders to bring innovative change to our cities. So, please welcome to the stage Leslie Woo, the CEO of CivicAction. Thank you.
QUESTION & ANSWER
Leslie Woo, CEO, CivicAction
Okay, here we are. You're all comfortable, everything's good? You're, I know you've been traveling a lot. So, maybe, for folks who don't know, I spend a lot of my days actually bringing people together. As you talk about the need for more collaboration—we use the term co-creation. As you have just left COP27 in Egypt and coming here to COP15, what are the most hopeful signs at the scale of the world? I mean, I think you've pointed to the need, where the need is. But whether it is at the UN, nation to nation, on the ground, we see a lot of hope in our rising leaders in the city. And they are, in my mind, the secret to how we move forward. Is there something in your mind from your experiences, just even recently, that—because there's a lot of dark, bad news out there.
Let me just say, also, I am by nature an optimist.
But I also have to admit that I think sometimes we do need to confront the discomfort of reality. Because, particularly in countries such as Canada, it is easy to take one's own reality as essentially a universal reality. And much of what I said just now refers to the risks of living in that kind of...
...let's say—yes, bubble. And realize it may be, in the immediate sense, it is not too many of us who see that there is a future that has a, you know, hundred, two-hundred-year kind of perspective that is there. On climate, in one sense, if history books are written in the year 2100, they will be, I think, written in two ways. One, what an extraordinary failure. Because we ended up in a world that could have avoided where we are getting to. On the other hand, wasn't it extraordinary, in the first 20 years of the 21st century, an energy revolution began unfolding. And that is the truth. I mean, today, you will be surprised if you heard that well over three quarters of all new electricity-generating infrastructure—some even say it's at 85 percent—that was brought online last year was renewable. I mean, who would have thought that is possible, even if you go five or ten years back?
So, in Sharm el-Sheikh, you saw many arriving with extraordinary breakthroughs, companies, communities, countries. And that, I think, was reassuring. Because it shows that underneath the current geopolitical disruption—and therefore the economic displacement that is likely to come again—from a climate action perspective, you see phenomenal things are happening. The fact that 120 heads of state and government actually traveled to Sharm el-Sheikh was, to me, surprising. And indicative of the fact that the pressure at home is intense. Climate change has not fallen off the domestic political agenda. And the fact that so many turned up is indicative, I think, of that. And we should take note of this, because I think our citizens are capable of not being preoccupied by one topic only. The fact that the media sometimes take three weeks on one topic, to then come back to another one, has become a sort of parallel reality.
Thirdly, we made progress on something that I think is beginning to foreshadow where the world has to, on climate change terms, deal with reality, adaptation, loss, and damage. We are not, anymore, the generation that's talking about the future of climate change. We are the generation that's coping with the beginnings of what is unfolding. And we don't have the instruments. We don't have the international consensus on how to deal with it. And I think in Sharm el-Sheikh, the fact that despite all the tensions and many other things, in the end, an agreement was reached in principle on this loss and damage facility. Should not be overinterpreted, but it should be taken, again, as an interesting indication.
This convention has survived almost 30 years. It also survived the Trump era. It survived, remember the Kyoto Protocol, where the United States never ratified it. This instrument of collaboration, slow as it is, is actually a remarkably resilient platform. And for all the justified critique on the, you know, unbearable slowness with which we are moving forward, it's not the UNFCCC that is the problem. It is the fact that we still think we can transact a problem such as climate change by somehow offloading it onto someone else. And this applies to all the parties. And as long as that is the prevailing attitude, we will go forward in incremental steps, rather than in big pivots.
So, I believe, as a species, we deal best in crisis. We—in theory, right? We step up. When we're not aware, or if a situation is not affecting to us individually, we are less prone to act quickly. In the concept of more multilateral, inter-lateral, it's not—we're not equals. And so, the impacts of crises, it's inequitable, unequal. So, what someone, a citizen in Palau, is experiencing, is not what someone in Vancouver is experiencing. How, aware, do we bring these realities closer together? So, as we're sitting here in this lovely room in Toronto, that we as individuals, or as organizations, really begin to act in a way that is more—in your sense—more collaborative. More—there's nation to nation, there's person to person, community to community. Do you think they're specific at those different scales, different measures? I know there's a lot of collaboration already happening. But it's not enough, and we need more. What's the power boost to get us moving with a sense of urgency?
Well, if you take, for example, something like renewable energy. I mean, just if you take the last 30 years. It began as science fiction; 'you will never be able to power modern 20th century industrialized economies with solar panels and wind power.' Then the issue became one of, essentially, 'well, in theory, it's feasible, but the technology is not mature, we can't really use it.' When that was disproven and we started powering, actually, quite significant communities and then the sectors with it, the argument was, 'no, no, you can't do this because it's too expensive; I mean, we cannot afford it, people will suffer, it's socially inequitable.' When that problem essentially began to be solved—because today, solar, wind, is largely in the world the cheapest per kilowatt hour source of producing electricity—it was the collapse of our grids, because of the intermittent nature of this.
