Italy and the Dubious Honor of Chairing the G20

Conferences, Democracy, Development & Aid, Economy & Trade, Featured, Global, Global Governance, Globalisation, Headlines, TerraViva United Nations

Opinion

ROME, Jan 11 2021 (IPS) – For 2021, Italy has been given chairmanship of the Group of 20, which brings together the world’s 20 most important countries. On paper, they represent 60% of the world’s population and 80% of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP). While the shaky Italian government will somehow perform this task (in the general indifference of the political system), the fact remains that this apparently prestigious position is in fact very deceiving: the G20 is now a very weak institution that brings no kudos to the rotating chairman. Besides, it is actually the institution which bears the greatest part of responsibility for the decline of the UN as the body responsible for global governance, a task that the G20 has very seldom been able to face up to.


Roberto Savio

Let us reconstruct how we arrive at the creation of the G20. It is a long story, that begins in 1975, when France invited the representatives of Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States, leading to the name Group of Six, or G6. The idea was to create a space where to discuss the international situation, not for decision making. Then it became the Group of Seven, with the addition of Canada in 1997. Russia was added in 1998, so the summit became known as the G8. And then, in 1980, the European Union was invited as a “nonenumerated participant”. In 2005 the UK government initiated the practice of inviting five leading emergency markets – Brazil, China, India, Mexico and South Africa. Finally, in Washington, in 2005, the world leaders from the group recognized the growth of more emerging countries, and they decided that a meeting of the 20 most important countries of the world would replace the G8 and become the G20.

At the meetings the United Nations, the European Union, and the major international monetary and financial institutions are also invited. Spain is a permanent invitee, together with leaders of the Asian, African Union, of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development, the Financial Stability Board, the International Labor Organization, the International Monetary Fund, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the World Bank Group, and the World Trade Organization.

Plus. The host country can invite some countries that it feels particularly associated with its foreign policy, at its year of presidency. Until now, 38 countries have been invited, from Azerbaijan to Chad, from Denmark to Laos, from Sweden to Zimbabwe. To complete, it is important to mention that Russia was suspended by the G8 in 2014, because of its annexation of Crimea. And was never readmitted. Trump, in his inexplicable deference to Putin, asked for its readmission to the G8, and this was refused by the other countries. The G7 has kept meeting, as “a steering group of the West”. At the same time, the G20 meets regularly, with Russia as part of his members.

So, Italy has the task to invite all those different actors, establish the agenda and planning and hosting a series of ministerial-level meetings, leading up to summit of head of governments. Italy has decided as agenda “The three P”: People, Planet and Prosperity. This imaginative and original agenda will be structured in 10 specialized meetings, like Finance (Venice July 9-10th); Innovation and Research (Trieste Aug. 5-8th); Environment, Climate, Energy (Naples, July 22nd), just to give a few examples. Beside these 10 specialized meetings, there will be 8 “engagement’s groups”, which will go from business to civil society, youth, etc.

The G20 is formed by countries that are involved in different and often contradictory groups. For instance, after Trump killed the TTP, (the Transatlantic Pacific Partnership), that Obama was able to put together excluding China, with a vast range of counters going from Australia to Mexico, from Canada to Malaysia, China was able to reciprocate, and crate the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, which puts together the same countries plus some others and leave outside completely the United States. This commercial bloc is the largest ever created and has 30% of the world’s population, and 30% of the world GDP. But the European Union, (to which Italy belongs) has explicitly taken a path of European nationalism, to make the EU able to survive in the coming competition between China and the United States. European Union (and therefore Italy) are also members of NATO, where the United States is the indispensable and fundamental partner. And in the G20 China seats with India, which is the only country that has refused to join RCEP, and who is clearly taking an alternative path to China’s expansion in Asia. But this is also Japan’s policy, who is very active in G7, in the G20, and has entered RCEP, and considers, like South Korea, a priority to limit the Chinese expansionism.

Of course, there are a number of other pacts, agreements, treaties and alliances, that would be now boring and useless to enumerate. One country, like Italy, would therefore wear several hats at the same time. The point to make is, that since the arrival of Ronald Reagan as President of the United States in 1981, the multilateral system started to be under attack. Reagan, in Cancun’s Summit for the North-South dialogue, a few months after his election, questioned the idea of democracy and participation as the basis for international relations. Until then, the General Assembly resolutions were considered the basis for global governance. In 1973, the GA passed unanimously a resolution, calling for the reduction of the economic gap between the North and the South of the world, calling rich countries to their duties to establish a New International Economic Order, more just and based on the faster development of the poorer countries. Reagan denounced this as an anti-American maneuver. The US is not the same as Montecarlo, as he famously said (probably he intended Monaco, as Montecarlo is no state), and yet they have a vote each. So, this democracy coming from the UN, was in fact a straitjacket, and the US would proceed on the basis of bilateral relations, and not to be strained by multilateral mechanisms. Reagan was the first to talk of America first, He, together with Margaret Thatcher in Europe, dismantled all the social progress made in the world after the end of the Second World War. The market, with his invisible hand, would be the sole engine of society (that Thatcher said does not exist, only individuals). The State, that he called “the beast”, was the first enemy of the citizen. He declared: the most terrifying words in English are: I am from the Government, and I am here to help”. Any public or social cost was just a brake to the market. Reagan wanted to privatize even the ministry of Education: he and Thatcher left UNESCO, as a symbol of disengagement from the UN. Both he and Thatcher curtailed trade unions, privatized whatever possible, and started the era of neoliberal globalization, whose effect is now widely evident, and that Trump, Bolsonaro and Co. bless every day, because it has created a very large swath of disaffected citizens, who believe they will readdress their destiny.

