11 June 2015

Opinion: Now or never

Options Magazine Summer 2015: Franz Fischler, President of the European Forum Alpbach and former European Commissioner, talks about inequality, the current focus of the Alpbach–Laxenburg Group and the theme of the 2015 European Forum Alpbach.

© EFA | Luiza Piui

© EFA | Luiza Piui

In the game of life, the dice are cast before you are even born. Where a child is born, whether it is a boy or a girl, the financial situation of the parents—these and other factors determine his or her healthy development, grades at school, and wealth later in life. Of course, there are exceptions, but as a rule, the book has already been written at the time of a child’s birth. For far too many children, the book concludes that the door to wealth, to higher education, indeed even to sufficient food is already firmly closed.

Opportunities are distributed too unevenly both across the world and within societies. The good news is that wealthy regions are growing faster than those in difficulty. But at what price? Destabilizing the climate, the exploitation of natural resources and labor, and borrowing from the future—these are the costs we are having to pay. At the moment, the world is developing on the backs of those who barely profit from wealth. Therefore, reducing global inequality has to be a top priority for all of us. The problems we have to deal with are obvious. Industrialized countries use many times more energy and natural resources than developing countries. Our greenhouse gas emissions are ten times higher than in the poor countries, in the USA twenty times higher. But the poor countries are hit much harder by the consequences of the climate catastrophe than we who have provoked them.

Education is the key factor for any prosperity and for escaping poverty. We may be gradually approaching our goal of eradicating illiteracy, but if we begin to set quality targets for education, the scale of the mountain we still have to climb is only too apparent.

The list of fundamental inequalities, including those that put social cohesion in our own society in doubt, could be enumerated at great length, but even without doing this, we have known for a long time that peaceful coexistence between peoples can only be achieved when we succeed at least in reducing the grossest inequalities.

A real chance to set the right course for the future is approaching this year: in July, the International Conference on Financing for Development will take place in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Subsequently, the General Assembly of the United Nations will have to decide on the Sustainable Development Goals in September. In December, the Climate Change Conference in Paris will arguably demonstrate irrevocably whether the world is ready to make the necessary political decisions against global warming.

All three conferences demand enormous political efforts for a successful outcome, but they also require an enormous amount of expertise. Politicians must not be allowed the excuse that these topics are not yet ready for decisions. Avoiding precisely this is the ambition of the European Forum Alpbach and the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis. Together we have succeeded in bringing together top international experts from academia, economics, politics, and culture to form the Alpbach–Laxenburg Group, which hopes to provide input on how to implement the new goals and how to make them operational.

Only if we arrive at a coordinated interplay between academia, technology, and economics, and only if we make far‑reaching decisions in politics that include civil society, can the world set the path in the direction of a rational balance between economy, ecology, and society. Franz Fischler

Further information

For the 70th anniversary of the European Forum Alpbach, hundreds of participants will gather in Alpbach from 19 August to 4 September 2015 to explore and discuss the many facets of “InEquality.”

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Last edited: 17 June 2015

Options Summer 2015

International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA)
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