Now, the irony is that while, you know, we always find excuses. It's many different things that changed the paradigm. It was the communities that went ahead and, in any case, built the first maybe wind power generation facility, or put the solar panels on their roofs. Yes, they were more expensive then. But it was also decisions such as—and you can then take it to the national, international level. For Africa, solar power—and that may not surprise those of you who follow us, but for many, it's always a surprise—became affordable, because the Chinese started deploying solar power on a mass scale in their own economy, massively bringing down the cost of solar technology. Suddenly making a technology that, to many Africans 20 years ago, was seen as an obstruction to their development—because it would prevent them from being able to afford access to electricity—to becoming a shortcut to connecting the 600 million African citizens who still don't have access to electricity in this day.
So, I think we need to look across different levels. The world cannot be saved from one end of the equation alone. It's not the General Assembly of the United Nations that has all the answers. It's also not the local mayor, who can transform a community into something that is more like the equitable, sustainable, mini economy of our time. It's how different levels of government. But let me also put here the spotlight a bit more on the key actors in our economy, the private sector writ large. The financial sector, in particular, the consumers, the people who shape the markets. All of these begin to reset the directions in which we consume and produce. And that's why I think this is a project that ultimately depends, first of all, on enlightened citizens. Information is power. And the sense that you understand what is happening is the first step towards becoming engaged. Greta Thunberg, that sat on those steps with that poster, is, to me, the ultimate example of what a person who suddenly gets some information decides, 'this is crazy what is happening; I must do something.' Even if she had no power. Nobody believed in her at that moment. And essentially, was a single act of resistance.
So, we need to connect these dots. And I think that is the moment in time where the instruments of how our economy is run, for example, need to evolve. We have governments, they are essentially custodians of an economic paradigm. The laws of economics often are presented as if they're the equivalent of the laws of physics. They're not. We shape the kind of society we want to be, by the way we tax, or by the way we subsidize, or by the way we say, you know, it's a, you either make it or you lose it economy. We need to change the metrics, also. We still measure the success of our economies in the equivalent of a Stone Age metric, really, when it comes to dealing with the complexities we all deal with every day now. GDP, GNI, the UNDP's Human Development Report 30 years ago was conceived as, in a sense, a challenge to this narrow economic financial interpretation of how you measure development progress. And we are still debating what is the better way to move forward.
We need new metrics; we need new alliances. We need, particularly in the domain of finance and the capital markets, the incentives, the rules, but also the leadership, that finally starts investing at scale in the future of our economy, and not as is still happening, largely, in what is a very comfortable harvesting of a current generation of technologies, a current generation of market players. This is what's holding us back. When you go to a COP in Sharm el-Sheikh, when you go to a COP now in Montréal, here, the Conference of the Parties, behind government negotiators sit very clearly interested parties. Not illegitimate but advocating for the status quo, at the expense of everyone else who will follow us. And that, I think, needs to be addressed more publicly.
So, you segued beautifully into an area, I think, that I'm particularly—want to dig a little deeper about; what I call the pipeline of leadership. And the cultivation of the courage it takes to stand apart from the status quo. And as you stand, you know, at the United Nations, looking at all the countries, we see small countries stepping up—Mia Mottley in Barbados—small countries stepping up; and larger countries who have more wealth, more resource, to your point, less forward. How can we here in Toronto, in Canada, ensure that the next generation of leaders. What is it that we aren't doing, or should be doing more of, to ensure that—what you just described—the ability to have a conversation that's collaborative, the ability to build more trust, is built further into our DNA than we have it now. Because if I hear you correctly, it's a piece of the puzzle that we have not necessarily, I'll call it, invested in, because it doesn't fit on our balance sheet, necessarily.
Well, some people would argue we spend hundreds of millions in business schools, and MBAs, at universities. I think, in part, we have leaders in our society because these institutions do impart knowledge, skills. The question is—and it's been interesting listening, particularly, to the business schools around the world, and the MBA's trying to come to grips, and grapple with this sense of their teaching, essentially, skills that are increasingly out of sync with where they themselves believe the future will be. Foresight, thinking about the future, scenario planning. I mean, there are many ways of describing the eternal wish that we could somehow know what will happen next in the world. But to hone our skills to be able to understand what is likely to happen, or what are possibilities, and then thinking about those, I think that has a lot to do with the education system. So, let's not underestimate what investment in education means.
