Italy and the Dubious Honor of Chairing the G20

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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.

 

Mining giant Rio Tinto Face Environmental, Human Rights Complaint in Papua New Guinea

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Contamination of rivers and streams by mine waste in the vicinity of the Panguna copper mine in the Autonomous Region of Bougainville, Papua New Guinea. Credit: Catherine Wilson

CANBERRA, Australia, Jan 4 2021 (IPS) – Local communities in the vicinity of the abandoned Panguna copper mine, have taken decisive action to hold the global mining multinational, Rio Tinto, accountable for alleged environmental and human rights violations during the mine’s operations between 1972 and 1989.


The mine operated in the mountains of central Bougainville in Papua New Guinea until 1989.

The complaint by 156 residents was lodged with the Australian Government in September by Australia’s Human Rights Law Centre and subsequently accepted in November, paving the way for a non-judicial mediation process.

“We and the communities we are working with have now entered into a formal conciliation process with Rio Tinto facilitated by the Australian OECD National Contact Point and talks with the company will begin very shortly,” Keren Adams, Legal Director at the Human Rights Law Centre in Melbourne told IPS.

Rio Tinto was the majority owner of the Panguna mine through its operating company, Bougainville Copper Ltd, with a 53.8 percent stake. However, 17 years after it began production in 1972, anger among indigenous landowners about contaminated rivers and streams, the devastation of customary land and inequity in distributing the extractive venture’s profits and benefits triggered an armed rebellion in 1989. After the mine’s power supply was destroyed by sabotage, Rio Tinto fled Bougainville Island and the site became derelict during the decade long civil war which followed.

The mine area, which is still controlled by the tribal Mekamui Government of Unity, comprising former rebel leaders, hasn’t been decommissioned and the environmental legacy of its former operations never addressed.

Now, according to the complaint, “copper pollution from the mine pit and tailings continues to flow into local rivers … The Jaba-Kawerong river valley downstream of the mine resembles a moonscape with vast mounds of grey tailings waste and rock stretching almost 40 km downstream to the coast. Levees constructed at the time of the mine’s operation are now collapsing, threatening nearby villages.”

Gutted mine machinery and infrastructure are scattered across the site of the Panguna mine in the mountains of Central Bougainville, an autonomous region in Papua New Guinea. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

There are further claims that contamination of waterways and land is causing long-term health problems amongst the indigenous population, such as skin diseases, diarrhoea, respiratory illnesses, and pregnancy complications.

Helen Hakena, Director of the Leitana Nehan Women’s Development Agency in Bougainville’s main town of Buka, fully supports the action taken by her fellow islanders.

“It is long overdue. It is going to be very important because it was the big issue which caused the Bougainville conflict. It will lay to rest the grievances which caused so much suffering for our people,” Hakena told IPS.

The Bougainville civil war, triggered by the uprising at the mine, led to a death toll of 15,000-20,000 people.

The people of Bougainville believe that Rio Tinto has breached the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises by failing both to take action to mitigate foreseeable environmental, health and safety-related impacts at the mine and respect the human rights of the communities affected by its extractive activities. The Human Rights Law Centre claims that “the mine pollution continues to infringe nearly all the economic, social and cultural rights of these indigenous communities, including their rights to food, water, health, housing and an adequate standard of living.”

“While we do not wholly accept the claims in the complaint, we are aware of deteriorating mining infrastructure at the site and surrounding areas and acknowledge that there are environmental and human rights considerations,” Rio Tinto responded in a public statement.

“Accepting the AusNCP’s ‘good offices’ shows that we take this complaint seriously and remain ready to enter into discussions with the communities that have filed the complaint, along with other relevant communities around the Panguna mine site, and other relevant parties, such as Bougainville Copper Ltd, the Autonomous Bougainville Government and PNG Government,” the statement continued.

In 2016, Rio Tinto divested its interest in Bougainville Copper Ltd, the operating company, and its shares were acquired by the PNG and Bougainville governments. Simultaneously, the corporate giant announced that it rejected corporate responsibility for any environmental impacts or damage.