Is important to note that Reagan did not have any real opposition, from the other rich countries. So, all this fragmentation of the world, with the creation of G7, G8, G20, and other exclusive clubs, was not an exclusive responsibility of Reagan and Thatcher. For forty years, the process of divesting the UN from its responsibility for the world’s peace, development, and democracy went on. Neoliberal globalization was based on finance and trade. Even before the end of the war, finance was delegated to the System of Bretton Wood, by the name of the site where it was founded. Let us just constate a fact: the Financial System was established in a such way, that Finance is the only sector of human activity that has no regulatory body. Today it has clearly separated by the general economy when its original function was to be at its service. And political institutions are not able to control its global structure.

The other engine of globalization was trading. United Nations had the UN Commission on Trade and Development, UNCTAD, which looked to trade as an instrument of development. The creation in 1995 of the World Trade Organization, as an independent organization, envisaging trade as an economic engine, divested the UN from trade too. And more the UN weakens, the easier is to decry its shortcomings.

The stroke of grace to multilateralism has been the arrival of Trump, the heir and an updated version of Ronald Reagan. But with a totally different agenda and vision. His basic idea is not “America First”, but “America Alone”. He pushes Regan’s idea of bilateralism versus multilateralism to the extreme of ignoring the concept of alliances. So, he declared, Europe is even worse than China. But there is a fundamental difference between them: Trump never pretended to be the President of all Americans. On the contrary, he tried immediately to divide and polarize the United States, and he leaves as a legacy the US that will take a very long time to become again a united and pacified country. And his strategy has been taken by several other leaders, from Bolsonaro to Orban, from Erdogan to Salvini.

It will be, therefore, difficult, for the UN to recover its function of the meeting place, to express plans of global governance, based on democracy and participation. It was a vision based on the lessons learned in the Second World War: let us avoid millions of deaths, terrible destruction, and to do so we need to work together. That lesson has been now forgotten. Just compare the kind of political leaders from that time, and the present one, to see the enormous change. Therefore, the expression of national egoisms will continue, with the richest countries in exclusives clubs, like OECD or the G20.

But there is a problem: those clubs are not efficient, because they gather together countries with very different agendas and priorities. Let us take a good example from the last G20, held last November under the very discredited chairmanship of Saudi Arabia. One of the points was the cancellation of the debt from poor countries, evidently urgent, because of the additional burden of the pandemic that is going to bring disproportionate damage. The Pope, the Secretary-General of the UN, Gutierres, pressed for that decision. All that the G20 was able to do, was to freeze the payment of the interest of the debt, for six months. And here, let us divagate for a useful learning exercise of the Third World Debt, and on the nobility of the rich countries.

If you take a loan that you repay over 20 years at 5%, or a mortgage, of 100, at the end you will have repaid 200. And during the first ten years, all you pay are the interest, and only in the second decade, you start to pay back, progressively, the capital. The result is that the poor countries several times renegotiated their debt and every time what they paid where the interest, to start again. And those interests were cumulative. During that process, they paid several times the amount of the capital that they received. But all that they paid went to the interests… At the university, you learn one good example of the perversity of cumulative interests. The old story is that a Dutch settler, Peter Minuit, bought the island of Manhattan from the Algonquin tribe. The price paid was $24 worth of beads, trinkets, a jar of Mayonnaise, two pairs of wooden clogs, a loaf of wonder bread and a carton of Quaker oats. If that amount was put in a loan at 5%with composite interest, it would be by now more than the estimated value of all of Manhattan, which exceeds three trillion dollars. So, the decision of the G20 to freeze interests for six months, amount to nothing. It is interesting to listen to insiders’ voices. The loans of the rich countries are computed in the DAC, Development Assistance Committee, established by OECD (the organizations that gathers all rich countries). The OECD engaged itself, in the old good day of multilateralism, to dedicated 1% of the members’ GDP to the development of the underdeveloped countries. This engagement was never kept, except for the Nordic Countries and Nederland. The US never went over 0,3%. Anyhow, any debt condonation goes into the official statistics of the DAC committee. But new loans are made, by countries that are not in the DAC committee, like China, which has made a very extensive number of loans, especially in Asia and Africa in not public conditions. For the OECD countries (basically the West), to cancel their loans could mean to unleash resources that could go to pay China loans, becoming so China funders. This is a good example of how competing interests, block the G20 from concerted actions.

Decisions on this issue are now expected from the next G20 Summit in Rome, in November. But before, the Global Health Summit, called from the G20 together with the EU in May, will be the occasion to verify what will happen. with vaccinations. But in the same month, Portugal has called for the very important Social Summit of the European Union. Portugal has taken the much more substantial chairmanship of the EU, and this is a very positive contribution to a positive 2021. Portugal is today probably the most civilized country of Europe, a place of tolerance, harmony and civic engagement, much like Sweden in the 80s. And is the only credible country on the issue of immigration. In the Social Summit Lisbon will push to strengthen social Europe, after so many decades of a solely economic Europe. The outgoing German chairmanship was fundamental in abandoning the austerity dogma and move to an unprecedented plan of solidarity and institutional strengthening, made also possible by the blessed departure of England, and its anti-European historical bias. The fact that vaccination is a European plan, and not a hotchpotch of national attempts, is great progress in term of vaccination. And if it will continue on the same path, on the issue of climate control, and technological development, it will recover much trust from the citizens, who felt Brussels an unaccountable institution, far from their priorities. Now the EU deals with unemployment, with the economic and social disaster brought by the virus. It is a tribute to the virtues of multilateralism, solidarity and development. And Portugal will try to complete what the German Presidency was unable to conclude.

