At the end of the G20 Summit in Rome, Italy, Oxfam panned the lack of bold and effective action from the world leaders at such an important moment in the global response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Despite the amazing coffee in Rome, G20 leaders must have been drinking decaf, as their collective results were muted, unambitious, and lacking concrete action plans,” said Oxfam’s Senior Advisor, Jörn Kalinski. “This G20 was supposed to be a key global moment for shaping effective, innovative and equitable responses towards a post-COVID world, but world leaders failed to come together and deliver the necessary action to the historic crisis still unfolding.”
While the G20 intend to help get at least 40% of the population in all countries vaccinated by the end of 2021 and 70% by mid-2022, they did not take the concrete action to put us on the path to deliver on that goal, such as a plan to boost the supply of vaccines in developing countries and remove relevant supply and financing constraints. According to the World Health Organization, 82 countries are at risk of missing that target. It is clear that we will not get there if we perpetuate the current profit-driven approach of insufficient donations of doses, voluntary licenses, generic support for technology transfer which has crashed and failed miserably.
“What an abysmal and total failure of leadership. The G20 talk of helping to reach the 70% vaccination target but yet again produce absolutely no plan to achieve it. At this stage in the pandemic for them to have requested health ministers to simply ‘explore’ ways to accelerate vaccine access is a sickening insult to the millions of people who have lost loved ones to this catastrophic pandemic and to the health workers on the front line trying to save lives with no protection,” said Kalinski. “Paltry and unfulfilled promises of donated doses will not end this pandemic, nor will pathetic hopes that greedy pharmaceutical corporations will at some point volunteer to do the right thing. It is scandalous that Germany and the UK have acted to silence the majority of the G20 members who support the breaking of pharmaceutical monopolies so that vaccine production can be redistributed and scaled up across the world. It is beyond time that the rights and the recipes for these lifesaving tools were shared as global public goods.”
As the world’s largest economies and emitters, the G20 should have provided the lightning bolt that the COP26 climate talks so desperately need. Instead, they responded with vague promises and platitudes.
“Confirming the 1.5°C goal of the Paris Agreement was a minimum requirement. Without a promise to revise their lacklustre national climate plans to be in line with this goal, it is meaningless,” said Kalinski. “The planet is on fire, and we are running out of time. It is now critical that COP26 agrees to send all countries back to the drawing board to scale up their climate plans immediately, and not in five years’ time.”
The half-hearted words on financing adaptation in vulnerable countries were again not backed up by timeframes or targets. Without these, poorer nations will continue to lack the resources they need to protect lives, homes and businesses from weather disasters. This was a missed opportunity to re-invigorate the $100-billion climate finance target that should have been met last year.
One of the few positives is the promise to stop financing new coal power plants overseas by the end of this year. But it is disappointing that there was not a similar announcement on domestic coal power and on phasing out other fossil fuels altogether with rich nations taking a lead. This means that climate-killing coal power plants can be built for another ten years, which is incompatible with the goal of limiting warming to 1.5°C.
G20 leaders also had the opportunity to pursue a more equitable economic recovery and there was growing hope that leaders would take bold action on debt relief. Mounting debt in developing countries poses a considerable threat to the fight against COVID-19, as it represents a clear opportunity cost to resources that should be channeled to public health and economic recovery. However, these hopes were dashed.
“There is no credible reason for rich countries and companies to continue extracting resources from the world’s poorest countries and people during an unprecedented global catastrophe,” said Kalinski. “Ad hoc approaches with strong biases towards the borrowers should be left to the past. Instead, we need to establish an international, autonomous, framework to oversee temporary standstills and handle debt restructuring, thus ensuring poor countries are not using their limited resources to pay off their debts instead of helping their citizens cope with the pandemic.”
Oxfam welcomes the general SDR allocation that the G20 agreed to earlier this year to address the huge liquidity needs associated with the pandemic and the post-crisis recovery and it is good to see the G20 stating an ambition of channeling USD 100 billion worth of SDRs to more vulnerable economies; this should be a bare minimum given the massive gulf between what rich countries and lower income countries received. This must now be operationalized through individual country commitments which are still sorely lacking, and crucially this funding must be delivered on terms that work for countries and their people.
“Recalling that rich countries received USD 400 billion in SDRs this year, we need to see them now make individual commitments to meet, if not surpass, the USD 100 billion commitment on SDR channeling. Today the pledges only amount to USD 45 billion, less than half of the global ambition,” said Kalinski. “Moreover, how the channeling is done is of fundamental importance. We don’t want to see funding that locks countries into high debt payments or into risky conditionality that could worsen inequalities. Moreover, SDR channeling absolutely cannot be a substitute for existing aid and climate finance commitments”,
The G20 Leaders also endorsed the OECD/G20 global tax agreement that Oxfam says is far from historic and displays a far too moderate level of ambition and little fairness. While the agreement proves it could have been possible and realistic to tax large corporations on their global profits, the envisaged profit redistribution is extremely limited and less than one hundred mega corporations will be in scope. It could generate just 10 million Euro on average in extra revenues for 52 of the poorest countries and comes with the conditionality to remove all the existing digital services taxes. The minimum tax rate set at 15% with generous carve outs is a joke: rather than curbing the harmful tax competition, it normalizes low-tax jurisdictions and risks to transform the current race to the bottom into the race towards the new minimum.
“At the G20 Summit in Rome, G20 leaders could have taken urgent action to dramatically scale up manufacturing and access to COVID-19 vaccines around the world, promote a fair economic recovery, lower dangerous greenhouse gas emissions, and help the poorest countries adapt to the climate change already happening,” said Kalinski. “The bottom line is that this Summit failed to deliver much of anything for people, planet or prosperity.”