At the Opening Session of the Second Petra Conference of Nobel Laureates
21 June 2006
Good morning. It is an honour to welcome all of you to this, the second Petra Conference. Last year, Elie and I had a vision: a global partnership of Nobel Laureates and achievers - leaders who could turn their intellectual gifts and experience, to finding answers to the serious problems of our time. Petra One began this unprecedented effort. This year, your discussions will carry the work forward and initiate positive change.
Creative and courageous thinking does make a difference. Thanks to work by you and many others, the 21st century has brought better lives to billions of people. But other billions have not shared in the promise. That break runs through our world like a fault-line. We cannot build a secure future on a divided foundation.
There has, rightfully, been global concern about the poorest countries. But the majority of the world's poor live in other developing countries - both low- and middle-income nations - economies that are struggling to stabilise and grow opportunity. It is estimated that by the time today's newborns are adults, my region alone will need 100 million new jobs to meet the needs of new job-seekers and the unemployed.
And everywhere in the world, progress is weighed down by the legacy of the past. All of us pay the cost of earlier environmental decisions - or non-decisions. Many developing countries are burdened by debts contracted a generation ago. And, here in the Middle East and elsewhere, conflict is causing immense suffering and anger.
Shock waves from these fault lines travel far. Epidemics, economic crises, environmental disasters, extremist violence - all show us how fast danger goes global. We need to move just as quickly, to globalize an effective response.
Humanity's greatest achievements reflect the power of cooperation and mutual respect. The Nobel Prize itself was, from the beginning, deliberately international - recognising that we all play a role in the progress and well-being of this world.
Only together can we create a future of inclusion and unity. But good will is not enough. Real change requires ideas and action. This is the power of what you can achieve, here, together, over the next few days. Let us call it pre-emptive problem solving.Let me discuss three areas where I think your leadership can be of special value.
First, is the need to support educational excellence, especially in the developing world. Education is obviously central to the future. It is an enabler, not only of productivity and success, but also, of responsible citizenship. What's needed are connections as well as curriculum standards - support systems, to encourage great thinking and innovation. No one can inspire intellectual excellence better than the world's Nobel Laureates. Your leadership could be channelled through a new Network of Excellence - linking research institutes and knowledge centres in the developing world. Through the network, laureates would mentor high-quality work in critical fields - medicine, science, the environment, and more. This initiative would help grow tomorrow's great scientists and advance research specifically needed by the developing world.
A second area for Nobel laureate leadership is sustainable development. Many of you know about the Millennium Development Goals - an agreed set of targets to be reached by 2015. States have committed to action, but results have lagged behind promises. Developed countries need to make these goals a priority. Developing countries need technical assistance and international support. Independent, influential oversight is also urgently needed. One vehicle could be a Laureate Commission for Sustainable Development. Again, your involvement would deliver unique credibility and expertise. It would bring multi-disciplinary competence to bear - identifying roadblocks, providing scientific expertise, and mobilising support for crucial projects.
A third area of concern involves conflict resolution. Peace among nations depends on the trust that is built when people recognise common values and goals. As history shows, cooperation often starts best in areas of practical benefit and shared technical expertise. We need to strengthen such experiences for Palestinians and Israelis. Today, experts on both sides deal on a regular basis with the same important issues - health, economic development, and other concerns. Let's create a forum to bring such civil society groups together - a “meeting of peace partners” - and find ways to support them along the path to peace. One urgent area of coordination should be humanitarian action.
Lasting peace will only come with a peacefully negotiated, final settlement, based on international legality - two states: a viable, sovereign Palestine, alongside a secure Israel. But nothing will prevent progress more surely, than standing by while a humanitarian disaster overwhelms the Palestinian people.
Here at Petra, we take a step. The path forward will evolve through your ideas and concerns. I thank you for your participation, your ideas, and your partnership. Elie, I thank you especially, for your vision and your devotion to human dignity and hope.
The leadership that all of you bring is vital. Those who pay lip service to progress, demand quick and easy solutions. But the Nobel experience demonstrates that real achievement requires work and thought and staying-power. Global change requires no less.
Around the world, people want to know that the 21st century will deliver on its promise that global justice is real; that opportunity is not just for a few. Some have despaired. Yet there is still great hope. When I talk to young people, I hear their energy and keenness and belief in the future. They are asking us to make a difference, to have the courage to make a difference, to act now to make a difference.
We must respond.
Thank you very much.