At the beginning of 2006, Russia assumed the G8 Presidency. We understand very well that this requires serious work and implies a great deal of responsibility. It is not the organizational activities alone that lie ahead. More importantly, we will need to discuss and jointly determine the priorities and substantive areas of work for this highly respected forum, which has served as a key mechanism for coordinating approaches to meeting the most significant challenges of world development for more than thirty years.
We have suggested to our partners that we should focus on three serious and pressing issues: global energy security, combating infectious diseases, and education. These three priorities are oriented towards achieving an objective which we hope is clear to all our partners, namely improving the quality of life and living standards of the present and future generations.
The establishment of a reliable and comprehensive system of energy security is clearly one of the strategic goals for the G8 and the world community as a whole. Today, global energy is an important and true engine of social and economic progress. This is why it directly affects the well-being of billions of people around the globe.
During the Russian Presidency, not only will we seek to develop fundamental approaches to meeting current challenges in this field but also outline our coordinated policy for the long term.
Today, the lack of stability in the hydrocarbon markets poses a real threat to global energy supply. In particular, the gap between supply and demand continues to widen. The apparent increase in energy consumption in Asian countries is caused not only by market fluctuations but also by a host of other factors related to policy and security. In order to stabilize the situation in this field, coordinated activities of the entire world community are needed.
The new policy of the leading world countries should be based on the understanding that the globalization of the energy sector makes energy security indivisible. Our common future in the area of energy means common responsibilities, risks and benefits.
In our view, it is especially important to develop a strategy for achieving global energy security. It should be based on a long-term, reliable and environmentally sustainable energy supply at prices affordable to both the exporting countries and the consumers. In addition to reconciling the interests of stakeholders in the global energy interaction, we will have to identify practical measures aimed at ensuring sustainable access of the world economy to traditional sources of energy, as well as promoting energy-saving programmes and developing alternative energy sources.
A balanced and fair energy supply is undoubtedly a pillar of global security at present and in the years to come. We ought to pass on to the future generations a world energy architecture that would help avoid conflicts and counterproductive competition for energy security. This is why it is essential to find common approaches to creating a solid and long-term energy base for our civilization.
In this connection, Russia calls on the G8 countries and the international community to focus their efforts on developing innovative technologies. This could serve as an initial step in creating a technological basis for energy supply of mankind in the future, when the energy potential in its present form is exhausted.
Global energy security will also benefit from an integrated approach to enhancing energy efficiency of the social and economic development. The G8 made important progress towards elaborating it last year in Gleneagles, including, in particular, the adoption of the Plan of Action aimed at promoting innovation, energy saving and environmental protection. We find it crucially important to engage non-G8 countries, especially fast-growing and industrializing economies, in participating in the G8 initiatives and, particularly, in implementing the document adopted at Gleneagles.
The way most people see it, energy security has mainly to do with the interests of industrially developed countries. It should be kept in mind, however, that almost two billion people in today's world do not enjoy modern-day energy services, while many of them lack access to even electricity. Their access to many benefits and advances of civilization has been virtually blocked.
Needless to say, energy alone would not solve the poverty problem. At the same time, lack of energy resources throughout different regions significantly hinders economic growth while their unsustainable use may result in an ecological disaster on a global rather than local scale.
Lately, experts have been actively discussing ways of increasing energy use in developing countries through a more intensive development of non-conventional energy sources. And this is where assistance rendered by the G8 in developing and introducing alternative power facilities becomes ever so important.
Generally speaking, all of us should recognize and admit that “energy egoism” in a modern and highly interdependent world is a road to nowhere. Therefore Russia's attitude towards energy security remains clear and unchanged. It is our strong belief that energy redistribution guided wholly by the priorities of a small group of most developed countries does not serve the goals and purposes of global development. We will strive to create an energy security system sensitive to the interests of the whole international community. Basically all it takes is for the mankind to create a balanced potential in order to provide every State with sustainable energy supply, and international cooperation opens all avenues for that.
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Throughout its history, the human race finds itself fighting against a genuine threat to its survival – that of the spread of infectious diseases. The progress made might seem encouraging: smallpox was eliminated once and for all throughout the world while fight against poliomyelitis is drawing to a close. Yet our times are also plagued by the outbreaks of both known and new and highly dangerous diseases such as AIDS, exotic viral hemorrhagic fever, microplasma infections, and bird flu. Today, infections account for every third death in the world. According to experts, in the years to come there is a high probability of a new strain of pandemic influenza that would claim millions of lives.
Russia would like to suggest the reactivation of efforts in this regard, including the adoption of a strategic action plan of the G8 to fight bird flu and prevent new human flu pandemics.
