A Tale of Two Cities


Image Author: mike_is_scrumptious

Image Author: mike_is_scrumptious

Assume a robust global deal on climate and the world’s cities will have to transform their infrastructure, economies and societies in little more than a generation.

Assume uncontrolled emissions growth and they face growing impact from a less hospitable and more volatile climate.

Either way – big changes are on the way. Few cities’ leaders grasp the scale of the challenge, especially in developing countries, where towns and cities will have an additional 1.5bn residents to cope with by 2030.

This new think piece has been prepared as part of the British Council’s Climate and Cities programme. Download the pdf (which has full references) or read the full text below the jump.


Get us out of this mess…

I’ve been in Japan today, speaking at ‘Reforming International Institutions – Meeting the Challenges of the 21st Century’,  a seminar organized by the United Nations University and the British Embassy in Japan.

You can download my talk here (with pictures, references etc) – or the text only is available below the jump. There’s a webcast too.


  • It’s going to be a tough year. The financial meltdown has a long way to go, and the downturn is risking turning into a global depression.
  • Trade is a bell wether. Protectionist pressures are already on the rise. If they gain traction, take that as a warning of a wider loss of confidence in global institutions.
  • The unravelling of global economic imbalances could prove corrosive to the international order. If countries start to devalue to protect exports, expect a tit-for-tat dynamic to kick in.
  • Scarcity issues (energy, water, land, food, atmospheric space for emissions) remain the key medium term driver of global change. Commodity prices will spike again as soon as there’s recovery.
  • The downturn has stemmed the uncontrolled growth of emissions, but also lessened the chance of a robust global deal on climate.
  • Economic bad times could well drive increased conflict. A major new security threat might be the fabled black swan – hitting just when the global immune system is already overloaded.
  • If we experience a long crisis (or a chain of interlinked crises), we are likely to see either a significant loss of trust in the system (globalization retreats), or a significant increase in trust (interdependence increases). 
  • You need to stretch time horizons to get the latter – shared awareness (joint analysis of risks and challenges), as a basis for shared platforms (loose coalitions of leaders), which can lobby for a shared operating system (a new international institutional architecture).
  • 2009 sets a challenging agenda for the G20 (financial reform and economic recovery – but framed by a broader vision on climate, resources, security etc.)…
  • …the G8 (caucus of rich countries able to tee up Copenhagen and kick start development assistance if developing countries begin to teeter)…
  • …the UN (especially Ban Ki-Moon’s proposed high level ‘friend’s group’ on climate, but also as a fora for getting to grips with scarcity issues)…
  • and the Bretton Woods institutions and the WTO (first of all ensuring they keep their heads above water, then looking to ‘save globalization from itself’).
  • Oh and be ready for the backlash – people are angry and rightfully so, but that may well lead us down some populist blind alleys.


Mark Abell – from Mumbai (updated x4)

Yesterday morning, many of us here in the UK heard from Mark Abell, a British lawyer, who spoke to British radio from the Oberoi in Mumbai, where he was barricaded in his room. Abell was extraordinarily calm – remarkably collected despite the danger he faced.

This morning it was a relief to hear that he’d been rescued, after long long hours in his room, communicating with others in the hotel using his Blackberry, and latterly with the British Council, who appear to have played some role in keeping in touch with UK hostages.

Abell is devastated by the experience – not so much by what happened to him, as by the fate suffered by others. In particular, he talks movingly of the death of the waitress who served him in the restaurant just before he went to his room, and of a Japanese businessman who he’d been chatting to (in Japanese) just before the attacks.

If you didn’t hear his interview with the Today programme, then make sure you listen. He’s a great guy.

We spent 48 hours, all but, with no food and little water, surrounded by explosions, gun shots, people running up and down the corridor screaming. It was grim, very grim…

The people here have been fantastic… the Indian authorities, the hotel people, they’ve just been incredibly good and kind…

The lobby was carnage. There was blood and guts everywhere. It was very very upsetting. Just before I went to my room, I had dinner in the Kandahar restaurant. I’ve now just found out that that was one of the places it started. Unfortunately…[he breaks down] the waitress who served me was one of the first to get shot….

It’s been a picnic for me. It’s all these other brave people who need acknowledgement and praise. 

Update: I just wanted to underline my gratitude for the role played by British Council staff, and by staff from the British embassy and consulates in emergencies such as these. They tend to see some dreadful things, but do their best under immense pressure.

Update II: More heroics from hotel staff:

[Prashant] Mangeshikar, 52, told Reuters that he had been in the foyer with his wife and daughter when the attackers arrived and started firing. Hotel workers ushered guests into an upstairs service area to escape, but they then came across another gunman.”He looked young and did not speak to us. He just fired. We were in sort of a single file,” said the Mumbai gynaecologist. “The man in front of my wife shielded us. He was a maintenance staff. He took the bullets.”

Mangeshikar added that the guests managed to take shelter inside a room, dragging the injured staff member, identified only as Mr Rajan, in with them. For the next 12 hours they attempted to stop the bleeding from his stomach wound. Rajan was eventually evacuated, but it is not known whether he survived.

“I’m going out today to the hospital to find out what happened to him,” Mangeshikar said. “I owe it to that brave man.”

Update III: Apparently members of the some people visiting the British Council were caught in the Taj restaurant – but have now been freed, while another British Council staff member visitor was shot in another incident at the hotel. Adrian Bregazzi speaks to the BBC World Service:

He was shot at close range by what appears to have been a teenager with an AK-47. He was left for dead, luckily for him, and managed to crawl into some bushes. He’s suffered from a huge blood loss, but is in surgery now.

[I have clarified the above – as it seems that those injured were visiting the BC – probably from the UK (and probably to promote British education] – not staff members]

Update IV – Great quote from Mark Abell as he arrived back in the UK: “Without food, information became our sustenance.”

Labour Conference keynotes in times of meltdown

Listening to Gordon Brown’s speech today, Philip Stephens notes that “Mr Brown kept his audience in its comfort zone”:

Though he set out the challenges Britain faces in a period of tumultuous global upheaval, Mr Brown did little to challenge his audience’s preconception that the present mess was all the fault of greedy capitalists.

Reading that brought to mind another Labour Conference speech in times of global upheaval: Tony Blair’s back in 2001.  Remember this?

This is a moment to seize. The kaleidoscope has been shaken. The pieces are in flux. Soon they will settle again. Before they do, let us re-order this world around us.

I re-read the whole thing this afternoon, and was struck by a) its brilliance, b) its insight, c) how it soars compared to Brown’s speech today and d) the extent to which – in retrospect, with all that’s happened since – it shines with an eerie messianic fervour.  It’s well worth another look: full text below the jump.