Panguna mine’s copper and gold await political settlement before extraction can resume. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Mineral exploration in Bougainville in the 1960s, followed by the construction of the Panguna open-cut copper mine, occurred when the island region was under Australian administration. It would subsequently become a massive source of internal revenue Papua New Guinea, which was granted Independence in 1975. During its lifetime, the Panguna mine generated about US$2 billion in revenue and accounted for 44 percent of the nation’s exports.

The mining agreement negotiated between the Australian Government and Conzinc Rio Tinto Australia in the 1960s didn’t include any significant environmental regulations or liability of the company for rehabilitation of areas affected by mining.

There has been no definitive environmental assessment of the Panguna site since it was forced to shut down. However, about 300,000 tonnes of ore and water were excavated at the mine every day. In 1989, an independent report by Applied Geology Associates in New Zealand noted that significant amounts of copper and other heavy metals were leaching from the mine and waste rock dumps and flowing into the Kawerong River. Today, the water in some rivers and streams in the mine area is a luminescent blue, a sign of copper contamination.

Bougainville residents’ action comes at the end of a challenging year for Rio Tinto. It is still reeling from revelations earlier this year that its operations destroyed historically significant Aboriginal sacred sites, estimated to be 46,000 years old, in the vicinity of its iron ore mine in the Pilbara region of Western Australia. The company’s CEO, Jean-Sebastien Jacques, has subsequently resigned.

Nevertheless, Adams is optimistic about the corporate giant’s willingness to engage with Bougainville and PNG stakeholders.

“In the first instance, we hope that this non-judicial process will help to facilitate discussions to explore whether Rio Tinto will make these commitments to address the impacts of its operations. If not, then the communities will be asking the Australian OECD National Contact Point to investigate the complaint and make findings about whether Rio Tinto has breached its human rights and environmental obligations,” the Human Rights Law Centre’s Legal Director said. A full investigation, if required, could take up to a year.

Ultimately, the islanders are seeking specific outcomes. These include Rio Tinto’s serious engagement with them to identify solutions to the urgent environmental and human rights issues; funding for an independent environmental and human rights impact assessment of the mine; and contributions to a substantial independently managed fund to enable long term rehabilitation programs.

Otherwise, Australia’s Human Rights Law Centre predicts that “given the limited resources of the PNG and Bougainville governments, it is almost inevitable that if no action is taken by Rio Tinto, the environmental damage currently being caused by the tailings waste will continue and worsen.”

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Intellectual Property Monopolies Block Vaccine Access

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Opinion

SYDNEY and KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 15 2020 (IPS) – Just before the World Health Assembly (WHA), an 18 May open letter by world leaders and experts urged governments to ensure that all COVID-19 vaccines, treatments and tests are patent-free, fairly distributed and available to all, free of charge.


Pious promises
Leaders of Italy, France, Germany, Norway and the European Commission called for the vaccine to be “produced by the world, for the whole world” as a “global public good of the 21st century”, while China’s President Xi promised a vaccine developed by China would be a “global public good”.

Anis Chowdhury

The United Nations Secretary-General also insisted on access to all when available. The WHA unanimously agreed that vaccines, treatments and tests are global public goods, but was vague on the implications.

As COVID vaccines have become available, nearly 70 poor countries are left out. Many more people will be infected and may die without vaccinations, warns the People’s Vaccine Alliance, advocating equitable and low-cost access.

As the rich and powerful secure access, poor countries will leave out most people as only one in ten can be vaccinated in 2021, making a mockery of the Sustainable Development Goals’ over-arching principle of ‘leaving no one behind’.

Waiving WTO rules
The authors of “Want Vaccines Fast? Suspend Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) argue that IPR are the main stumbling block. Meanwhile, South Africa and India have proposed that the World Trade Organization (WTO) temporarily waive its Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) rules limiting access to COVID-19 medicines, tools, equipment and vaccines.

The proposal – welcomed by the WHO Director-General and supported by nearly 100 governments and many civil society organisations around the world – goes beyond the Doha Declaration’s limited flexibilities for national emergencies and circumstances of extreme urgency.

Jomo Kwame Sundaram

But Brazil, one of the worst hit countries, opposes the proposal, together with the US, the EU, the UK, Switzerland, Norway, Canada, Australia and Japan, insisting the Doha Declaration is sufficient.

The empire fights back
The US insists that IP protection is best to ensure “swift delivery” while the EU claims there is “no indication that IPR issues have been a genuine barrier … to COVID-19-related medicines and technologies” as the UK dismisses the proposal as “an extreme measure to address an unproven problem”.

The Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations Director-General claims it “would jeopardize future medical innovation, making us more vulnerable to other diseases”, while The Wall Street Journal denounced it as “A Global Covid Vaccine Heist”, warning “their effort would harm everyone, including the poor”.

Citing AstraZeneca’s agreement with the Serum Institute of India (SII) and Brazilian companies, other opponents assert that voluntary mechanisms should suffice, insisting the public-private COVAX initiative ensures fair and equitable access.

But the US has refused to join COVAX, part of the WHO-blessed, donor-funded Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator (ACT-A), ostensibly committed to “equitable global access to innovative tools for COVID-19 for all”.

Intellectual property fraud
The Doha Declaration only covers patents, ignoring proprietary technology to safely manufacture vaccines. Meanwhile, there is not enough interest, let alone capacity among leading pharmaceutical companies to produce enough vaccines, safely and affordably, for everyone before 2024.

Despite the Doha Declaration, developing countries are still under great pressure from the EU and the US. The rules allowing ‘compulsory licensing’ are very restrictive, with countries required to separately negotiate contracts with companies for specific amounts, periods and purposes, deterring and thus often bypassing those with limited financial and legal capacities.

South Africa cited the examples of Regeneron and Eli Lilly, which have already committed most of their COVID-19 antibody cocktail drugs to the US. In India, Pfizer has legally blocked alternative pneumococcal vaccines from Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF). In South Korea, Pfizer has forced SK Bioscience to stop producing its pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV).

To be sure, patents are not necessary for innovation, with the Harvard Business Review showing IPR law actually stifling it. Meanwhile, The Economist has condemned patent trolling, which has reduced venture capital investment in start-ups and R&D spending, especially by small firms.

Public subsidies
Like most other life-saving drugs and vaccines, COVID-19 vaccines and treatment technologies owe much to public investment. Even the Trump administration provided US$10.5 billion to vaccine development companies.

Moderna’s vaccine emerged from a partnership with the National Institute of Health (NIH). Research at the NIH, Defence Department and federally funded university laboratories have been crucial for rapid US vaccine development.

Pfizer has received a US$455 million German government grant and nearly US$6 billion in US and EU purchase commitments. AstraZeneca received more than £84 million (US$111 million) from the UK government, and more than US$2 billion from the US and EU for research and via purchase orders.

But although public funding for most medicine and vaccine development is the norm, Big Pharma typically keeps the monopoly profits they enjoy from the IPR they retain.

Voluntary mechanisms inadequate
COVAX seeks to procure two billion vaccine doses, to be shared “equally” between rich and poor countries, but has only reserved 700,000 vaccine doses so far, while the poorest countries, with 1.7 billion people, cannot afford a single deal. Meanwhile, rich countries have secured six billion doses for themselves.

Thus, even if and when COVAX procures its targeted two billion vaccine doses, less than a billion will go to poor countries. If the vaccine requires two doses, as many – including Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance – assume, this will only be enough for less than half a billion people.

Meanwhile, ACT-A’s diagnostics work seeks to procure 500 million tests, only a small fraction of what is required. Even if fully financed, which is not the case, this is only a partial solution at best.

But with the massive funding shortfall, even these modest targets will not be reached. To date, only US$5 billion of the US$43 billion needed for poor countries in 2021 has been raised.