But if we look to the obvious need for a world’s vaccination, the reality is much dimmer. Until now the rich countries have bought as many as possible vaccines. f. Europe, with 13% of the world population, has bought 51% of the total production. Israel is a case study. With a population of 9 million people, highly registered and organized in the health system, Netanyahu (who will do everything to stay in power), has bought the vaccines at an extra cost but is fast reaching all the population. Certainly, this cannot be the case of India, with nearly 1.4 billion people, and a very primitive system of health… Even the Pope has launched an appeal for distributing a free vaccine in the poor countries, and India and South Africa (which are a member of the G20), have asked the General Assembly of the World Health Organization for free distribution in poor countries. There has been strong opposition from the rich countries, that have financed at the tune of 10 billion dollars the development of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, which now they buy at market prices, several times higher than those of AstraZeneca… And then those two vaccines use a new technology, whose side effects are still unknown, unlike AstraZeneca, which uses a well-experimented technique.

But even if we take the cheaper vaccines, there is a very basic issue: under which ethical and human logic, patents and money can be made over public goods, as the Pope has repeatedly asked? The patent industry has been patenting seeds, rice, plants, which have been existing for hundreds of years, and those new peasants cannot use them without paying a royalty to the company who patented them. And then the pharmaceuticals tried to patent, parts of the human body… Citizens from several parts of the world have been setting up an association, Agorà for Humankind, that is conducting a campaign, for the elimination of patents and profits over public goods, as they belong to humankind. Also, an international alliance has been set up between the public and private sectors, the General Alliance for Vaccine Initiative, GAVI, which has the task to finance vaccination in 93 middle and poor countries. But funding is still far from coming. As things are now, at the end of 2021, only 30% of humankind will be vaccinated, basically from rich countries.

Yet, if there is something that should make all of us aware that we are in the same boat, is this pandemic. Until at least 70% of all humans will be vaccinated, the virus will continue to strike and kill. The British mutation, much more contagious, is a good example. The country with more cases is now Spain, which has no physical contact with the UK. But it went to Gibraltar, the British colony since 1713 in the South of Spain. And from there spread to the surrounding Spanish villages and towns. Did the realization that viruses does not know borders help to make the new treaty for relations between Gibraltar and Spain? The answer is not really: it is trade. Yet, it does not require a virologist to assume that trade spreads the virus…

So, after this long ride among different subjects, its thread should be clear. We have gone from an era when the lessons of the Second World War created a generation of politicians who made of peace and development the common ground for international relations, even during a very dangerous Cold War. Would Trump, Johnson and Putin be at Yalta, instead of Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin, the outcome would have been very different. Most probably, we would have had no United Nations, no international organizations. Just think that the US, to push for the creation of the UN, agreed in its founding engagement, to pay 25% of its costs.

Then, beginning with Reagan and Thatcher, a profound change came. The interests of my country are more important than international cooperation, and the stronger I am, the more so. Multilateralism, cooperation, went under attack, and so the role of the State, its function of guarantor of social progress, equity and participation. Other organizations started to sprout, and weaken the UN, and the instruments of a social pact, like trade unions. From the spirit of the fall if the Berlin’ Wall, in 1989, a number of clubs of rich countries, like the G7, the G8, the G20, started to substitute the UN, and private clubs, like the World Economic Forum of Davos, attracted more important personalities than the General Assembly of the United Nations.

We are now in a third phase, whose symbol abounds: nationalism, xenophobia, and the illusion that sovereignty is more important than cooperation. Brexit is a notable example. But Trump sets up an unprecedented level of legitimacy to what was once considered the betrayal of civism and democracy: exploit and exasperate the divides of a country, racial, cultural, gender, and run without any compliance to rules and traditions. He is accompanied by a variegated assortment of autocratic, populist, and narcists kind of new political generation: Bolsonaro, Orban, Kacynski, Putin, Modi, Sissi, Nehayanu, Duterte, just to cite the most known, while others, like Salvini, are poised to take the power. The virus, instead of uniting citizens, has further divided them. To wear the mask, is a left-wing declaration, like to worry about the climate, which is a survival’ concern. Military expenses are on a continuous increase. In 2019 they have reached an unprecedented amount of 1917 billion dollars. Enough to solve all problems of food, health and education worldwide. The UN is still the only organization able to provide the world with plans of global significance. Its Agenda 2030 gives a plan for the solution of our most significant problems. It costs a fraction of the military expenses. The G20 has paid some lip services, to Agenda 30, but never anything significant. The new generations of politicians are under general scrutiny, and it is not positive at all… I would say that is representative of our crisis, books still get published on a world of conspiracy, like that the virus is used by Bill Gates to inoculate nanoparticles that will make it possible to control all human bodies, Or myths like the one on Bilderberg Club, one of the private’s clubs meeting, as the place where decisions are taken by a small elite on how to run the world. This, when more than ever is clear that the system has lost its compass, and even the tragedy of climate and soon two million deaths are not able to bring back cooperation and multilateralism… but the explosions of conspiracies is a good sign of the decline of democracy…

