Code red for humanity: time for a just and adequate response is running out!
The remaining months of 2021 are crucial for the future of our humanity. The multiple and interrelated crises that we face call for an even greater level of unprecedented and truly multilateral action.
In the past few months the world has witnessed extreme climate events from Haiti to Algeria and from Austria to the USA. We have also seen the rapid spread of the Delta variant of the Coronavirus and an increase in the number of Ebola cases. The UN Secretary General Antonio Gueterres described the latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel of Experts on Climate Change in August as nothing less than a ‘code red for humanity.’ While humanity as a whole is impacted by climate change and the Covid-19 pandemic, the vulnerable and those with the least access to lifesaving resources and decision-making processes - including many women, girls and gender minorities - are the worst impacted.
Aggravating this injustice, responsibility for these crises are unevenly carried. In the case of climate change, the historical responsibility of industrialised countries is conventionally accepted and recorded in Annex II of the UN’s Framework Convention of Climate Change (UNFCCC), which lists 23 countries plus the European Union which have to provide financial resources to developing countries to mitigate and adapt to climate change. The Paris Agreement in 2015 reaffirmed this obligation and agreed to extend the $100 billion a year of climate finance up to and including 2025. Worryingly, at a time when many climate-vulnerable countries in the global south are attempting to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic whilst experiencing ongoing climate impacts, we see the quantity, quality and composition of climate finance deteriorating.
On the other side of the coin 'vaccine apartheid’ continues unabated, further diminishing any chances of a quick health, social and economic recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic for these countries. In this context, the words of the G20’s leaders in their 2020 communique that ‘coordinated global action, solidarity and multilateral cooperation are more necessary today than ever to overcome the current challenges and realise opportunities of the 21st century for all by empowering people, safeguarding the planet, and shaping new frontiers” ring hollow and hypocritical. Or as the UN Secretary General put it: “Unfortunately words by themselves will not end the pandemic - or curb the impact of the climate crisis.”
While there have been many ‘make or break’ moments in history, the remaining months of 2021 are particularly crucial for the future of our humanity.
Will the 76th UN General Assembly this month live up to its mandate as the only genuine global governance body, and steer the course of humanity? An important indicator in this regard is whether it takes a step closer to convening a UN Economic Reconstruction and Systemic Reform Summit. Will agreements be made to ensure that the new Special Drawing Rights (SDRs) allocated are done so in a fair and transparent way? With the SDR distribution being proportional to quota, the current allocation of US$650 billion is inadequate to satisfactorily increase access to finance for the global south. To avoid the risk of defeating the whole purpose of the exercise, a significant portion of advanced economies’ SDRs must be rechanneled to developing countries in a way that truly supports a fair and equitable recovery from the pandemic crisis.
Will private creditors be required to be transparent about their sovereign debt holdings? And will measures be taken to enforce their participation in operations to relieve countries of debt and help them to recover from the Covid-19 crisis and deal with climate change? The Debt Transparency Initiative announced by the G20 in October 2020 - currently being designed by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) based on the Institute of International Finance (IIF) Voluntary Principles on Debt Transparency - has been met with dismay by civil society. This alternative proposal would ensure that loans to governments, or any form of government guarantee, would be disclosed via a global publicly-accessible registry within 30 days of contract signature, and would include: the value of the loan, fees, charges and interest, the law the debt is owed under, any available information on the use of proceeds and the payment schedule.
Will a new fair and transparent sovereign debt workout mechanism come closer to being created? Private creditors’ unwillingness to participate in debt relief initiatives risks them free-riding on current efforts to temporarily relieve debt servicing requirements and shore-up access to finance. Furthermore, the current debt relief initiatives fail to bring in all creditors and exclude debtors in the process of designing these initiatives in a fair and transparent process. All this points to the fundamental weakness of today’s sovereign debt architecture. There are ample opportunities to address these issues coming up including at the fifteenth quadrennial session of the UN’s Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) in October.
Will real steps be taken to address the deep inequalities among countries in relation to global tax governance so that all countries will be able to participate on an equal footing when global tax rules are set? The OECD-led Inclusive Framework, where new global tax rules are currently being discussed, is far from being as inclusive as the name suggests, and the draft outcomes that are currently on the table have clear biases in favour of richer and larger countries, whereas in particular smaller developing countries are disadvantaged.
Will the predominant narrative of private money paving the way to sustainable development cease to be echoed in every soundbite coming out of the Annual Meetings of the Bretton Woods Institutions in October? Will the 20th funding replenishment of the World Bank’s International Development Association (IDA) distance itself from this narrative? A crucial test will be the policy framework guiding how WB’s concessional resources will be used. Subsidising the private sector to invest in public goods and services through the IDA will only exacerbate the pandemic’s harmful consequences.
Will commitments and actions at COP26, the UN’s Climate Summit, reduce the speed at which we are heading to the precipice of climate chaos? Will the pandemic allow for an inclusive discussion? Given the state of affairs, it is crucial that all relevant countries and stakeholders are at the table, to ensure that these discussions – and the subsequent efforts agreed – are driven by equity and the needs of those most affected.
During the code red phase of the Covid-19 pandemic, governments took unprecedented steps to control its spread. The multiple and interrelated crises that we face call for an even greater level of unprecedented and truly multilateral action.