But education, I think that is increasingly also drawing on, in a sense, a universe of information out there, not just the social networks. I mean, remember a few years ago, we talked about alternative facts? And all of this is part of our, you know, cacophony of signals that we are picking up. We will produce, at the beginning of 2023 next year, a new report that we call Global Signals. We are trying to harvest from—you know, UNDP is the largest presence of the United Nations in the world, and 170 countries. We have 22,000 people, who work with hundreds of thousands of people in our partner organizations. We have now embarked, also, with AI, and with the possibilities that this gives us to try and see if we can assemble, literally, hundreds—and in future, thousands—of signals through people all over the world; and then try and derive from that series of global signals.
In order to better anticipate—I think, to me, the word anticipation is perhaps a more realistic way of talking about what it is that we may wish to home in on, in terms of additional skills. That's one end. The second is what we have observed with young people. You know, it is—and I include myself in this—surprising how much we project when it comes to the issue of climate change onto the youth. The least empowered, the least powerful people in our society, have suddenly become sort of the champions, the light at the end of the tunnel, of maybe, you know, finally getting us over a certain line. What does that tell us? I think that young people need to be empowered. They need to have the ability to exercise what we, in our world, sometimes call agency; not to be there as spectators anymore. And they themselves have said, you know, we're not the generation of the future; we're actually the generation of now. And so, I look to ways in which we can, you know, through our institutions, through the policies, through the way we create space, have, for example, young people, or Indigenous peoples, or rural populations—I mean, you can take this into many different arenas now—to give them more of an opportunity to shape what, ultimately, has to be consensual ways of moving forward.
And to challenge at the other end of the extreme, that leadership is essentially about exercising authority. We don't live without authority. Quite clearly, we have rules, we have regulations. But authority, combined with power, combined with privilege, has too often in our histories—I use the plural deliberately—actually led us up a garden path. So, there is a great deal that I think, you know, in a country such as Canada, you already embrace, which is about how to make the room and space for people at the table who traditionally would have been spectators, observers, or not even in the room. Now, the United Nations has tried this in many different ways as well. But sometimes, the answer is that, you know, an Indigenous leader, maybe from Brazil, will come to the General Assembly. More important is to take the world's attention to where, maybe, that leader lives, what is happening to his or her community. And thereby create a different understanding of how our decisions actually affect other people's decisions. And that is the kind of, I think, leadership-building journey that we have to invest in more.
Thank you very much. I'm going to switch a little bit now and go back to COP27, and ask you, was there anything surprising that came out of COP27? Because I know, going into these conferences, a lot is work that goes on ahead of time. Was there anything unusual—not unusual, but surprising—on the positive or negative side that came out of COP27 that you would be able to share with us?
I already mentioned loss and damage...
...let's simply note that; important, surprising. I think nobody expected that that kind of....
Surprising, you didn't....
No. Certainly, going into Sharm el-Sheikh, I think there would have been few who would have said, we will reach an agreement to establish this facility. There were many hundreds of intermediate steps that would have agreed that we should discuss it further; we formed another expert group. But that you would actually, you know, on the last 24 hours, have, you know, a negotiation about establishing this as a facility, and therefore making it a reality. I think few would have expected that.
The other side, that perhaps was surprising, was to see in Sharm el-Sheikh a group of actors who, essentially, feel that they have been given a second lease of life. And I know it is not without complications to speak about that group in Canada. And I don't do so in any sense of the word of delegitimizing that narrative. But essentially, the fossil fuel sector, on the back of an energy security crisis that we are living through right now, and an extraordinary increase in price. And just imagine a country like Norway—I don't know what the numbers are for Canada—is earning this year 100 billion dollars more, on top of what they were going to already have as a revenue, because of what the oil price and the gas price has done. There's only about five million Norwegians, I think, right? As a population. A hundred billion dollars more. Our total ODA worldwide is roughly 160, 170 billion, just to give you a sense of proportionality. And what was quite visible in Egypt at the COP, was governments coming under far more pressure again. Because the energy security debate, the geopolitical schisms that are now becoming sometimes valleys that are very difficult to bridge, are increasingly creating a situation where our ability to actually move forward faster may be compromised by those who want to just have another 10 or 20 years of a kind of Klondike economy.
And that is a debate that is not to say there is a superior moral argument on one side of the room, and there is an inferior one on the other. But it is a debate that has to happen in the public domain. At the end of the day, we as citizens must be at the table when decisions are taken in our name, by those who are either at the table, or control the resources, and not in back rooms, and not through lobbying behind curtains. Because that delegitimizes not only them. It actually undermines the very nature of a process, such as the Climate Change Convention. And that was, perhaps, a second surprise. The third surprise was seeing Egypt transformed in a way that I had not expected, and the way it thinks about the future of electricity and energy. This COP—which sometimes happens in host countries—literally catapulted Egypt's thinking about its own energy future forward by 10 years, I would say. It's not scientific, but the investments in renewable energy, the awareness about energy efficiency, the willingness to rethink energy security in a country that is as vulnerable and dependent as Egypt, was quite palpable. And I think, again, very interesting to see. Countries can pivot. Sometimes a COP can be the focus that leads everybody to think about the future.
