OPINION: We won't let your money destroy our future

Thursday, 16 July 2020 20:43 GMT

* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

It's time for a just and sustainable reboot of the world's economies - and the G20 finance ministers need to help make that happen

Nicki Becker of Argentina, Hilda Flavia Nakabuye of Uganda, Licpriya Kangujam of India, Mitzi Jonelle Tan of the Philippines, Belyndar Rikimani of the Solomon Islands and 15 other signatories to this statement are Friday for Future climate activists from the Global South.

We - 20 female Fridays for Future activists from the Global South - are witnessing first hand the multiple effects of COVID-19, climate impacts and an economic crisis: millions of people, and disproportionately black people, indigenous peoples and people of colour, have been left sick, jobless, displaced and homeless with worsening inequality, and broken health systems.

COVID-19 has brutally exposed the fragility of neoliberal systems.

This weekend, an exclusive club of 20 people very different from us is meeting: The finance ministers of the world’s largest economies, who will meet at the G20 Finance Minister Summit to discuss in their exclusive backrooms where the next trillions of dollars will go to bail out companies.

The amount of public money usually spent over decades is currently being issued within months.

Finance ministers have a duty to minimize the horrific socioeconomic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic. But in deciding where the money goes, they must not respond to this crisis in a way that puts people’s life at greater risk, increases inequality, and worsens other crises, notably the climate emergency.

So far this is exactly what the G20 finance ministers have done: they have encumbered our generation with debt to pay for over $120 billion of unconditional fossil fuel bailouts that threaten to destroy our future.

In 2009, the G20 promised to phase out fossil fuel subsidies. However, these countries keep providing hundreds of billions of dollars of fossil fuel subsidies. These are the same countries that account for 80% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Among those present at the table of the G20 are the industrialized and emerging economies with the highest historic and projected emissions - and all of them are way off track to meet the 1.5 degrees Celsius Paris Agreement target. Rich industrialized countries have an even bigger responsibility to increase their ambition. 

This should be a transformational moment towards a healthier and more just future. The economic stimulus packages the G20 finance ministers come up with will lock in development pathways for decades. Our societies can become more resilient and sustainable by investing in health systems, clean energy, public transport, and housing.

But the United States of America instead has handed billions to the oil industry. India opened the way for over 40 new coal mines. China doubled down on coal adding another 48 gigawatts to the coal pipeline. 

This all happened while doubling the public health budgets of the 85 poorest countries would cost less than 10% of the last big COVID-19 economic stimulus from the United States.

This pandemic has exposed huge distributive inequalities. In South America, indigenous communities and their knowledge are in severe danger. They lack access to health care and food guarantees on top of pre-existing threats to their lands by big corporates. South Africa has five times fewer doctors and four times fewer nurses per 1,000 inhabitants than Italy, which met the limits of its health system in this crisis. And the gap between South Africa and the most developed countries is even bigger. 

Over 170 countries are not allowed at your G20 table. The finance ministers from rich Western countries who make decisions on our future are almost exclusively white men above 50 years old. Not coincidentally, these industrialized countries are also carbon majors, benefiting the most from our current system of infinite resource extraction at the cost of greater disaster risk in the Global South. 

The poorest countries cannot just inject money into the economy by essentially printing it as they would create hyperinflation and an even bigger crisis. They depend on this exclusive club to relieve their often illegitimate and unsustainable debt. It matters who receives stimulus money, who decides how to use it, and who benefits from it. A debt standstill for the poorest countries is a first step - but in the light of resource exploitation and overall inequalities it is inadequate. 

We cannot go back to normal. Normality already was a crisis  - of inequality, destruction of nature and climate. Those who did not notice are just too privileged to do so. The system is not broken, it was built to be unjust. We don't need recovery, we need a reboot. 

The response to this pandemic can be a first step for a just and sustainable reboot. This includes an immediate stop to subsidizing and investing in fossil fuels and promotion of locally adapted sustainable recovery measures.

The G20 meetings are a charade of pretending to care but in reality only protecting an unjust status quo.

We won’t let your money destroy our future. We will hold you accountable.

Face the climate emergency.

Nicki Becker - Argentina, Hilda Flavia Nakabuye - Uganda, Licypriya Kangujam - India, Laura Verónica Muñoz Aguilar - Colombia, Belyndar Rikimani  - Solomon Islands, Dominga Espiñeira Herreros - Chile, Belen Gomez - Ecuador, Komal Kumar - Fiji Islands, Howey Ow - China, Ana Elizabeth Guzmán Alvarez - Guatemala, Fatou Jeng - Gambia, Jhannel Tomilson - Jamaica, Karina Penha - Brazil, Vinzelhar Nen - Papua New Guinea, Pramisha Tapali - Nepal, Mitzi Jonelle Tan - Philippines, Brianna Fruean  - Samoa, Fatima Faraz - Pakistan, Selina Leem - Marshall islands, Yola Mgogwana - South Africa