So, Italy enters now the chairmanship of the G20. It is a position without any significant weight, with the task to realize a coming Summit, of the head of States, from which nobody expects much. If Trump’s defeat has any significant meaning, by November the political situation could have improved, but we will have a Germany without Merkel, probably more nationalist, and the miraculous social engagement of the European Union, could come to a halt. Italy has a very fragile government, and the dubious distinction of having a very young minister of Foreign Affairs, whose only working experience was to be a steward at Naples’ stadium. On the Health Summit, he does not look particularly commanding respect and authority. This will be Italy’s first test. In May, it will be clear that without vaccination in the world, rich countries will not be out of danger. It should be easy to rally the 20 most important countries of the world, which include India and South Africa, to such obvious actions. But in those times, where interests and selfishness are the reality, it is legitimate to nourish many doubts… Anyhow, if 2021 will not be a year of regeneration and creation, we will be on an irreversible slipping decline… time is running out…

But it looks now like the solution to the problems is beyond the reach of the system…

Publisher of OtherNews, Italian-Argentine Roberto Savio is an economist, journalist, communication expert, political commentator, activist for social and climate justice and advocate of an anti-neoliberal global governance. Director for international relations of the European Center for Peace and Development. Adviser to INPS-IDN and to the Global Cooperation Council. He is co-founder of Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and its President Emeritus.

 

Are We Going from San Francisco?

Armed Conflicts, Conferences, Democracy, Economy & Trade, Featured, Global, Headlines, Human Rights, Peace, TerraViva United Nations

Opinion

SYDNEY and KUALA LUMPUR, Jun 30 2020 (IPS) – Seventy-five years ago, on 26 June 1945, before the Japanese surrender ending the Second World War, fifty nations gathered at San Francisco’s Opera House to sign the United Nations (UN) Charter.


UN Charter
Nations pledged “to practice tolerance and live together in peace …, and to ensure … that armed force shall not be used, save in the common interest, and to employ international machinery for the promotion of the economic and social advancement of all peoples”.

Anis Chowdhury

They sought “to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, … and to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small, and to … promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom”.

The Charter’s contents reflected some contradictions inherent in framing an international organization recognizing national sovereignty as its organizing principle, and various other compromises, often influenced by the convening host nation.

Although the conduct of Member States often falls short of the UN’s lofty goals, its Charter was nonetheless a monumental achievement, providing the foundation for a rules-based international order.

San Francisco Conference
Forty-six Allied countries, including the four sponsors – the United States, the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union and China – were originally invited to the San Francisco Conference.

The conference itself invited four other States – the Byelorussian and Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republics, newly-liberated Denmark and Argentina. Poland did not send a representative as its new government was still uncertain.

Of the fifty participating states, only four were African and nine Asian. Latin American countries, independent since the mid-19th century, were present and active in deliberations.

The Conference was not only one of the most significant international gatherings in history, but perhaps the longest ever. The two month long Conference was attended by 3,500 people, including 850 delegates, their advisers, staff and the secretariat, plus more than 2,500 from the media and other observers.

Jomo Kwame Sundaram

The Conference opened on April 25, 1945 with great fanfare, despite the sudden death of its principal architect and presumed host, US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, on 12 April. The task of carrying on fell to his Vice-President Harry Truman who had become President.

Truman often quoted English poet Alfred Lord Tennyson’s Locksley Hall, carried in his wallet, bewildering colleagues, senators and staffers who doubted his commitment to international peace. Tennyson foresaw that nations, realizing they could destroy one another, might agree to form “the Parliament of Man”, to resolve disputes peacefully.

Clashes and compromises
Many serious differences of opinion triggered crises, even at the preparatory stage. For example, the Soviet Union proposed that all 16 Soviet republics should have UN membership to balance the influence of US allies: the US countered by proposing membership for all its 50 states!

A compromise was struck, allowing membership for the Soviet republics of Belarus and Ukraine; the Soviet Union then withdrew its opposition to Argentina, which had supported the Axis powers.

The most important deliberations concerned the UN Security Council (UNSC), initially composed of five permanent members (US, UK, USSR, China, France) and six elected members. The P5’s right to veto provoked a long and heated debate.

Others feared that when one of the P5 threatens the peace, the UNSC would be ineffectual. But the P5 collectively insisted that as the main responsibility for maintaining world peace would fall most heavily on them, the veto provision was vital.

Australia proposed that no permanent member should be allowed to veto when involved in a Chapter VII dispute over threats to peace. The US delegation blocked this and a Soviet proposal allowing P5 vetoes on procedural matters, e.g., discussion of disputes in which it may be involved.

While US officials saw the UN General Assembly (UNGA) primarily as a ‘talk shop’, the USSR tried to limit it from discussing sensitive political matters. However, recognizing its importance for legitimacy, the compromise reached permits the UNGA to discuss any issues “within the scope of the Charter”.

Colonialism was not supposed to be discussed at the Conference to avoid alienating the European imperial powers, whom the US needed to isolate the Soviet Union. But the handful of Asian and African countries attending wanted countries still under the colonial yoke to attain freedom and independence as soon as possible.

Although not on the original Conference agenda, after much debate, Chapters XI, XII and XIII provided some norms for colonial administration and pathways for decolonization. Nonetheless, these ambiguous, at best, pronouncements greatly disappointed anti-colonialists around the world.

US hegemonic from outset
Despite some compromises inherent in framing such an agreement, the UN Charter favoured the US. It promised to protect freedom of action and national sovereignty, as desired by the US, but contained no open-ended commitment to preserve other countries’ territorial integrity, like the League of Nations Covenant’s Article 10.

Article 2(7) placated American sovereigntists and nationalists, declaring: “Nothing contained in the present Charter shall authorize the United Nations to intervene in matters essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state.”

The US and the UK also got what they wanted for existing and new regional and plurilateral arrangements, including defence and mutual assistance organizations.

