On the 3rd of December in Dubai, GEFI hosted the 1st of 3 engaging ‘Adam Smith and Ibn Khaldun at COP28’ evening lectures at the DIFC Academy, exploring the perspectives of Scottish Adam Smith and Arab Ibn Khaldun on the impact of climate on the rise and fall of economies and nations. The discussion unfolded through insightful presentations and discussions, shedding light on the relevance of their theories in the face of contemporary climate challenges.

Simon Thompson, Chief Executive of the Chartered Banker Institute, set the stage by highlighting the unique yet complementary views of Ibn Khaldun and Adam Smith. Moving away from the usual focus on new concepts, Thompson underscored the enduring wisdom of these radical and tried-and-tested theories.

Omar Shaikh, Managing Director at GEFI, stressed the importance of taking a break from the technical details of climate policies to address the broader issues of unchecked consumption, economic decline, and broader radical theories. Drawing inspiration from both Adam Smith and Ibn Khaldun, he called for a reevaluation of our relationship with nature, quoting Mahatma Gandhi: “The Earth has enough resources to meet the needs of all but not enough to satisfy the greed of even one person.”

In a keynote address on systemic risk, Saker Nusseibeh, CEO of Federated Hermes, connected the insights of Adam Smith and Ibn Khaldun to contemporary issues. He emphasised the urgency of addressing climate change, drawing parallels with historical events like the Roman Empire’s collapse due to migration, climate change, and plague. Nusseibeh also highlighted the need for a just transition, global collaboration, and responsible use of natural resources.

 

The Ibn Khaldun Perspective

Lecture by Dr. Aref Ali Nayed, Founder and Chairman, Kalam Research & Media

Dr. Aref Ali Nayed’s lecture unveiled Ibn Khaldun’s groundbreaking work, the Muqaddimah (the Introduction), revealing insights on climate and food security that remain relevant today.
Dr. Aref explained that there’s a muqaddimah to Ibn Khaldun’s Muqaddimah (an introduction to the Introduction), which is a chapter solely focusing on geography. In that chapter, many of the points Ibn Khaldun makes align with current discussions on climate.
Key points made in the geography chapter include:

  1. Temperate climate is conducive to economic prosperity and civilisational development.
  2. Intemperate hot climate is not conducive to economic prosperity and civilisational development.
  3. Climate impacts humans, physically and culturally.
  4. Food, its quantity and quality, impact humans physically and culturally.
  5. Food choices and consumption-levels are matters of habit, and habits can be changed.

Notably, in the Muqaddimah, Ibn Khaldun identified a cyclical pattern in the rise and fall of civilisations, proposing that societies oscillate between two phases: “natality” (badawa) and “civility” (hadara), with environmental factors playing a crucial role. This challenges the linear view of history, emphasising the dynamic nature of human societies adapting to changing environments.
Ibn Khaldun also recognised the fundamental importance of food security for the stability and prosperity of civilisations, emphasising the connection between the quantity and quality of food available and its impact on human health, culture, and societal development. Interestingly, he acknowledged the influence of habit and choice on food consumption, suggesting that dietary patterns can evolve over time.

Remarkably, while the concept of modern climate change was beyond his grasp, Ibn Khaldun witnessed firsthand the devastating effects of natural disasters and pandemics on systemic collapse. He vividly described scenarios of mass depopulation, weakened authority, and abandoned cities—scenarios mirroring our current concerns about the potential consequences of a warming planet, many experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr. Aref also reminded us that it would be self-centered to think humans are inherently good for the world. During COVID-19 lockdowns, animals were observed roaming our busy streets, with several species showing up that we never knew existed.
Dr. Aref also urged a reevaluation of economic metrics to include the true costs of externalities, challenging industries to account for their impact on the environment.

Quotes:

“This was the situation until, in the middle of the eighth [fourteenth] century, civilisation both in the East and the West was visited by a destructive plague which devastated nations and caused populations to vanish. It swallowed up many of the good things of civilisation and wiped them out. It overtook the dynasties at the time of their senility, when they had reached the limit of their duration. It lessened their power and curtailed their influence. It weakened their authority. Their situation approached the point of annihilation and dissolution. Civilisation decreased with the decrease of mankind. Cities and buildings were laid waste, roads and way signs were obliterated, settlements and mansions became empty, dynasties and tribes grew weak. The entire inhabited world changed. The East, it seems, was similarly visited, though in accordance with and in proportion to (the East’s more affluent) civilisation. It was as if the voice of existence in the world had called out for oblivion and restriction, and the world had responded to its call. God inherits the earth and whomever is upon it.” The Muqaddimah, Ibn Khaldun

“When there is a general change of conditions, it is as if the entire creation had changed and the whole world been altered, as if it were a new and repeated creation, a world brought into existence anew. Therefore, there is need at this time that someone should systematically set down the situation of the world among all regions and races, as well as the customs and sectarian beliefs that have changed for their adherents, doing for this age what al-Mas’udi did for his. This should be a model for future historians to follow.” The Muqaddimah, Ibn Khaldun

“(There also is disregard of the fact that the physical circumstances and environment) are subject to changes that affect later generations; they do not necessarily remain unchanged.”- Ibn Khaldun

 

The Adam Smith Perspective

Lecture by David Pitt-Watson, Global Steering Group, GEFI

David Pitt-Watson’s presentation shifted the focus to Adam Smith, a key figure in classical and neoclassical economics. Smith’s Wealth of Nations laid the foundations for economic thought, emphasising the benefits of specialisation, trade, and open markets. David summarised that the key message of the Wealth of Nations argued that specialisation leads to increased productivity, prosperity, and the accumulation of capital.

David also extracted from the works of Adam Smith that while Adam Smith did not anticipate a climate crisis, he recognised the need to invest in natural resources for sustained human civilisation. The modern challenge, as David pointed out, lies in our failure to account for natural capital in economic calculations.

Adam Smith also advocated for responsible resource management and warned against practices that depleted them. While not explicitly addressing climate change, he acknowledged the finite nature of resources and the need for their sustainable utilisation.
Adam Smith further emphasised the importance of accounting for externalities, the hidden costs of economic activity on the environment and society. Adam Smith would argue against policies that subsidised unsustainable practices and advocated for capturing the true value of goods and services, including their environmental impact, to guide decision-making.

David urged a shift in perspective and policy. Acknowledging the looming climate crisis, he emphasised the need to tax bad externalities and reconsider financial practices. Adam Smith, he argued, would have advocated for recognising the limitations of resources, urging the finance industry to finance the climate crisis responsibly.

David Pitt-Watson also suggested that had Adam Smith still been alive to witness climate change, he would wholeheartedly agree with David Attenborough’s quote here:

“During the space of a single human lifetime—my lifetime—we have changed the planet so much that the benign stable conditions which underpinned both the growth of our civilisations and the trade and financial systems that you preside over, have ended. The value we place on a stable natural world will ultimately determine its future. Do we invest in the practices which take us deeper into this crisis, or the solutions that could get us out of it?”

Quotes:

“ When the natural tendencies of royal authority to claim all glory for itself and to acquire luxury and tranquility have been firmly established, the dynasty approaches senility. ” Kitab al ‘Ibar, Ibn Khaldun

“ [Great nations are… impoverished when]… unproductive hands may consume so great a share of their whole revenue and [they are] thereby obliged… to encroach upon their capital…[on] the funds destined for the maintenance of productive labour. ” Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith

“ after all their labour [planting and tillage], the great part of the work always has to be done by [nature] ” Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith