OPINION: At the G7, the UK can lead on climate and vaccines

by Damian Green | @DamianGreen | Member of Parliament
Tuesday, 8 June 2021 07:00 GMT

FILE PHOTO: A person receives the second dose of Sinovac's COVID-19 vaccine at the Kodang stadium in Bangkok, Thailand June 4, 2021. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha

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

The greatest value that the G7 can provide is in making sure these rich countries, which represent over half the world’s wealth, deliver on two key pledges

Damian Green is the Conservative MP for Ashford and a former First Secretary of State

By definition a pandemic is global. Therefore any recovery from a pandemic needs to be global as well. The world is only just waking up to this fact, and what it means for the behaviour of the most prosperous.

The greatest myth of the past fifteen months is the suggestion that the pandemic would be a ‘great leveller’, with everyone, rich or poor, suffering from the impact of the virus and the measures to combat it.

But while it is true to say that many developed Western nations have been amongst the very worst hit in terms of deaths from the Covid-19 and the initial economic impact, the story of the recovery looks to be very different indeed.

We should be rightly proud of the UK’s incredible vaccination efforts, although the picture is much more mixed abroad. The United States has a strong record and the European Union - after a slow start - has picked up the pace.

But we should all be alarmed that there are numerous countries, most of them concentrated in the poorest parts of the world, that have had virtually no vaccinations at all, with more than 1 in 4 people jabbed in high income countries but just 1 in 500 in those with low income.

This is not just a healthcare crisis in the making, providing greater opportunity for the virus to mutate further, but an economic one too, with vast swathes of the world still extremely vulnerable to the virus and unable to benefit from any economic bounceback.

The same is true of the other great global challenge of our age: climate change. The UK and an increasing number of our Western allies can boast impressive cuts in greenhouse gas emissions and ambitious net zero targets, as part of optimistic plans for green growth and jobs over the coming years, but for many countries, they lack the financial firepower to invest in clean energy and sustainable infrastructure, with the share of emissions from emerging economies on the rise as a result.

This matters, not just for the economic wellbeing of the countries concerned, but for us too. Just as the global economy will not recover effectively without an equitable distribution of vaccines, we have no chance of being able to tackle climate change without developed economies providing finance for the transition.

This week, as the G7’s leaders meet in Cornwall, the UK has an opportunity and a responsibility to take the lead in this mission at such a crucial time for the global economy and the environment. Success at the G7 will be crucial to making a success of the international climate conference COP26, which the UK will also host in Glasgow this November.

There is understandable focus on the G7’s own climate change responses - being responsible for 27% of global emissions, there is clearly much more for these governments to do to put their own houses in order, not least by embedding climate action into their own domestic recovery plans.

But the greatest value that this month’s meetings can provide is in making sure that these countries representing 58% of global wealth deliver on their promises to the rest of the world.

In practice, this means delivering on two key pledges.

Firstly, ministers must finance a comprehensive strategy for the funding, supply and rollout of vaccines across the world, with a view to vaccinating the global population as soon as possible. This is integral to ending the pandemic and stimulating a genuine economic recovery across the world.

Second, G7 leaders must make good on the commitment made in 2009 to provide $100bn of annual climate finance for developing countries and to do so in a way that alleviates rather than worsens the debt crisis that many of these countries face. Too often economic development in the Global South, especially by China,  has driven its supposed beneficiaries further into debt and failed to tackle the structural problems that have restrained growth in the first place - we need a new approach.

Meeting the $100 billion pledge, leveraging significant private finance and looking at what more will be needed over the rest of this decade above our existing commitments, will be absolutely critical in stimulating a green recovery and in making sustained cuts to carbon emissions.

The signs are positive. Last month’s meeting of G7 environment ministers saw a commitment for governments to end finance for fossil fuel projects overseas. We now need to ensure that having ended the flow of bad money to old polluting technologies, we support those nations that need it to invest in clean alternatives and create both local jobs and new markets for international trade.

We hear a lot about ‘levelling up’ at home; now that message needs to be heard at the G7 as its nations drive a green and sustainable recovery from the pandemic. Domestic action alone will count for little if we fail to support the world’s poorest in ending the pandemic and building back better and greener.

As a world leader on both vaccination and action on climate change, it is time for the UK to lead this task, to build on our impressive domestic record and to level up across the world.