Some US officials were concerned the UN might threaten the Monroe Doctrine privileging the US in the Western hemisphere, while limiting its ability to intervene elsewhere. Some clever drafting of Chapter VIII provided blanket endorsement to regional organizations, also seen as reflecting the principle of subsidiarity.

Article 51 enshrined the principle of “self-defense against armed attack, either individual or collective”. Although not fully appreciated in 1945, such provisions later helped legitimize various US and other post-colonial security pacts in Europe, Asia and the Americas against the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

Conference participants also considered a proposal for compulsory jurisdiction for a World Court, but the US Secretary of State recognized this would jeopardize Senate ratification. Delegates compromised, agreeing to let countries decide whether to accept the International Court of Justice (ICJ)’s jurisdiction.

Unsurprisingly, the US has had an uneasy relationship with the ICJ from the outset, never submitting to its authority, and reacting negatively to Court decisions seen as adverse to the US.

From Truman to Trump
Presiding at the closing ceremony, Truman cautioned that the success of the new world body would depend on collective self-restraint. “We all have to recognize – no matter how great our strength – that we must deny ourselves the license to do as we please. This is the price each nation will have to pay for world peace.”

Truman is probably turning in his grave watching Trump’s jingoist ‘America First’ policy undermine the UN and multilateralism. Are multilateralism and the UN now doomed as Trump belies Tennyson’s hope and leads the US to up-end the Roosevelt-Truman legacy?

 

Crisis Hits Oil Industry and Energy Transition Alike

Civil Society, Climate Change, Conferences, Development & Aid, Economy & Trade, Editors’ Choice, Energy, Environment, Featured, Global Governance, Headlines, Integration and Development Brazilian-style, Latin America & the Caribbean, Projects, Regional Categories

Energy

Mexico's state-run oil giant Pemex faces a difficult outlook due to the fall in international oil prices and the crisis resulting from the coronavirus pandemic, which threatens its production and finances, in a situation analysed during the 29th La Jolla Energy Conference, organised online by the Institute of the Americas. CREDIT: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Mexico’s state-run oil giant Pemex faces a difficult outlook due to the fall in international oil prices and the crisis resulting from the coronavirus pandemic, which threatens its production and finances, in a situation analysed during the 29th La Jolla Energy Conference, organised online by the Institute of the Americas. CREDIT: Emilio Godoy/IPS

MEXICO CITY, May 22 2020 (IPS) – While it attempts to cushion the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, the Latin American and Caribbean region also faces concerns about the future of the energy transition and state-owned oil companies.


These questions were discussed at the 29th La Jolla Energy Conference, organised by the Institute of the Americas. It was held online May 18-22, rather than bringing together more than 50 speakers at the institute’s headquarters in the coastal district of San Diego, in the U.S. state of California, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Alfonso Blanco of Uruguay, executive secretary of the Latin American Energy Organisation (OLADE), said during a session on global trends and the regional energy industry that the changes seen during the pandemic will spread after the crisis and will be long-lasting.

“There will be structural transformations and we are convinced that most consumer behaviors will change after the pandemic. Demand will vary due to changes in the main areas of transportation and other energy areas. The effects on fossil fuel consumption will be strong and there will be a greater impact on renewable energies,” he said.

OLADE, a 27-member regional intergovernmental organisation for energy coordination, estimates that electricity demand has fallen by 29 percent in Bolivia compared to 2019, as a result of the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), which causes COVID-19, and by 26 percent in Argentina, 22 percent in Brazil and 11 percent in Chile.

“There will be structural transformations and we are convinced that most consumer behaviors will change after the pandemic. Demand will vary due to changes in the main areas of transportation and other energy areas. The effects on fossil fuel consumption will be strong and there will be a greater impact on renewable energies.” — Alfonso Blanco

Likewise, final energy demand plummeted 14 percent in Brazil compared to 2019, 11 percent in both the Andean and Southern Cone regions, nine percent in Mexico, seven percent in Central America and five percent in the Caribbean.

As countries went into lockdown to curb the spread of COVID-19, electricity consumption by businesses and factories declined, due to the suspension of activities.

Leonardo Sempertegui, legal advisor to the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), said the pandemic may be a wake-up call for countries lagging behind in the energy transition.

“This may be the new normal. The structure and governance of the energy architecture to cope with the next phase are changing dramatically. Energy poverty and the energy transition cannot be solved regardless of who controls a resource; these challenges cannot wait,” he said in the same session.

In Latin America, nations like Argentina, Bolivia, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Honduras and Uruguay have made progress in the energy transition since 2015, while Brazil has slid backwards and countries like Mexico are stuck in the same place, according to the World Economic Forum’s Energy Transition Index, released May 13.

As the region heads into the fourth month of the pandemic, countries are assessing their electricity markets, which have been shaken by the crisis.

Nations like Argentina, Chile, Colombia and Peru have resorted to long-term electricity auctions, which have generated low prices for renewables, while Mexico suspended such schemes in 2019.

In Argentina, as Andrés Chambouleyron, a non-resident fellow at the Institute of the Americas, explained, industrial consumption fell by 50 percent and electricity distributors have not been able to obtain sufficient revenues to cover fixed costs or electricity purchases.

The government has thus provided financing to Cammesa – the electricity wholesale market administration company – to pay the generators, since it is bound by contracts to buy the energy.

“There will be a permanent change in electricity consumption in Argentina. We have cheaper gas than before; the models say that you have to use more gas because it is cheaper than other sources. We won’t see much change in Argentina’s energy mix, and that could extend to all of Latin America,” said Chambouleyron, who warned of breach of and renegotiation of contracts for energy purchases.