Profitable philanthropy
As of mid-October, while 18 generic pharmaceutical companies had signed up, not a single major drug company had joined WHO’s COVID-19 Technology Access Pool (C-TAP) to encourage industry contributions of IP, technologies and data to scale up worldwide sharing and production of all such needs.

Meanwhile, a few companies have ‘voluntarily’ given up some IPR, if only temporarily. Moderna has promised to license its COVID-19 related patents to other vaccine manufacturers, and not enforce its own patents. But their pledge is limited, allowing it to enforce its patents “post pandemic”, as defined by Moderna.

Besides profiting from licensing in the longer term, Moderna’s pledge will enable it to grow the new mRNA market its business is based on, by establishing and promoting a transformational drug therapy platform, yielding gains for years to come.

AstraZeneca has announced that its vaccine, researched at Oxford University, will be available at cost in some locations, but only until July 2021. Meanwhile, Eli Lilly has agreed, with the Gates Foundation, to supply – without demanding royalties from low- and middle-income countries – its (still experimental) COVID-19 antibody treatment, but did not specify how many doses.

Indeed, as Proudhon warned almost two centuries ago, ‘property is theft’.

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Could the Finance Sector Hold the Key to Ending Deforestation?

Biodiversity, Civil Society, Climate Change, Development & Aid, Economy & Trade, Environment, Global, Headlines, Indigenous Rights, Natural Resources, Poverty & SDGs, TerraViva United Nations

Opinion

Sarah Rogerson is a researcher at Global Canopy. Prior to Global Canopy, she has worked on corporate environmental transparency with both CDP and the Climate Disclosure Standards Board, and on domestic recycling and engagement with Keep Britain Tidy. She has a degree in Natural Sciences (Zoology) from the University of Cambridge

Despite global commitments from a growing number of governments, companies and financial institutions, the money and effort being directed towards damaging development far exceeds the efforts being made to support sustainable livelihoods. We have not, as a global community managed to put the brakes on the juggernaut of unsustainable economic development. Credit: United Nations

OXFORD, UK, Nov 23 2020 (IPS) – At the beginning of 2020, there were hopes that this would be a ’super year for nature’. It has not turned out that way. Tropical forests, so crucial for biodiversity, the climate and the indigenous communities who live in them, have continued to be destroyed at alarming rates. In fact, despite the shutdown of large parts of the global economy, rates of deforestation globally have increased since last year.


The market forces driving deforestation are baked deep into the system of global trade. Agricultural expansion for commodities such as soy and palm oil accounts for two thirds of the problem worldwide. And forests are also being cleared to make way for mining, and for infrastructure to link once remote areas to the global markets they supply.

Coal mining is estimated to affect 1.74 million hectares of forest in Indonesia alone, with as much as nine percent of the country’s remaining forests at risk from permits for new mines. And the threat to forests from road building is significant, with 25 million kilometres of roads likely to be built by 2050, mainly in developing countries.

Underpinning these industries is over a trillion dollars a year in financing from financial institutions around the world. This investment and lending is the fuel that keeps the deforestation fires alight.

Six years ago, governments, companies and civil society signed the New York Declaration on Forests, setting a goal to end global deforestation by 2030. Each year, an independent civil society network led by Climate Focus and including Global Canopy provides a progress assessment. This year, it focuses on the NYDF goals of reducing deforestation from mining and infrastructure by 2020 (goal 3), and supporting alternatives to deforestation for subsistence needs (goal 4).

The findings are an urgent wake-up call. The threat to forests worldwide from these activities is growing, and indigenous people and local communities continue to bear a devastating cost.

But the report also highlights opportunities for progress. A growing number of governments are facing up to this issue and some companies are waking up to the risks of inaction. The same is true of the finance sector, which could become a driver of transformational change.

The opportunity for finance

Financial institutions do not, it must be recognised, have a great track record on these issues. Global Canopy’s annual Forest 500 assessment of the most influential financial institutions in agricultural and timber forest-risk supply chains has consistently found that the majority do not publicly recognise a need to engage on the issue of deforestation.

