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World figures sign The Elders’ open letter calling for bold action on existential threats

February 15, 2024 at 8:30 am

Mary Robinson, Chair of The Elders during the Security Council meeting on maintenance of international peace and security and upholding the United Nations Charter at the UN Headquarters in New York, January 9, 2020 [EuropaNewswire/Gado/Getty Images]

Over 100 leading world figures, led by members of The Elders and the Future of Life Institute, have issued an open letter calling on political leaders to take a bold new approach to address “catastrophic” existential threats to humanity.

The signatories point out that “long-view leadership” is needed to tackle the ongoing impact and escalating risks of the climate and nature crisis, pandemics, nuclear weapons and ungoverned Artificial Intelligence (AI). They also note that millions of lives and livelihoods are already impacted by these threats, and that world leaders’ inaction and failure to cooperate will drive humanity towards “greater catastrophe”.

The Elders, including Mary Robinson, Ban Ki-moon, Graça Machel, Juan Manuel Santos and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, together with the president of the Future of Life Institute, Max Tegmark, have been joined by former leaders, Nobel Laureates, scientific experts, youth activists, business leaders, philanthropists and influential figures from across public life to urge decision-makers to embrace long-view leadership.

Their letter outlines this term as the “determination to resolve intractable problems not just manage them, the wisdom to make decisions based on scientific evidence and reason, and the humility to listen to all those affected.”

“Our world is in grave danger, but with long-view leadership rooted in truth, justice and inclusion, we can still step back from the precipice,” said Mary Robinson, the Chair of The Elders and former President of Ireland. “This does not mean global decision-makers should neglect the challenges we face today; it means making decisions that go beyond short-term politics and delivering solutions for people struggling now, as well as future generations.” This is entirely possible, she insisted. “If nations work together, our best future can still lie ahead of us.”

While the threats outlined in the letter are grave, the Elders and their partners at the Future of Life Institute stress that hope remains for leaders to address the challenges and use this critical juncture to build a better world. They maintain that these risks can be mitigated with international cooperation and political will. The letter calls for urgent multilateral action, highlighting ideas such as financing the transition away from fossil fuels, concluding an equitable pandemic treaty, restarting nuclear arms talks, and building the global governance needed to make AI a force for good, not a runaway risk.

There is a need to revitalise multilateralism for the sake of our common future

According to former UN Secretary-General and Deputy Chair of The Elders Ban Ki-moon, the range of signatories to this open letter makes clear the shared concern. “We need world leaders who understand the existential threats we face and the urgent need to address them. This can only be done through decisive cooperation between nations.” There is a need to revitalise multilateralism for the sake of our common future, he said. “This means upholding the international rule of law and being open and accountable for the decisions we must take. When nations work together, these challenges can all be addressed, for the good of us all.”

The letter was issued ahead of the Munich Security Conference, where government officials, military leaders and diplomats will meet to discuss international security. With escalating armed conflict across the world and the threat of nuclear weapons being openly raised, the Elders, the Future of Life Institute, and other signatories urge attendees to address these challenges head-on. They also call for international cooperation as preparations continue for September’s UN Summit for the Future: an opportunity for world leaders to begin to address these urgent global concerns.

“Global leaders have a critical opportunity to turn the course of human history away from disaster, towards inspiring, shared futures,” added Max Tegmark, the president and founder of the Future of Life Institute. “We’ve risen together to meet such crises before, from banning bioweapons to rebuilding the ozone layer, and we can do so again now. With effective governance and intentional cooperation, we can combat both ongoing harms and rapidly escalating risks, while ensuring that the benefits of transformative technologies such as AI are shared by everyone.”

The signatories include Oscar Arias, former President of Costa Rica and Nobel Peace Prize laureate; Richard Branson, Founder, Virgin Group, UK; Gordon Brown, WHO Ambassador for Global Health Financing and former UK Prime Minister; Mohamed ElBaradei, Director General emeritus IAEA and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Egypt; Peter Gabriel, Founder, Real World, UK; Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim, President, Association for Indigenous Women and Peoples of Chad (AFPAT), Co-Chair of the International Indigenous Peoples Forum on Climate Change, Chad; Mo Ibrahim, Chair, Mo Ibrahim Foundation, UK; Annie Lennox, Activist and Founder, The Circle, UK; Vanessa Nakate, Climate activist, Uganda; and Izabella Teixeira, former Minister of the Environment of Brazil, CEBRI (Brazilian Centre for International Affairs), Brazil.

Along with their other co-signatories, they invite individuals from all walks of life, across communities, generations, and political spectrums, to sign the letter and join them in advocating for courageous decision-making that prioritises our common future.

The open letter can be accessed in full here.

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