2022: The year of uncertainty
As many countries welcomed in the new year they were also hit by Omicron, yet another even more infectious variant of the Coronavirus. The world is once again faced with the common challenge of dealing with a new turn in the pandemic.
One year ago we entered 2021 with a spirit of optimism that the pandemic could be overcome if the international community rose to the challenge of ensuring equal vaccine access to all countries, starting with those sections of society that needed it the most. The outlook for 2022 is much bleaker. As we approach the half-way point towards the Sustainable Development Goals’ 2030 deadline, the global effort should be converging to ensure that ‘no one is left behind,’ which is the resolve of Agenda 2030. Instead, the divergence in outlook of the Global South and those across the world hit hardest by the multiple crises on the one hand, and the Global North and the world’s wealthiest on the other, could not be more dramatic.
Oxfam estimated that 2,755 billionaires saw their fortunes grow more during the COVID-19 crisis than they have in the whole of the last 14 years. At the same time, an unprecedented 85 million more people had to live in extreme poverty in 2020 globally, and this number is expected to remain well above pre-pandemic levels until the end of this decade. While millions who live in overcrowded accommodation, working in jobs with precarious incomes or unstable working conditions with no chance to work from home, were put into a position of extreme vulnerability for contracting the virus, one of the richest men in the world launched himself and his friends into space in his own space rocket in July 2021.
The failure of the international community to protect its most vulnerable: the elderly, children and young people, indigenous communities and women, while holding a hand over the heads of its richest is scandalous. In its World Economic Situation and Prospects (WESP) 2022 Report, the UN’s Department of Economic and Social Affairs pointed to “manifestly unequal access to vaccines and inadequate commitments to addressing debt challenges.” As the burden of servicing largely dollar-denominated debt increases, countries are likely to impose severe austerity measures, which will hit women the hardest, once again. The predicted limitations of the G20’s Debt Service Suspension Initiative and its Common Framework for debt treatments have also been acknowledged by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank but the solutions they provide are inadequate. UN Secretary General António Gueterres was more blunt in his criticism when he described the global financial system as being ‘morally bankrupt,’ favouring the rich over the poor, in his remarks to the General Assembly on his 2022 priorities.
His sentiments echo the 2012 manifesto ‘Be outraged: there are alternatives’ made by a prominent group of economists in the wake of the 2008 global financial crisis. It diagnosed the disease to be caused by the insufficiency of global governance structures on two basic grounds: they lacked coherence and the leverage required to address the complex challenges of globalisation and they were unrepresentative and lacked legitimacy, basically still reflecting colonial divisions of power. We are still in the grips of this broken global governance. The scathing criticism from the UN Secretary General has to be met with a proportionately powerful agenda of reform that the UN leads on.
The failure to overhaul broken global governance structures
Unfortunately the September 2021 UN report, ‘Our Common Agenda’ does not reach this bar. Rather than calling for a rehaul of global governance to address these two fundamental problems, the report presents a way forward in which UN member-wide decision making spaces would turn into ‘networked multilateralism’ involving much less transparent and democratic smaller groupings and processes, with little room for influence for less powerful, poorer countries and civil society groups mostly representing the world’s poorest. Far from curing the disease, this modality of operation would only undermine the United Nations' role in international decision making and the related accountability and transparency that is central to its legitimacy.
The broken global governance system risks becoming incurable due to grave misdiagnoses and a dangerous course of treatment. This the world cannot afford. There is an alternative remedy. The Civil Society Financing for Development Group has been calling for a UN Economic Reconstruction and Systemic Reform Summit - or “Monterrey+20”, to be organised as soon as the epidemiological situation allows for full and equal face-to-face modalities of participation. The UN’s Financing for Development process already has the mandate to convene such a conference to address urgent global systemic challenges on debt, international tax, private finance, ODA, trade, technology and financial regulation.
Call for a reboot in 2022
The ‘Be outraged’ 2012 manifesto called for the reform of global economic governance. A decade later, the solutions put forward by the UN WESP 2022 Report are hardly different. These include: addressing intellectual property issues to end vaccine apartheid; providing countries struggling to grapple with multiple crises access to affordable financing; favouring more grants over loans to avoid increasing already onerous debt burdens; putting in place a mechanism for fair, timely and orderly debt restructuring and cancellation under UN auspices; supporting the long-standing call of over 130 developing countries to establish an intergovernmental tax body within the UN that could spearhead the fight against large-scale international tax dodging and ensuring that global tax rules also reflect the interests and concerns of developing countries.
Two years on from the Covid-19 outbreak we are less naïve and more uncertain. There is a slow realisation that solutions arising out of an imperfect multilateralism, whether around vaccine access, finance to support a ‘green and inclusive recovery’ or debt service suspension are insufficient to save the day. From this realisation must arise the urgency: we need to reboot global governance in 2022!