Here is a report on the closing session of the Annual Meeting 2005. It makes for interesting reading to see how business, political and society leaders, as well as the world at large, need to work together. We need to take up the mantle of the AM which was “taking responsibility for tough choices”: are you with me?

“Time has run out for deliberation on how to deal with poverty and the environment. Each of us must exercise our responsibility to take action against the ignorance, disease and want that threaten our stability and to arrest the assault on the earth that imperils our survival.

Specifically, participants called for implementation of a series of concrete measures designed to yield immediate and long-lasting results on poverty and environment. In the closing session, the business, government, academic and civil society leaders urged adoption of technology to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases, the creation of a fund to accelerate financial aid to the poorest nations and the removal of trade barriers that deprive developing countries of the dividends of global economic growth.

"The single greatest contribution the developed world can make to poverty alleviation is to dissolve or begin to break down trade barriers," said John Howard, Prime Minister of Australia. "Trade access is worth far more to underdeveloped countries than development assistance," he said.

Howard and the other panellists at the closing plenary addressed the six issues selected by participants at the beginning of the meeting as most critical to the world today: poverty, equitable globalization, climate change, education, the Middle East and global governance.

Kumi Naidoo, Secretary-General and Chief Executive Officer, Civicus-World Alliance for Citizen Participation, South Africa, pointed out that each of these issues is intertwined. All have to be pursued in parallel, just as globalization has made it impossible to ignore the global impact of the plight facing distant communities, he said. "Central to us moving the world forward in the next year and beyond is understanding that human beings live integrated lives," he said.

Among the recommendations made by participants was the implementation of a proposed international financing facility that would deliver aid to the neediest countries at a more rapid and predictable rate. To foster equitable globalization and make trade fairer, participants urged negotiators to complete the Doha Agenda of trade talks to enshrine principles of reciprocity, free trade and the liberalization of trade in services.

Participants also issued recommendations on how to help halt the deterioration of the environment and prevent further changes to the global climate. This issue, said Al Gore, Chairman, Generation Investment Management, USA, is central to all others. "We are now on the brink of doing irreparable damage to the global environment upon which all these other goals depend," he said. "We have to change the way we in this world think about our relationship to the earth."

Expanding education to the world’s underprivileged is also essential, not only to harness their skills and empower them as individuals, but to help uproot the kind of hatred and discrimination that form the basis of disputes like that in the Middle East, said Aleksander Kwasniewski, President of Poland. In particular, education must be made available to girls and women around the world to eliminate gender disparities and add the potential that women bring to the world’s workforce.

Economic engagement is also essential to defusing the world’s seemingly intractable disputes, said Chung Dong-Young, Minister of Unification of the Republic of Korea, particularly in dealing with North Korea. Chung called on the members of the six-party dialogue on North Korea’s nuclear weapons programme to put forward concrete proposals and break the deadlock they have faced. He urged North Korea to abandon its nuclear programme and end its isolation from the international community, saying that South Korea was prepared to offer broad economic support if it does so. He also called on the United States to negotiate with North Korea using a "comprehensive approach" rather than threatening punitive sanctions. He contrasted the success that followed former US President Nixon’s historic trip to China in catalysing China’s re-emergence in the global economy with the failure of sanctions against Cuba.

For any of these measures to work, the world’s poor nations must be at the forefront of this agenda, Naidoo said. Offering assistance to the developing world has to be done in a way that recognizes and preserves the dignity of the people. Developing nations must continue to reform their economies, eliminating corruption and adopting transparency. And developed nations and multinational corporations must stop approaching the poor as a problem, and view them instead as an opportunity, a source of new markets, labour and innovation.

Companies, especially the companies that run the world’s media, have a critical responsibility to help spread this message, said Daniel Vasella, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Novartis, Switzerland. Only by building public awareness and support for achieving these goals can political leaders move forward."