GASTON ALPHONSO BROWNE, Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda, said the international community is failing to deliver policies to support peace, health, a viable planet and other pressing needs, citing the lack of a global COVID-19 response and vaccination programme as a tragic example. If developed countries had acted in a manner allowing for full vaccine access and medical supplies from the start, the world would be in a better place. Developing countries were not seeking handouts, but most vaccines from major pharmaceutical companies had been overpriced and hoarded by a few wealthy nations, leaving the rest of the world bereft of the means to save their people. This selfish nationalism forced most nations to rely on vaccine charity, which in itself has not solved the problem of large numbers of unvaccinated people worldwide. Despite years of warnings, the world was unprepared, and the countries that must bear the burden of responsibility for this must be those who control the world’s health systems, which have to date failed to offer the necessary resources amid a dearth of coordinated global leadership, he said, noting that the World Health Organization (WHO) became an underfunded and under-resourced scapegoat.
“Often, the cries of small countries are either ignored or discarded, even on the few occasions when we actually get a seat at the table,” he continued. Commending the United States for recently convening a global summit on COVID-19, he said small island developing States had voiced their concerns, including that building back better following the pandemic’s economic devastation will be harder than for nations with larger economies, as they continue to struggle to recover and inoculate their populations. For its part, Antigua and Barbuda has made COVID-19 inoculations mandatory for public sector workers to protect the lives of all, including visiting tourists. But the vaccine apartheid must stop, he said, pointing to disturbing reports that some countries do not recognize doses produced in the Caribbean region. WHO, IMF, the World Bank and the United Nations must start now to prepare for future pandemics. Also, the Security Council should be treating pandemics as major security risks to the world and act accordingly to use its full powers to meet these global threats. Never again should the world be caught unprepared to manage and end a pandemic swiftly nor should it repeat the current selfish display of nationalism in tackling a global threat.
The same argument applies to climate change, he said, noting that the COP26 will be an opportunity for reflection. Global solidarity and firm commitments are required, including access to financing, technologies and funding packages for small island developing States that include significant amounts of official development assistance (ODA) in grants, not loans. Such ODA should not be seen as charity, but as a form of climate reparations to compensate for past environmental damage. No new or significant sums of money would be needed to achieve much-needed debt cancellations; they would be mere book entries that will bring significant relief and sustainability to small island developing States and would not add any financial pressures for industrialized countries. “This is a non-confrontational form of climate justice; the alternative is that affected States may be forced to take legal action in the international courts to seek compensation for provable damage,” he said, adding that such a course is not one that small States would take with alacrity, but from necessity.
“We want global solidarity in the face of global adversity,” he declared, highlighting a need to realign the international financial architecture to expedite a global transition into renewables to achieve carbon neutrality. While developed countries in North America and Europe are urging small and vulnerable States to transition to alternative energy, they spend $1.6 trillion annually to subsidize fossil fuel businesses. By contrast, only $2 billion is being made available to developing countries. If developed countries simply shifted their spending from providing subsidies to fossil fuel businesses to helping developing countries to cope with climate change consequences, they would not have to spend one additional cent and would create more opportunities for renewable energy in their own countries. Similarly, investments in nuclear weapons cannot sustain the planet, but investing in combating climate change will certainly save the Earth. Dealing with COVID-19 and climate change successfully is what will give future generations a chance to live in peace, prosperity and safety, he said, emphasizing that: “Those generations are our children and grandchildren. So what future do we want for them? Should we not act to give them the glorious future we want for them, and that they deserve? We certainly should.”
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