So, we have time for just one tiny, tiny, topical, quick thing—because you're about to go to COP15. Biodiversity, new framework being discussed, the 30 by 30 commitments underway, right here in the Greater Toronto-Hamilton area. We have a thing called the Greenbelt; it represents 22 percent of the protected lands in the area. And it's, some would talk about it as being under siege right now. Any messages for policymakers about the critical importance of 30 by 30? This is 30 percent protected land by 2030.
And oceans as well.
And oceans, sorry.
Yeah. Look, it's, universal targets in a world that is as diverse as, you know, a city state like Singapore talking to Canada. You can see already the degree to which countries will struggle, sometimes, with one formula. But behind the 30 by 30 target is essentially an act of desperation. Which is to say, everything else so far hasn't stopped us from unleashing an almost unprecedented wave of destruction on biodiversity. I don't know how many of you realize that, you know, just since 1970, we have lost—not yet in terms of extinction, but just in terms of quantity, populations—on average, 68 percent of all mammals, of all fish species, aquatic creatures, these are extraordinary rates of destruction. In terms of ecosystems, well over 80 percent of the world's wetland systems have been drained because they were wasteland until maybe the 60s and 70s. Today, we are spending a lot of money on restoring them, because they're actually wonderful carbon capture and storage tanks, so to speak. In that sense, I think when you look at the inability of countries and societies to stop this wave of destruction before we've actually lost species forever, there is, I think, a reason to advocate for it. Whether it will in every country always be exactly 30 percent is a matter we can debate. There are actually African countries who have dedicated more than 30 percent of their land area to conservation, and the world never gives them credit for it.
This debate about conservation, and biodiversity, and ecosystems, is an extraordinarily distorted debate. Because those who have had the longest period of destroying it are the loudest advocates for it to now be protected. But then turn all their attention, essentially, on the Global South, that should do ever more, and ever more. But the other side of the deal, namely that we share in the costs of investing in greater conservation, is actually not forthcoming. Look to Montréal. Why are we stuck right now? It's all about finance, again. And this perception that the South won't do anything until the North pays for it, serves on both sides, the wrong clientele. In the North, it means well, then we won't have to do more because, you know, they're not just doing anything; why should we pay for them to do it? In the South, there are many constituents who are quite happy if protected areas are not designated, because it leaves everything open to exploitation.
The harsh truth is that the Global South is increasingly, in these international arenas, finding itself at a point where it is ready to walk away from it, because all it gets is more demands, and unfulfilled promises. Remember in climate? We have the sister issue. A hundred billion dollars, promised for over a decade as a co-investment. As if the Global South wasn't investing anything in it, and you know, 70 billion is already a lot of money. That's the average that was estimated. The fact is hundreds of billions of dollars are being spent by developing countries on energy transitions. Kenya is today 90 percent renewable electricity. Uruguay—who would know that—is over 90 percent of its electricity is generated by renewable energy resources. They had to borrow money for that, their taxpayers have to pay for that. Not co-investment, not sharing the burden. And the same is now applying to biodiversity nature as well. COP15 is trying to develop this new global biodiversity framework. In there, there is this target 30 by 30, which would hopefully propel us and compel us to move forward faster, together. But we may still walk away from Montréal without that target being embraced, because the inherent contradictions in an unequal world of how to share the burden are simply not resolved.
Well, we wish you all the best. And maybe, you will be equally surprised at COP15 as you were in COP27. Let's hope for that. I would like to thank you. Yes, yes. Thank you so much for wonderful conversation.
Note of Appreciation and Concluding Remarks by Sal Rabbani
Thank you very much, Leslie and Achim. Rich insights today, and a great conversation. Thanks again to all our sponsors for their support, and to Achim Steiner, Administrator of the United Nations Development Program, and everyone joining us today, in person or online.
As a club of record, all Empire Club of Canada events are available to watch and listen to on demand on our website. The recording of this event will be available shortly, and everyone registered will receive a link with an email. Our next talk is tomorrow. The Honourable George Pirie, Minister of Mines, and Chief Cornelius Wabasse, of the Webequie First Nation, will be here in Toronto for a dynamic conversation on how the province, the two First Nations, and private sector are working together to make the Ring of Fire a reality. In the new year, on Thursday, January the 12th, join us for our "Annual Investment Outlook." Our esteemed speakers will share their expertise, to help businesses and Canadians understand how to preserve and grow their wealth. Thanks again for joining us today. We invite you to stay and join us in the lobby for continued networking. Have a great afternoon. This meeting is now adjourned.