Updated: Mar 26, 2021
Amnesty International called on G20 leaders ahead of their virtual meeting from 17 to 19 July to take unprecedented steps towards tackling the global inequalities fueling the COVID-19 and climate crises. COVID-19 has exposed glaring inequalities that exist in our world and if we are to build resilience to future crises, we need to make long-term structural changes that require courage and leadership from G20 countries. Cancel debt to free up resources Julie Verhaar, acting secretary-general for Amnesty International, says G20 finance ministers should commit to cancelling debt of the world’s poorest countries, scaling up investments in health and social protections and phasing out fossil fuels to ensure a just and sustainable recovery from the pandemic. She says the debt owed by the world’s poorest countries should be cancelled for at least the next two years, freeing up resources for countries to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. “The flawed priorities of the rich and powerful have led us to a global emergency and G20 countries must break with the past by investing in people and human rights, leading the way to recovery. According to the Jubilee Debt Campaign, 64 countries spend more on debt repayments than on public healthcare,” says the acting secretary-general. Verhaar says the poorest 77 countries will spend nearly $85 billion in debt repayments in 2020 and 2021 and about 40% of this is owed to rich countries with the remainder to international institutions and private lenders. She says it should be unthinkable that any country would spend more money on debt repayments than healthcare in the face of a pandemic. Human rights must prevail over debt Last month, António Guterres, secretary-general of the United Nations, stated that a large-scale, coordinated and comprehensive multilateral response amounting to at least 10% of the global GDP is needed to address the impact of COVID-19. In April, the G20 committed to suspending up to $12 billion of debt payments for 77 countries in 2020, but states seeking this offer will still be obliged to pay this money back with interest in future years. According to acting secretary-general, the current G20 plan falls short of what is needed to respond right now and it piles up problems that will prevent countries recovering in the future. She says debt repayments should never take precedence over efforts to ensure people’s human rights and the G20 must ensure the world’s poorest countries are not locked into a vicious cycle of debt, ill-health and economic paralysis. “Under international human rights law, wealthier states including the G20 countries have an obligation to assist countries struggling to mobilise adequate funding to respond to the pandemic. Amnesty International is also calling for debt cancellation to be accompanied by robust transparency and accountability mechanisms in all donor and recipient countries to ensure money freed up is not lost to corruption or wasteful expenditure,” says Verhaar.
Action must be taken to protect earth Unless rapid action is taken to tackle the climate crisis, the COVID-19 pandemic is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to looming threats facing humanity. At their last meeting in April, G20 finance ministers also committed to support an environmentally sustainable and inclusive recovery consistent with the Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development which includes investment in health, a new deal for social protection and investment in sectors delivering green and decent jobs. However, in the last few months several countries such as the United States, United Kingdom and Russia allowed fossil fuel companies, the aviation industry and other carbon-polluting companies to benefit from economic stimulus measures such as tax rebates and loans. These have largely been granted with no conditions attached meaning these industries can continue to function and even expand without committing to reduce emissions or using government support to just support workers. According to Verhaar, given the size of their economies and their contribution to the climate crisis, G20 states must lead in adopting stimulus packages and recovery measures. She says these measures must facilitate the transition to a zero-carbon economy, foster a resilient society and put people and their human rights, especially those most affected by the transition, at the centre. “This means refraining from any unconditional bailouts to fossil fuel and aviation companies and investing instead in renewable energy produced in a manner consistent with human rights. G20 states must ensure all workers and communities dependent on sectors affected by the transition to a zero-carbon economy are supported in obtaining green and decent jobs and protecting an adequate standard of living,” says the acting secretary-general.