Low oil prices threaten to slow down the energy transition in Latin America, although renewable energies already compete with the costs of fossil fuels, agreed experts at the 29th La Jolla Energy Conference, organised online by the Institute of the Americas. The photo shows solar panels on a house in Ajijic, in the western Mexican state of Jalisco. CREDIT: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Low oil prices threaten to slow down the energy transition in Latin America, although renewable energies already compete with the costs of fossil fuels, agreed experts at the 29th La Jolla Energy Conference, organised online by the Institute of the Americas. The photo shows solar panels on a house in Ajijic, in the western Mexican state of Jalisco. CREDIT: Emilio Godoy/IPS

While renewables are already competing in price with conventional sources, low oil and gas prices undermine their expansion, a predicament that alternative energy sources have been facing in recent years.

In addition, the rise in the cost of international credit and the fluctuations of the dollar against local currencies may make generation more expensive.

In another session on the outlook for state-owned oil companies, Marta Jara, former president of Uruguay’s public oil company ANCAP, said the current crisis could accelerate the transition, but called it a “major challenge”.

“The temptation is to be opportunistic and forget the roadmap of the energy transition. We must invest in sustainable energy systems, decarbonise transport. It is important to secure funding and create jobs. I hope the crisis opens the door to be more innovative,” she said.

Viable or not?

The plunge in fossil fuel prices is damaging the finances of the region’s oil producing countries, such as Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, Peru and Venezuela, and state companies in the sector are facing problems with regard to planning and operations.

But it benefits net importers, like the countries of Central America or Chile, whose oil bills have shrunk, while for consumers in both oil producing and importing countries the cost of electricity could go down.

“The most competitive will be the countries with lower oil extraction costs. Some projects will not be economically viable. We will see greater economic problems than in 2019,” predicted Lisa Viscidi, director of the Energy, Climate Change and Extractive Industries Programme at the non-governmental Inter-American Dialogue, during a panel on the situation in several Caribbean nations.

The pandemic and a rise in Saudi production announced on Mar. 10 led to a collapse in oil prices and the consequent risk of bankruptcies in the industry. State-owned oil companies have fared better than others so far in the crisis.

In another session on the outlook for state-owned oil companies, John Padilla, managing director of the private consulting firm IPD Latin America, stated that “it will take time to get out of this situation, with effects for the region, and the need for great efficiency.

“Most nations have been exporters, efficiency will be the key. What has not been done is to cultivate domestic and regional markets, state enterprises are not going to play the same role as they always have,” he said.

Public companies such as Brazil’s Petrobras and Colombia’s Ecopetrol entered the crisis in a better position than Mexico’s Pemex, Venezuela’s PDVSA and Argentina’s YPF, according to experts.

“These are difficult times, even for the best prepared. We can hope that if the country and its company are in trouble, if governments need money, they can get more out of the companies,” said Francisco Monaldi, interim director of the Baker Institute for Public Policy’s Latin America Initiative at the private Rice University in the U.S. state of Texas.

In his view, “Mexico is in better fiscal conditions, it should not be a problem. But Pemex can drag Mexico down. If the government doesn’t change direction, it could become a serious problem,” he said as an example.

Although Pemex will increase its investment in 2020, the oil company reported losses of 20 billion dollars in the first quarter of this year. Due to the crisis, Petrobras limited its investment to 3.5 billion dollars and its daily production to 200,000 barrels, and postponed the sale of eight refineries.

For Lucas Aristizábal, a senior director in Fitch Ratings’ Latin American corporates group, some state-owned oil companies are viable and others are not.

“In 2021, the financial contribution of oil will be lower for governments. If they want the companies to play a key role, they will put more pressure on their financial structure. The current situation illustrates the economics of these corporations,” he said during the forum.

Pemex and YPF were already losing money per barrel in 2019, while Petrobras has more balanced production costs.

On the oil horizon, and in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, Guyana has become the rising star, although there is still political uncertainty, as the result of the Mar. 2 presidential elections is still unclear.

“It’s hard to predict what will happen. There is a risk of U.S. sanctions that would not affect investment in the sector, but would pose a political risk to the country,” said Thomas Singh, in the Department of Economics at the public University of Guyana.

The country expects to extract 600,000 barrels per day by 2024 and take in revenues of five billion dollars, with reserves exceeding five billion barrels.

  Source

Chinese Academic Defends Country’s Role amid Covid-19 Crisis

Conferences, Health

DUBAI, Apr 1 2020 – Global crises need global solutions yet some adjustments will have to be made if the world has to adopt a multilateral approach toward tackling the Corona pandemic, a senior academic said on Tuesday, March 31.


Participating in an e-symposium organized by the think-tank, TRENDS Research & Advisory, Prof. Yong Wang of the School of International Studies and Director, Center for International Political Economy at Peking University, said the G-20 has already taken an initiative and more such efforts are needed.

“We have our national interests but for facing challenges such as this we should work together,” he said. Prof. Wang was a panelist at the e-symposium – – Confronting the Challenges of COVID-19: A New Global Outlook – which was attended by several experts and researchers from around the world.

“Instead of scapegoating countries like China and India, countries like the US should look at their policies. We need to have a broader perspective on this,” said Prof. Wang.

Sharing China’s experience, he said that the country did the right thing by taking very tough measures such as the lockdown of Wuhan. “Indeed we are in the era of globalization and it has been rightly pointed out that this won’t be the last such outbreak,” he said.

