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Leading from the Middle

Børge Brende

Editor's note: The article is written by Børge Brende, President of the World Economic Forum, which is convening the Special Meeting on Global Collaboration, Growth and Energy for Development from 28-29 April 2024, in Riyadh. The article reflects the author's opinions and not necessarily the views of CGTN.

Today's most pressing challenges, as well as the future's most promising opportunities, are not bound by borders. Strengthening our economies, improving our collective security, addressing climate change, and unlocking the benefits of frontier technologies all depend on cooperative approaches. Yet, the world is at risk of drifting toward a perilous state in which collaborative agendas are replaced by confrontational mindsets.  

A more contentious geopolitical climate is of such concern that this past September, at the opening of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, Secretary-General António Guterres warned, "Global challenges are mounting. And we seem incapable of coming together to respond."  

Indeed, alarm bells abound! For instance, just 12 percent of the UN's 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are on target to be met by the 2030 deadline.

Thankfully, though, there are some bright spots.  

At the G20 Summit last December, India made it a priority to include representation from the Global South in the dialogue and steered leaders of the world's largest economies to agreement on a joint declaration on climate financing, global debt, and other issues, coming despite predictions that agreement would be impossible to achieve.  

At the COP28 in Dubai last November, the United Arab Emirates is committed to leading an "inclusive and safe space for all participants," and parties agreed for the first time to transition away from fossil fuels toward renewable sources of energy.  

And this month, Saudi Arabia and the World Economic Forum are convening leaders from around the world for a special meeting in Riyadh to strengthen cooperation, particularly between the Global North and South.  

What these instances have in common is that the successes are due in large measure to an inclusive approach and to the leadership of so-called "middle powers." Countries such as India, the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia that are not global superpowers but are playing an outsized role in moving the global agenda forward.

Today, at a time of geopolitical turbulence, middle-power leadership, particularly from the Middle East, will determine whether the world makes progress on critical security, environmental and technological priorities. The solutions to some of the world's most pressing challenges not only cut across the region, but also require the kind of cooperative approaches that middle powers have championed.

On global security, leadership from Gulf countries, particularly Saudi Arabia, will be vital in forging paths forward in two of the most urgent crisis: Ukraine and Gaza. In August 2023, Jeddah hosted peace talks for Ukraine that were vital in bringing to the table key parties from the Global North and South. Riyadh has also been a critical player in working to bring parties to negotiate a ceasefire in Gaza.

On climate change, the success of a green energy transition that is equitable and fosters growth can only happen if countries in the Middle East help move it forward. While the region produces approximately 30 percent of the world's oil and 23 percent of its natural gas, many countries are poised to become green power leaders of the future. Saudi Arabia's energy minister, Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman Al Saud, recently said the Kingdom is committed to being the "centrepiece" in the renewable market. Indeed, through its Vision 2030 plan, the country is diversifying non-oil exports and aiming to increase its share of non-oil GDP from 16 percent to 50 percent by the end of the decade.  

And on unlocking new technology opportunities ahead, generative AI has the potential to add between $2.6 and $4.4 trillion in economic benefits annually, according to McKinsey & Company. But this can only happen if stakeholders around the world work together. Here, Saudi Arabia has been building partnerships with countries around the world and has committed to an annual investment of 2.5 percent of GDP in the research, development, and innovation sector by 2040.  

At a complex geopolitical moment, when challenges demand collective approaches, if middle powers continue to shape solutions, and do so in a collaborative way, we will be on course toward a stronger future.

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