Fewer still publish clear information about how they will deal with deforestation risks identified in their portfolios, and none of the 150 financial institutions assessed in 2019 had policies across all relevant human rights issues. As a result, investment and lending has largely continued to flow to companies linked to land grabs and deforestation.

Nearly 87% of indigenous territories in the Amazon are recognised in Brazilian law, yet government concessions for mining and oil extraction overlap nearly 24% of recognised territories. This infringement of the communities’ rights is being overlooked by the companies involved, and by the financial institutions that finance them.

Yet there are signs of change. In June this year a group of 29 investors requested meetings with the Brazilian government because of concerns about the fires raging in the Amazon. Some, including BlackRock, have said they will engage with the companies they finance on deforestation risks. And some have gone further, with Citigroup, Standard Chartered, and Rabobank disinvesting from Indonesian food giant Indofood following concerns about deforestation linked to palm oil, and Nordea Asset Management dropped investments in Brazilian meat giant, JBS.

There is also support for the Equator Principles, which provide a framework for banks and investors to assess and manage social and environmental risks in project finance. Companies in the mining and extractive sectors are among the 110 financial institutions to have signed up, although reporting on implementation is voluntary and patchy.

There is also growing recognition that biodiversity loss represents a risk to investments. More than 30 financial institutions have joined an informal working group to develop a Task Force for Nature-related Disclosure (TNFD), intended to help financial institutions shift finance away from destructive activities such as deforestation. Some within the sector are developing new impact investment products designed to support poverty alleviation and sustainable development.

And there are also signs of a shift in development banks – whose finance plays such a critical role in so many development projects in the Global South. Just this month, public development banks from around the world made a joint declaration to “support the transformation of the global economy and societies toward sustainable and resilient development”.

No silver bullets

It is of course one thing to recognise the problem, another to solve it. Transforming the finance sector so that money is moved away from mining or agricultural projects linked to deforestation, and invested in sustainable alternatives that benefit local communities is an enormous challenge – made all the more difficult by the lack of transparency that currently engulfs these sectors.

For while the banks and investors funding deforestation activities are all too often invisible to the local communities and indigenous groups on the ground, those communities, and the impacts of financial investments on their land and livelihoods are similarly invisible or ignored.

But these links are increasingly being brought into the light, and new tools and technologies are bringing a new level of transparency and accountability. The new Trase Finance tool is a great example, it maps the deforestation risks for investors linked to Brazilian soy and beef, and Indonesian palm oil, and aims to extend coverage to include half of major forest-risk commodities by next year. Bringing about a new era of radical transparency could be the key for moving beyond recognition and into real solutions.

Increased transparency brings with it greater accountability, creating an opportunity for local communities to identify the financial institutions involved, and a reputational risk for financial institutions linked to infringements of land rights.

Grassroots movements can play an important role in demanding accountability from the companies and financial institutions involved where land rights are affected. Campaigns can raise awareness with the wider public, creating a reputational risk for the companies involved, and for the financial institutions that finance them. Campaigners have targeted BlackRock for its investments in JBS, for example, pushing for greater action from the investor.

Governments in consumer countries are also increasingly looking at how they can reduce their exposure to deforestation in imported products, with both the European Union and UK proposing mandatory due diligence for companies, requiring far greater transparency from all involved. These measures should be strengthened to include due diligence on human rights.

A global problem

We are all implicated in tropical deforestation – as consumers, as pension-fund holders, as citizens. In the Global North, economies rely on commodities produced in developing and emerging economies, enabled by production practices linked with deforestation.

Despite global commitments from a growing number of governments, companies and financial institutions, the money and effort being directed towards damaging development far exceeds the efforts being made to support sustainable livelihoods. We have not, as a global community managed to put the brakes on the juggernaut of unsustainable economic development.

To meet the NYDF goal of ending deforestation by 2030, as well as climate goals under the Paris Agreement, this must change urgently, and the finance sector is crucial to making this happen.