“Chinese scientists shared genetic sequencing, which helped in data compilation and intelligence gathering to tackle the virus. The pandemic is under control in China and factories and companies are opening now. However, the government is still applying a very cautious approach,” he said.

Experts participating in this first-ever e-symposium of its kind highlighted the ongoing struggle between forces of globalization and protectionism but emphasized the need for a collective response to the Covid-19 challenge.

Prof. Maurizio Barbeschi, Adviser to the Executive Director, World Health Emergencies (WHE) Program at The World Health Organization (WHO), said the world has been preparing for pandemic since SARS and it is impressive how not prepared the planet was.

According to him, it is not just the peak of the pandemic but also the bumps and re-entry to normalcy will have to be managed. “Even vaccines may have to be handled with extreme care for not creating groups of haves and have-nots,” he said.

Prof. Barbeschi also said that it is obvious that travel bans did not work well. “The first reaction of governments so far wasn’t smart, quick or big or large enough to stop the exponential move of the virus,” he said.

Gulfaraz Khan, Professor of Viral Pathology and Chair, Department of Medical Microbiology and Immunology at the College of Medicine and Health Sciences, UAE University, said that the scientific community is united against Covid-19.

Prof. Khan said that it must be acknowledged that China identified and made the virus sequence available to the international community within two weeks of the outbreak. “We have also seen an unprecedented number of publications on Covid-19,” Prof. Khan said pointing out that the world failed to identify the threat early.

“We had approximately a month to look at the outbreak even though the disease was spreading. The majority of the world’s cases happened after February so we need to learn lessons as a global community,” he said.

Prof. Khan also ruled out the possibility of a vaccine coming out anytime soon. “It could take 12-18 months if you add the time needed in mass production and in making it available around the world,” he said.

Delivering an international security perspective, Dr. Hussein Ibish, Senior Resident Scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington, said it is not yet clear whether parochialism will triumph over populism in the aftermath of this crisis.

“There is discourse emerging from Europe that may not reflect the ground reality. There seems to be an adrenaline rush for insularity and parochialism promoted by populism which is not helping,” he said.

According to Dr. Ibish, the crisis also poses a real threat to democracy in many countries. “Authoritarian states like China, in particular, say they are better at the discipline and population control needed to contain the virus,” he said. Dr. Ibish also argued that demagogues may use this crisis to consolidate power.

Dr. David Meyer, Associate Professor of Security and Global Studies and Program Director, Master of Arts in Diplomacy at the College of Security and Global Studies, the American University in the Emirates, said the US will continue to demand favorable trade deals as national interest cannot be wished away.

“After this crisis ends, protectionism will come back with a vengeance as more and more countries slip into recession. If the quarantine lasts more than six months then we are looking at economic depression,” he said.

  Source

Harness Youth to Change World’s Future

Biodiversity, Climate Change, Conferences, Development & Aid, Economy & Trade, Environment, Featured, Gender, Global, Green Economy, Headlines, Human Rights, Inequity, Natural Resources, TerraViva United Nations, Trade & Investment, Women & Climate Change

Women bear the brunt of climate change disasters. Credit: Women Deliver

NEW YORK, Mar 31 2020 (IPS) – Vanessa Nakate of Uganda may have been cropped out of a photograph taken at the World Economic Forum, but she along with Swedish activist Greta Thunberg have made the climate crisis centre stage.


Women Deliver Young Leader Jyotir Nisha discusses with Costa Rican President Carlos Alvarado Quesada on how to harness young people to overcome gender inequality and address climate change in a recent wide-ranging interview.

Quesada says key strategies to designing policy to fight climate change require unconventional decision-making to address challenges like climate change, biodiversity loss, the fourth industrial revolution, and inequality.

“These are intertwined factors that can hinder development if unattended but, if tackled, they could potentially accelerate progress and wellbeing for all,” he says.

“And, of course, this is a task that young leaders are able to handle and produce the timely answers that are necessary.”

Bringing in her experience in the non-profit sector, Nisha says training girls and women in up-cycling plastic waste to produce handmade goods has assisted them to contribute to their family income and their empowerment in the community. The question is, how can this be broadened.

Quesada says women, in particular young women, are leading the way.

Costa Rican President Carlos Alvarado Quesada. Credit: Women Deliver

“From cooperative seed banks, to early warning networks, from solar engineers to women politicians carving a path of sustainable policymaking. They are at the forefront of forest conservation, sustainable use of resources, and community enhancement, and restoration of landscapes and forest ecosystems,” he says.

However, women’s roles are often underestimated, unrecognised, and unpaid.

“Women and girls with access to technology have already begun developing innovative tools to reduce emissions by targeting sustainable consumption and production practices, including food waste, community waste management, energy efficiency, and sustainable fashion.”

The solutions exist, but much more is needed.

“It takes a whole-of-society approach for collaboration and cooperation on a bigger and enhanced scale.”

The President suggests that the way investments are made could be fundamental to ensure a flow of finance to the communities, including women, and youth. This will, he believes, provide “a stable source of funding for businesses and services that contribute to the solution of social or environmental challenges.”

The impact of this will be partnerships between traditional sources of finance, like international cooperation and development banks, and new partners, like philanthropy, hedge funds, or pension funds.

“And what better than young people giving the thrust that all this requires?”

Nisha says she was pleased to see the massive mobilisation of young people at the inaugural Climate Action Summit last year. The summit had little good news for climate change with concerns raised that the accelerating rise in sea level, melting ice would have on socio-economic development, health, displacement, food security and ecosystems. However, beyond taking to the streets, they also need to hold decision-makers accountable.

