Development in an Age of Uncertainty

Read the speeches and summaries of the debates held at the 3rd Lisbon Conference, with a comprehensive agenda of major international themes that affect our societies and our future. From geopolitics to security, from globalization to the planet’s sustainability, from global development to European Union’s challenges, all these issues were included in the debates about development in an age of uncertainty.

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Opening Abertura

“Much of the current obstacles to development are related to political, economic and social systems that are outdated, unable to renew themselves and to respond to existing challenges” – Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa

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What type of development is feasible in these times of uncertainty?

The conference’s program and debates highlighted unpredictability as an inherent factor of international relations, in a global context of great instability in global actors’ interventions and strong tensions in the global arena. This brings into question the formerly prevailing balances and particularly puts at risk multilateral mechanisms and democracy itself. This was pointed out by the President of the Portuguese Republic in the opening session, in which he warned about an “almost perfect storm” probably irreversible in many areas, that jeopardizes human development.



Power O Poder

“We are trapped by reality and all the fine position papers produced in Brussels and Washington are irrelevant to the fundamental problem, which is that we are in a moment when history is out of control and we are traveling in it” – George Friedman

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Geopolicy meets Pandora’s Box

Geopolitical prospects were discussed in the panel about POWER. The world context after the 2008 financial crisis was analyzed, in which interdependence has become an undeniable fact and nationalism is still a constant feature. In a context where China feels the burden of competition to production, Saudi Arabia experiences an oil crisis and the new US administration is focused on “America first” (although protectionism in not new), Europa still resists to a centralized government and is immersed in its integration problems, including the Brexit process. As George Friedman pointed out in this session, we are in a world where the beautiful papers and analyzes produced in Brussels and Washington became irrelevant, and the narratives slip through our fingers in face of the acceleration and transformation of dynamics and realities. And if this is not the most comfortable position to be, the more uncomfortable it becomes as we feed the illusion of controlling the course of history.



Security A Segurança

“A huge problem is the loss of legitimacy of states and the pervasive mistrust in political institutions, which is what upholds the rule of law” – Mary Kaldor

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Terrorism and Strategic Disputes

The interlinkages between extremist violence, economic interests and geostrategic disputes were approached in the panel on SECURITY. The relations between Russia and the European Union were prominent in this session, marked by the recent diplomatic tensions with the UK, where sanctions to Russia fulfilled mainly internal policy purposes (both for the UK government and Putin regime). The international responses to the Syrian conflict and the war on terror were discussed, with a more pessimistic approach, either because the world has been on the verge of a US-Russian military confrontation in the Syrian case, or because of the lack of coordination and different views in the fight against terrorism, which even goes through the divergence regarding the definition of terrorism and who the "enemies" are. Syria and Libya are an expression of a new type of wars, characterized by anarchic social conditions in which various groups manipulate violence, spreading ideologies based on fear and drawing economic dividends. Syria and Libya are an expression of a new type of wars, characterized by anarchic social conditions in which various groups manipulate violence, spreading ideologies based on fear and drawing economic dividends. There is a clear difficulty in managing and resolving this type of conflicts, as the military approach and classical diplomacy are not enough, and an engagement based on the reinforcement of justice and democratic legitimacy are necessary, within a longer-term approach.

Globalization A Globalização

“If the system begins to work in a way where most people feel that it doesn't deliver anything to them, you can expect a push back that will either damage democracy, lead to protectionism or both” – Montek Ahluwalia

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How Reversible is Globalization?

A deeper understanding is needed about the linkages between GLOBALIZATION and power diffusion in the world today: transfer of power from the State to various groups, or to the supranational level, among other dynamics. The coexistence of a state-centered world (anchored in borders, sovereignty, centralized institutions) with a world connected by flows (organized around networks, connectivity and data, digital economies), has negative and positive impacts, and brings in various challenges both on security and development. The current management of migrations is an example of the implementation of traditional / territorial security approaches in a reality that relates to flows and networks.