In general, the Group should not and must not stay indifferent to such enormous challenges as combating infectious diseases. The uneven development of health systems as well as unequal financial capabilities and scientific potential required to fight epidemics lead to uneven distribution of global resources allocated to the fight against infections.
Marked by a different degree of intensity in different regions, infectious diseases, working as a litmus test, expose social and economic problems, aggravate social inequality and contribute to discrimination. Thus, people infected with HIV and other dangerous diseases find themselves in an alarming situation as they are essentially marginalized and have to cope both with their disease and the difficulties of adapting to a full life in society.
There is another fundamental aspect. In recent years, our world has suffered the devastation of earthquakes, floods and tsunamis with increasing frequency. Urbanization, wider transport networks and industrial infrastructure make us much more vulnerable to these emergencies than before. They cause damage not only to the economy and social sphere; their heaviest toll is the outbreaks of infectious diseases, which claim thousands of lives. Therefore we view as another priority the establishment of a global system for natural disaster warning and mitigating their epidemiological consequences.
Thought might also be given to the possibility of creating a unified infrastructure capable of responding to the emergence and spread of epidemic in a prompt manner. This infrastructure must include a monitoring, information and scientific methodology exchange system that can promptly respond to emergencies.
The so-called humanitarian crises, in particular related to military conflicts, are the root cause of many large-scale diseases. As a result, the threat of effective disease area spread is increased many times over. I am convinced that the G8 will be able to consolidate international efforts in dealing with such emergencies and give a strong impetus to multilateral interaction in this area.
Of course, the G8 should continue to promote scientific capacity-building and pool together intellectual and material resources of the world community for the development of new safe vaccines and promising highly sensitive means to diagnose infectious diseases, as well as for the implementation of education and prevention programmes.
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Our common tasks in the area of education deserve serious attention. In a post-industrial information society, education becomes a prerequisite for success in the daily life and a major input into the economic development. It is one of the most important elements of a growing social identity, moral values and stronger democracy. Moreover, as technologies improve, labor market favors higher-skilled specialists, and education requirements are constantly increasing as a result. Its goals and content are consequently changing. Today, possessing a certain amount of knowledge and skills is not enough; one has to be ready to constantly upgrade and adapt them to new requirements.
Access to global wealth of information dramatically changes education methodologies themselves. Transfer to continuous education is taking place now. Preconditions are in place to form a common education space. Certainly, these trends are gaining momentum, primarily in developing countries. At the same time, many nations and regions still face an acute problem of accessibility of even the basic education. We view this as a true ”humanitarian disaster“, as a serious threat to the world community. Widespread illiteracy is a breeding ground for the advocates of inter-civilizational strife, xenophobia and national and religious extremism, and in the final analysis for international terrorist activities.
In this context, it is important to formulate a wider and more systematic approach to education in both developing countries and the world at large. In particular, if the employment problem is to be successfully resolved, the notion of education must, as it seems, include not only general education but also vocational and technical training encompassing all levels of education, from basic to higher one.
In the conditions of growing mobility of world population and steady increase in migration, the problem of integration into a different cultural environment acquires special importance. Obviously, it is education that makes possible mutual social adaptation of various cultural, ethnic and confessional groups. Hence, special attention should be paid to upgrading education systems for the attainment of these goals both in developed and developing countries.
Many developing countries experience serious difficulties with introducing advanced education methods and information technologies. In this respect, it is necessary to make more efficient use of the most advanced resources, including the Internet and other newest means of information and knowledge distribution, in the field of education. A fruitful debate on this subject took place last November in Tunisia during the second stage of the World Summit on Information Society; we have been carefully reviewing the Summit outcomes and intend to use them.
Russia stands ready to assist in mobilizing the world community's efforts aimed at raising the quality and compatibility of requirements to professional education as a key condition for the use and propagation of innovations. All stakeholders in global economic development and the international labor market in general are interested in this. The responsiveness of educational institutions to the demands of high-tech sectors is a necessary precondition for the competitiveness of national economies.
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Along with the three priorities on the agenda of the Russian Presidency mentioned above, the G8 will continue in 2006 its work on such key issues as the fight against international terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. The Group will remain focused on the problems of development assistance as well as the prevention of environmental degradation and critical issues of the world economy, finance and trade. And certainly, as before, our efforts will remain focused on the settlement of regional conflicts, primarily in the Middle East and in Iraq, and on stabilizing the situation in Afghanistan.
We fully realize that not a single Presidency is capable of offering comprehensive solutions to the problems of the modern world being discussed by the G8. At the same time, from summit to summit, the Group is getting a better vision of these problems and strives to find the most workable approaches to their solution through its joint efforts.
Russia is ready to contribute actively to further progress in this direction. Continuity and evolutionthese words are the motto of the Russian Presidency that has commenced.