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Global Data Community’s Response to COVID-19

Civil Society, Democracy, Development & Aid, Economy & Trade, Editors’ Choice, Featured, Global, Global Governance, Globalisation, Headlines, Health, Human Rights, IPS UN: Inside the Glasshouse, Population, Poverty & SDGs, TerraViva United Nations

Opinion

Francesca Perucci is Chief, Development Data and Outreach Branch at the United Nations

Data Community’s Response to Covid-10. Credit: UNWDF Secretariat, UN Statistics Division

UNITED NATIONS, Oct 28 2020 (IPS) – The world is currently counting more than 42 million confirmed cases of the COVID-19 and over 1 million deaths since the start of the pandemic.1


The first quarter of 2020 saw a loss equivalent to 155 million full-time jobs in the global economy, a number that increased to 495 million jobs in the second quarter, with lower- and middle-income countries hardest hit.2

The pandemic is pushing an additional 71 to 100 million people into extreme poverty and, in only a brief period of time, has reversed years of progress on poverty, hunger, health care and education, disrupting efforts to realize the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.3

While the virus has impacted everyone, it has affected the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people the most.

The pandemic has also demonstrated that timely, reliable and disaggregated data is a critical tool for governments to contain the pandemic and mitigate its impacts.

In addition, data on the social and economic impact have been essential to develop support programmes to reach those in need and start planning for a recovery that leads to a safer, more equal, inclusive and sustainable world for all.

Data and statistics are more urgently needed than ever before. While many countries are finding innovative ways to better data, statistical operations have been significantly disrupted by the pandemic.

According to a survey conducted in May 2020, 96 per cent of national statistical offices partially or fully stopped face-to-face data collection at the height of the pandemic.4

Francesca Perucci, UN Statistics Division. Credit: IISD/EBN | Kiara Worth

Approximately 150 censuses are expected to be conducted in 2020-2021 alone, a historical record. Yet, to address the urgent issues brought by the pandemic, some countries have diverted their census funding to national emergency funding.5

Seventy-seven out of 155 countries monitored for Covid-19 do not have adequate poverty data, although there have been clear improvements in the last decade.6

Behind these numbers there is a tremendous human cost. Despite an increasing awareness of the importance of data for evidence–based policymaking and development, data gaps remain significant in most countries, particularly in the ones with fewer resources.

In addition, the lack of sound disaggregated data for vulnerable groups, such as persons with disabilities, older persons, indigenous peoples, migrants and others, exacerbates their vulnerabilities by masking the extent of deprivation and disparities and making them invisible when designing policies and critical measures.

The 2030 Agenda, with the principle of “leaving no-one behind” at its heart, underlines the need for new approaches and tools to respond to an unprecedented demand for high quality, timely and disaggregated data.

The UN World Data Forum

The UN World Data Forum was established as a response to the increased data demands of the 2030 agenda and as a space for different data communities to come together and find the best data solutions leveraging new technology, innovation, private sector and civil society’s contributions and wider users’ engagement.

The first and second World Data Forums in Cape Town and Dubai resulted in the Cape Town Global Action Plan for Sustainable Development Data and the Dubai Declaration.

These two forums addressed the new approaches required to the production and use of data and statistics not only by official statistical systems, but across broader data ecosystems where players from academia, civil society and the private sector play an increasingly important role.

This year, the UN World Data Forum, initially to take place in Bern, Switzerland, was held on a virtual platform because of the pandemic.

The virtual event allowed for a very broad and inclusive participation, with over 10,000 participants from 180 countries to showcase their answers to the challenges posted by the COVID-19 crisis, share their latest experiences and innovations, and renew the call for intensified efforts and political commitments to meet the data demands of the COVID-19 crisis and for delivering on the sustainable development Goals (SDGs) while also addressing trust in data, privacy and governance.

The programme of the Forum included three high-level plenaries on leaving no one behind, on data use and on trust in data. Together and under one virtual roof, the forum launched the Global Data Community’s response to COVID 19 – Data for a changing world.

