The fourth annual Paris Peace Forum kicked off Thursday as world leaders gathered for the three-day conference initiated by President Emmanuel Macron to examine and provide solutions to some of the globe’s most pressing problems.
The opening ceremony featured an illustrious panel of speakers including Macron, US Vice President Kamala Harris, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari and Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.
The session opened and set the stage for the multiple debates and lectures to come. The overriding theme for 2021 is closing the gaps that impede humanity on multiple fronts and preparing for a post-COVID-19 world.
In her first major visit abroad as vice president and in a packed week of diplomatic outreach, Harris spoke eloquently of the global challenges that must be met but said that primary among them is the need for equality. She outlined that by virtually every measure, the gaps in wealth and gender parity have grown.
“History is full of leaders, leaders who refused to accept the status quo, who asked why, who took action. And because they did, they changed our world. Today, we face a dramatic rise in inequality, and we must rise to meet this moment. I believe as leaders, we must ask why this inequality persists,” she said.
“This is what we owe each other. In the 21st century, our fates are linked, as is our future.”
To get at the root of this challenge, Harris emphasized that countries must look critically at “the long-standing structures that are fractured and fissured” by taking action at home and by showing solidarity.
She also said that the US is committed to addressing its own gaps, primarily through the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill passed last week through Congress and the $1.9 trillion economic recovery package that she was confident would pass soon as well.
“No single nation can take on this challenge alone. It demands that our world work together,” the vice president said, reminding the audience that the world did so when they met less than two weeks ago to resolve the climate crisis
The US also joined the Paris call for confidence and security in cyberspace, a French initiative to combat online terrorism content and to promote the ethical and responsible use of AI.
Harris challenged all leaders to continue to ask themselves why and then take action.
“There is the power of the people, and there are the people that are in power. It will take all of us to meet this challenge.”
President Buhari spoke on the need for his nation and fellow African nations to fight through this pandemic but called on world leaders for their help, for “vaccines to be delivered to the developing world,” he said.
“The need for vaccines is undermining the fight against this pandemic,” Buhari added, noting that even with the promised delivery of 600 million doses by the end of 2021, there would still be a shortfall. Receiving an average of 100 million doses per month rather than the present 20 million will help those nations in need stem the surge.
“What needs to be done to bridge the gap?” he then asked.
Buhari spoke of solving supply chain constraints that have hindered global deliveries on all fronts as well as honing the manufacturing process for more efficiency all around.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina spoke next, thanking President Macron for the invitation and expressing a deeply held sentiment for her country.
“Our people have learned to value peace as the deepest aspiration of all human beings,” she said.
She also highlighted the elephant in the middle of the room.
“COVID-19 has exposed the fault lines running deep within national health and financial systems. It has once again laid bare the gaps between the haves and have-nots. We must mind and close those gaps.”
Hasina touched on the necessity of adhering to climate ambitions “to save people’s lives, homes and livelihoods,” an answer for thousands of migrants stuck at national borders, an end to discrimination, and the need for women and girls to continue to break glass ceilings.
“We must match our words with our deeds and resources,” she said.
The prime minister envisioned her country’s region as “free, open, peaceful and secure...an area of peace and prosperity for all” which included a zero tolerance level for any forms of terrorism.
Hasina reminded those present about the August 2017 shelter that Bangladesh afforded nearly three-quarters of a million Rohingya people, who still face an uncertain future.
“The world must act to ensure they can go back to Myanmar soon,” she said. “As citizens of one planet, we must champion our unity by celebrating our empathy, humanity and diversity.”
Macron took the stage and immediately thanked the heads of state for attending the event, especially those who came during still-difficult times in many of their countries.
“I am very happy to have your presence,” he said.
The president spoke on almost every issue set before world leaders but emphasized that as in every recent summit, collectivity would be key.
“Faced with the economic, health, environmental, security and political fractures of our world, there is no credible alternative to a collective response,” the head of state said.
“This is the meaning of the Paris Peace Forum -- effective multilateralism!”
Macron said that a universal response to the pandemic was needed, recalling the prior year when the world was only dreaming of the delivery of a vaccine.
“In one year, many countries have developed a vaccine,” he said, noting that their development was then shared with poorer countries the world over who did not yet have access as the months went on.
In the wake of his attendance at the UN Climate Change Conference (COP-26) in Glasgow, Scotland, Macron commented on the immediate need for and ongoing attention to climate change.
“Concerning the environment, words are no longer enough, and the youth of all of our countries are asking us to do more,” he said
The president added that the overall theme of the forum is the struggle for the rights of all peoples.
“The fight for human rights is not relative to a culture or a geographic whole, it is universal.”