In this episode of the International Resource Panel (IRP) Webcast Series: What does the Global Future hold, the IRP invited Jeffrey Sachs, University Professor and Director of the Center for Sustainable Development at Columbia University, to discuss what he sees on the horizon in terms of the future of "Economy". He will speak about the key risks and opportunities and how the risks can be managed and opportunities achieved. The webcast includes a talk and a Q&A session.

Recording of the webcast

Quotes from the webcast 

"The key driver of long-term economic change is probably technology, but the key factor in the use and diffusion of that technology is politics, both politics within countries and geopolitics."

"We have a clearer perspective on technology of the next 25 or 30 years up to mid-century than we do with the geopolitics. I regard that the uncertainty lies in the direction of whether we will cooperate adequately in order to use the technologies that we have available to the best purpose."

"The utopian view is, the world economy could develop in a manner that would end extreme depravation, that would enable all people to have decent lives and livelihoods and end the environmental crises at the same time. In other words, sustainable development - which means a combination of economic development, social inclusion and environmental sustainability - is feasible in my view."

"There is a path globally available that would lift the material conditions of the world, especially of poor people, a path that would ensure essential and universal access to all key economic needs, decent diets, access to health care, access to education, means of livelihoods, and could do so in an environmentally sustainable manner."

"There is a path to sustainable development. First, it relies on digital technologies which are hugely empowering due to the fact that they can potentially give everyone in the world access to basic government and social services and means of livelihood. Secondly, technology pathway depends on zero carbon energy, especially on massive electrification of the economy using zero carbon power generation. Basically, a world economy where more than 50% of its energy use is ran through electrification and that electricity being essentially green electrons."

"A digital and green pathway exists but there is a question of global cooperation to bring it about. There are 3 dimensions of global cooperation that are most important:

  • The first is to stay out of major wars, but we’re not good at that, we keep falling into violent and destructive conflicts with evermore destructive armaments.

  • Second is global cooperation around the use of green and digital technologies. We will not be able to decarbonize the world economy if we are in geopolitical conflicts.

  • The third point, perhaps an even more difficult one, is that the poor countries of the world, which constitute more than half of the world population, are very far behind in their capital stocks, whether it is the human capital such as education, or whether it is the physical capital of digital connectivity and basic infrastructure, even basic electrification. The only way that will make the path of sustainable development work globally is massive inflows of capital, that is financial capital to fund massive scaling up of human capital and infrastructure capital in the developing countries."

"We should chart out what would be a good future, both quantitatively and qualitatively. We should understand how to use the wondrous technologies available and chart out what can be done, what is needed to actually implement that pathway over the period of the coming, say 30 years, and then we work to build the public understanding and the global institutions to support that unique pathway.”

Speaker - Jeffrey Sachs

Jeffrey D. Sachs is a University Professor and Director of the Center for Sustainable Development at Columbia University, where he directed the Earth Institute from 2002 until 2016.

He is also President of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network and a commissioner of the UN Broadband Commission for Development. He has been advisor to three United Nations Secretaries-General, and currently serves as an SDG Advocate under Secretary General António Guterres.

He spent over twenty years as a professor at Harvard University, where he received his B.A., M.A., and Ph.D. degrees. He has authored numerous bestseller books. His most recent book is The Ages of Globalization: Geography, Technology, and Institutions (2020). Sachs was twice named as one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential world leaders and was ranked by The Economist among the top three most influential living economists.

Learn more about the IRP Webcast Series: What does the Global Future hold?