This is a call for increased support for data use during COVID-19, focusing on the immediate needs related to the pandemic and for increased political and financial support for data throughout the COVID 19 pandemic and beyond.

Showcased in 70 live-streamed, 30 pre-recorded sessions and 20 virtual exhibit spaces, many innovative solutions to the data challenges of the 2030 Agenda were proposed and partnerships were formed, including:

    • Lessons learned in using data to track and mitigate the impact of COVID-19, at the global, national and local level;
    • Better ways to communicate data and statistics;
    • Use of maps and spatial data to improve the lives of communities;
    • Lessons learned from the use of AI algorithms;
    • Challenges in balancing data use and data protection;
    • How to secure more funding for data.

The next World Data Forum is scheduled to take place from 3 to 6 October 2021 in Bern, Switzerland, hosted by the Federal Statistical Office and the United Nations.

What next?

The Covid-19 pandemic has sadly confirmed that without timely, trusted, disaggregated data there cannot be an adequate response to the many challenges of dealing with the crisis and ensuring a sustainable, inclusive and better future for all.

Clearly, the time is now to recognize that we need data for a changing world. The time is now to accelerate action on the implementation of the Cape Town Global Action Plan and the Dubai declaration to respond more effectively to the COVID-19 pandemic and to put us back on track towards the achievement of the SDGs and to build stronger and more agile and resilient statistical and data systems to respond to future disasters.

World leaders need to recognize that increased investments are more urgently needed than ever to address the data gap and to close the digital divide and data inequality across the world.

To ensure the political commitment and donor support necessary to prioritize data and statistics, it is critical that the data community is able to demonstrate the impact and value of data.

The UN World Data Forum will continue to strive towards these objectives. It will also remain the space for knowledge sharing and launching new initiatives and collaborations for the integration of new data sources into official statistical systems and for promoting users’ engagement and a better use of data for policy and decision-making.

1 WHO Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) Dashboard
2 ILO Monitor: COVID-19 and the world of work. Sixth edition
3 United Nations, The Sustainable Development Goals, Report 2020
4 United Nations Statistics Division, COVID-19 widens gulf of global data inequality, while national statistical offices step up to meet new data demands, 5 June 2020. https://covid-19-response.unstatshub.org/statistical-programmes/covid19-nso-survey/
5 PARIS21 Partner Report on Support to Statistics 2020
6 The World Bank

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The Plight of Domestic Workers in Brazil

Civil Society, Development & Aid, Economy & Trade, Featured, Gender, Global Governance, Headlines, Human Rights, IPS UN: Inside the Glasshouse, Labour, Latin America & the Caribbean, Population, Poverty & SDGs, TerraViva United Nations, Women & Economy

Opinion

Waldeli Melleiro is a project manager at the Brazil Office of Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) and Christoph Heuser is the resident representative at the FES Brazil Office.

On 31 January 2018, the Government of Brazil deposited the formal instrument of ratification with the International Labour Office for ratification of the Convention on Decent Work for Domestic Workers, 2011 (No. 189) . Accordingly, Brazil became the twenty-fifth member State of the ILO and the fourteenth member State in the Americas region to ratify this Convention. It is estimated that there are about seven million domestic workers in Brazil, six million of them women, and more than in any other country in the world. Moreover, the majority of domestic workers are women, with indigenous peoples and persons of African descent being over-represented in the domestic work sector. But how has the Convention been implemented?. Credit: International Labour Organization (ILO), Geneva

SAO PAULO, Brazil, Oct 21 2020 (IPS) – The inclusivity of Brazilian society is put to the test as the coronavirus pandemic highlights a labour sector ripe with historical and structural inequality: domestic work.


The first death of COVID-19 in Rio de Janeiro was emblematic of the country’s inequities: a domestic worker who caught the new coronavirus from her employer. Much has since been written about the Brazilian government and its catastrophic inaction during the pandemic.

But the new normal also highlights a sector that has always been present in Brazil but with little public attention. A sector, in which the historical and structural inequality in Brazil is very much represented: domestic work.