In this framework, we witness a major deficit in global governance. Political institutions were not adapted to globalization, and this in turn triggers discontent and a dissociation from the people’s aspirations. The new normality is a lack of certainty: traditional political parties are fragmented and both right and left indulge in internal divisions, while there is a major fracture between those who advocate for greater openness and those calling for more protectionism and nationalism. Another issue is the impact that technological developments, robotics and artificial intelligence will have on economic recovery and in the organization of our societies. The system must work in a way that people don’t feel excluded and the basic question for each one should be “is globalization working for you?”

Planet O Planeta

“If we do not decarbonise our economy in the next 20 years we will not be able to keep catastrophic climate change away. I still believe we are making the change happen, but we might not be going fast enough” – Kitty van der Heijden

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The Unstable Sustainability of the Planet

In the panel about the PLANET, the unsustainability of the current global development model became clear, as we still are obsessed with continuous and exponential economic growth, despite scientific evidence about the need for an urgent paradigm shift. While the European Union has developed considerable efforts in diminishing greenhouse gas emissions, emissions are rising in the largest developing countries, such as in China and India. Emerging economies are expected to continue to grow, even as growth slows in industrialized countries, are therefore they have a key role in global responses to climate change, in the available options on economic growth models and the energy mix.

While China and India are among the major investors in renewables and less polluting energy sources, the energy transition is not happening at the necessary pace to avoid serious consequences. We need to globally change mentalities, business models, consumption patterns and also the way cities are organized, has an increasing share of the world population lives in urban centers. Hopefully this change will be accelerated by economic reasons, namely by the fact that less polluting energies are an increasingly cost-effective and economically wise investment, which generates profit, jobs and development. Public policies and intervention are crucial in this context – and policies only change if climate change and pollution are serious threats to the economy.

People As Pessoas

"The current model cannot sustain the middle class. In this sense, globalization or digital technologies are not to blame, but the limits of this mass production and consumption model" – Alfredo Valladão

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Middle Classes on Diverging Tracks

In the session on PEOPLE, it was stressed that more than 3 billion people are estimated to constitute the middle class in 2050, although “the middle class means very different things for the poor and for the rich”. Middle class is fundamental to buy consumer goods (durable or not) and today there is a mass production for a mass consumption, although what helped to create consumers also had negative effects on employment. We are only now starting to see and understand the impacts of the ongoing technological/industrial revolution in fragmented and connected societies, including on work patterns and on the welfare State. The way we produce, consume and communicate is changing rapidly, and there’s a need for new approaches that go beyond GDP and productivity measures. The global role of China was also discussed, where the word “crisis” also means “opportunity”.

Europe A Europa

“We can imagine the European Union's life without the UK. Can we imagine life without either France, Germany, Italy, Spain or Portugal?  It is harder because historically people are dedicated to European integration” – Philippe Marlière

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Integration Dilemmas and Trends

The integration dilemmas and trends in EUROPE were the central focus of this panel. The various faces of populism rising in several European countries were addressed, from the North European populism linked to immigration issues to the Eastern European strong populism linked to a new nationalism. The speakers questioned if Brussels is doing what is necessary to preserve the European project, concluding that the European Union is no less democratic than its member states and that the European future relies on the hands of the national governments. The negative effects of Brexit, the way the United States perceive Europe, the historical developments of a European continent squeezed between Russia and the United States, Franco-German relations and the new role of French foreign policy in the European context were also discussed.

Closing Encerramento

“The big urban centers state the values of interculturalism, tolerance, openess and innovation. It is where the factors of resistance against the regression in the international order are gathered” – Fernando Medina

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Cities as centers for diversity and inclusiveness

In the closing session, concerns were raised about these times of global uncertainty and decline of the values that were crucial for European identity affirmation The Mayor of Lisbon stressed the importance of big European cities in fighting against the regression of values and rights, and underlined the role of cities as centers for tolerance, diversity and inclusiveness. This is the time to defend people’s fundamental rights, to turn ideas into concrete actions and to actively express our citizenship.


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