“In the last months we have witnessed the irruption of massive mobilisations in different parts of the world, lead mostly by young people. This would seem surprising for a generation that has been accused several times of passivity, indifference, and individualism,” Quesada says. “I truly believe that, as long as these demands are channelled through democratic and pacifist means, they are extremely important to set a bar and a standard of responsibility for us, decision-makers — who are, by the way, more and more often, young people.”

He adds that world leaders owe them explanations of the decisions made.

“We must also have the wisdom to pay attention to these demands and take into account their opinions and proposals to reach agreements that have the legitimacy of consensus-building.”

However, Nisha notes, while campaigns like the Deliver for Good campaign is working across sectors reports at COP25, and the recent World Economic Forum (Davos), “climate change continues to threaten progress made toward gender equality across every measure of development.”

At WEF Global Gender Gap Report 2020 showed that it would take more than a lifetime, 99.5 years in 2019 for gender parity across health, education, work and politics to be achieved.

Quesada says the climate catastrophe “demands that policymakers and practitioners renew commitments to sustainable development — at the heart of which is, and must continue to be, advancing gender equality and women’s empowerment, and realising women’s rights as a pre-requisite for sustainable development.”

Costa Rica, he says, has been recognised internationally on two significant areas: the respect of human rights and environmental protection.

“The present Administration has taken these objectives a step further by paying particular attention to women’s rights, inclusion, and diversity, and including them as part of our core policy principles and our everyday practices,” he says. “We expect to increase women’s integration into productive processes and achieve women’s economic empowerment through specific policies linked to our long-term development strategy — the Decarbonization Plan — allowing the transformational changes our society needs.

However, the critical question, Nisha says, is: “What can world leaders and governments do today to ensure young people have a seat at the decision-making table?”

Quesada is confident that young people will be part of the solution.

“The challenges we are facing today are unprecedented precisely because previous generations did not have to face situations such as biodiversity loss, global warming, or the emergence of artificial intelligence and technology. Thus, we need new answers and solutions from Twenty-First Century people, and those should and will be put forward by the youth,” he says.

The importance of youth involvement was recently highlighted too at the meeting of African Leaders for Nutrition in Addis Ababa. African Development Bank (AfDB) President Akinwumi Adesina said Africa should invest in skills development for the youth so the continent’s entrepreneurs can leverage emerging technologies to transform Africa’s food system to generate new jobs. This is especially urgent as the population on the continent is expected to double to 2.5 billion people in 40 years putting pressure on governments to deliver more food and jobs in addition to better livelihoods.

In a recent interview with IPS International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA) Director General, Nteranya Sanginga, explained that this change is neither easy or necessarily something all leadership has taken on board.

“Our legacy is starting a programme to change the mindset of the youth in agriculture. Unfortunately (with) our governments that is where you have to go and change mindsets completely. Most probably 90 per cent of our leaders consider agriculture as a social activity basically for them its (seen as a) pain, penury. They proclaim that agriculture is a priority in resolving our problems, but we are not investing in it. We need that mindset completely changed.”

Quesada is unequivocal that this attitude needs to change.

“My advice to world leaders is to have the humility to listen to the people and to allow more inclusive and participatory decision-making. And to the young people, I can only encourage them to own their future, and to act accordingly, with vision, courage, and determination.”

 

TRENDS E-Symposium to Address Post-Corona Globalization Challenges

Conferences, Health

Experts from around the world to discuss factors behind the crisis and the steps needed to mitigate its negative effects worldwide

ABU DHABI, Mar 26 2020 – TRENDS Research & Advisory is organizing its first-ever E-Symposium to discuss the global impacts of the COVID-19 crisis and offer insights on the steps needed to mitigate its negative effects worldwide. This will be the first online symposium of its kind to be organized since the outbreak of the coronavirus in the Gulf and Middle East region.


To be held on March 31, 2020, at 7 pm UAE time, the E-Symposium – Confronting the Challenges of COVID-19: A New Global Outlook – will provide a unique and innovative online platform for international experts covering medical, geostrategic and economic perspectives.

Panelists will offer insights on the factors behind the emergence of the crisis and will also include a special perspective on how China coped with the initial outbreak of the pandemic and adopted measures and solutions that could offer valuable lessons for other countries.

Dr. Mohamed Al-Ali, the Director General of TRENDS Research & Advisory lauded the Center and its staff for their contributions under these exceptional circumstances. “Harnessing modern technology to hold this E-Symposium will feed into the Center’s ambitious goals of strengthening scientific research and providing policy and decision-makers in the region and around the world,” he said.

The Director General said that ideas and recommendations are needed to deal with the challenge of Covid-19, which has become an existential threat to humanity. Dr. Muhammad Al-Ali expressed his confidence that this international E-Symposium, the first of its kind in the Middle East, will come up with recommendations that enhance the current regional and international efforts to curb the rapid spread of this pandemic.

“The pandemic has so far claimed the lives of more than 12,000 people and infected more than 300,000, in addition to having a calamitous economic and strategic impact on the entire world. Nearly 600 million people in around 22 countries are under forced social quarantine and 400 million under curfew,” he said.

Dr. Mohamed Al-Ali said that think-tanks and research institutes should play their role in supporting governments and countries in today’s circumstances so that we collectively stop this human tragedy by providing workable ideas, recommendations, and solutions.

With the COVID-19 crisis representing a historical milestone for the global community, this symposium performs a critical function in helping its participants identify the continuities and changes expected in the months and years to come.

The E-Symposium will be live-streamed via TRENDS YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCmaxK85OoRz8E1YaWHo6FQQ