With about 6 million female workers, domestic work is the second-largest occupation for women in Brazil. They are mostly black (about 65 per cent) and many are over 45 years old (46.5 per cent).

They start working sometimes as teenagers or even children, and because they lack access to most labour rights and social protection, even after 50 years or more of continuous work they still do not have the right to retirement and well-deserved rest.

They live far from their workplaces, often earn less than the legal minimum wage of around 200 USD per month, and are nonetheless often responsible (45 per cent of them) for the income of their families.

Among the poorest of these workers (less than 1,5 USD/day), 58.1 percent are heads of household, which gives an indication of the extreme poverty in which their families live.

The lack of labour protection

Domestic workers have long been fighting for recognition of the value of their work and for labour rights. The struggle in Brazil goes back to the 1930s, with the founding of the Professional Association of Domestic Employees of Santos.

In 1988 the new Constitution guaranteed paid leave and a 13th month of salary, among others. But domestic workers continued to have fewer rights than those in other professions.

Several further rights were only obtained in 2013 under the former administration of Dilma Rousseff, including the limiting of working hours to eight per day and 44 per week, the right to recognition of overtime, and paid retirement.

Despite these advances, many female workers are still excluded from many of those rights, which are guaranteed only to those who work at least three days a week in the same job. And even where the conditions are met, many employers persistently fail to respect workers’ rights, while monitoring compliance is difficult.

Those who work for the same employer for one or two days a week, known as day workers, remain completely unassisted by the law and social protection.

Furthermore, the degree of informality in domestic work is very high: In 2018, only 27 percent of women workers had a formal contract, if we are adding those paying individually even without having a formal contract, only 39 percent contributed to social security.

Thus, the vast majority of female domestic workers are not entitled to unemployment insurance, sickness benefit and retirement.

The new normal of work during and after the pandemic

Domestic work is one of the occupations most affected by the pandemic.

Many workers are in high-risk age groups; their working conditions expose them to more possibilities of contamination; they use public transportation over long distances; they care for elderly people or children with unavoidable physical proximity; and they often have to work without proper protective masks, gloves, or alcohol gel.

Or even worse: in order to keep their jobs and limit contamination, some stay for days and weeks on end in the homes where they work, away from their families.

As the pandemic took hold, the government allowed employers of domestic workers to suspend the contract for up to two months, with two months of secure employment after the suspension. It also allowed partial employment.

But this only helped the minority of domestic workers with such a contract. Most have precarious positions and many of those, especially day workers, have been dismissed and left without income and vulnerable.

The government also started paying 600 reals (around 109 USD) per month for those in need, for example informal workers, rising to 1,200 reals (218 USD) per month for some cases, for example single mothers. However, many women had difficulty in registering and accessing this aid.

Despite the pandemic, domestic workers are standing firm in the fight for labour rights. In March 2020 Fenatrad (National Federation of Domestic Workers) launched a campaign under the slogan “Take care of those who take care of you, leave your domestic worker at home, with paid wages.”

According to Luiza Batista, president of Fenatrad, there was good coverage in social networks, but in practice there was little adhesion by employers. Fenatrad has been carrying out an intense programme of denunciation and negotiation.

The group has also campaigned against a controversial measure by some state governments, for example Pará, to declare domestic work as an essential service during lockdown, forcing workers to continue working.

This measure was reversed after pressure from Fenatrad to specify what functions within domestic work are essential. The category was refined to include only nannies, careers for the elderly, and those caring for people with special needs and whose employers are keyworkers, e.g. in the health or security sectors.

Still the question remains: if domestic work is essential why it is not valued? It is fundamental work, but it is marginalized and carries the prejudices of a society in which social rights are not within reach for everyone.

The pandemic stresses the importance of domestic work and at the same time showed its precariousness as well as the inequality within the Brazilian society. It is time to reflect on the need for change in paid domestic work, aiming at a fair and inclusive society.

The new normal should recognize and value domestic work, including adequate labour rights as an important step on the long way to a more just society.

Source: Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES), Brazil

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