Meeting for a global agenda

From Mr Gordon Conway Sir: You reported that the American President will not attend the UN Social Summit in Copenhagen in March, and our Prime Minister has yet to decide ("Gales of waffle threaten UN's poverty summit", 30 January).

As we all recognise, we are moving towards a new world that is multi-polar and increasingly interdependent. To meet these challenges, a global agenda for change is taking shape. Elements include Agenda 21 stemming from the 1992 UN Conference on the Environment and Development, the new World Trade Organisation emerging from the signing of Gatt, and proposals on population from the 1994 Cairo Conference. To come this year are the Beijing Conference on Women, the Lucerne ministerial meeting on sustainable agriculture and food security and the Social Summit. Taken together, these meetings in 1995 present the international community with an opportunity to take practical steps to end poverty and human misery.

We may not agree with all that is said in such forums and have reservations about how policies are to be implemented. We may be irritated by the waffle and the organisational in-fighting, but we should be active, committed participants in the process. The UK is internationally recognised for the expertise, in policies and practical experience, that resides in our research and policy institutes, in our universities and in our non-government organisations. We should be playing a key role in shaping the world of the 21st century and not, as we have done in Europe, standing aside and then criticising when all is not to our liking.

Yours sincerely, Gordon Conway Vice Chancellor University of Sussex Falmer, Brighton 30 January