Derek Thomas is MP for St Ives.
We are experiencing a global pandemic, not just a national emergency. When the UK hosts the G7, in my Cornwall constituency next month, it will be a key turning point in history.
With the major economies of the world starting to get on top of the virus through effective vaccine roll-outs, we will be looking to kickstart the global economic recovery and to build back better from interconnected the crises.
The triple emergency faced by the world is one where climate, Covid and inequality require a joined-up response that can only rise to these challenges if countries agree to work together. Carbis Bay should witness the rebirth of multilateralism and a re-establishing of the global rules-based system.
Thankfully, the world already has a plan: the 17 global goals of sustainable development which the UK backed at the UN. But the pandemic has pushed global progress backwards in 2020, with the World Bank estimating that at least 150 million people have been pushed back into poverty.
Vaccine equity is now a crucial priority. And global vaccine distribution is in our national interest: otherwise new variants of the disease will keep on breaching our defences.
Simply pledging our surplus vaccine doses to the World Health Organisation’s Covax facility will not make us safe. As Unicef UK remind us: “vaccines can’t distribute themselves.” Developing countries need clinics, with healthcare staff, cold chain logistics, fridges, trucks, and warehouses.
Aid invested now represents excellent value for money. The GAVI alliance, which will immunise 300 million children and save eight million lives, has been evaluated to provide a return on investment of $54 for every $1 spent.
The business case from the World Bank shows that if every girl on earth had 12 years of quality education, women’s earnings would rise by $30 trillion. Yet if we fail to get girls back into school after they have been closed by Covid-19, the world will see a $10 trillion loss in economic output. And the funding of modern methods of contraception allow women to avoid unplanned pregnancies and establish their economic independence.
That is why I am opposed to the Government breaking the promise we made in our manifesto to stand by the 0.7 per cent aid commitment. As the Prime Minister who met that target the last time the UK hosted the G7, David Cameron, said: “this is a promise we don’t need to break.”
The UK is the only G7 country cutting aid. Britain remains the fifth-largest economy on earth, and yet the Government have chosen this moment to make the largest cut in aid, not just in our nation’s history, but the largest cut in aid by any country at any point in history.
When we adopted the Global Goals in 2015, we said that we would commit to ruling out poverty, ending hunger, providing good health and wellbeing, ensuring access to education, delivering gender equality, providing clean water and sanitation, and giving greater access to decent work and economic growth. Those are just seven of the 17 goals and they all offer real hope, opportunity and improved life chances for women and girls around the world.
Our international aid has led the war on forced labour among migrant women and started to crack down on human trafficking. Foreign aid has led to African women finding a market for their camels’ milk and been essential in the fight to end violence against women and girls in Lebanon. British money is critical in addressing the displacement of women due to conflict, climate change and, more recently, the Covid pandemic.
Charities and civil society have come together to form a new coalition called “Crack the Crises”. They are calling on the Government to demonstrate leadership on the global stage. The coalition unites nature, development, climate change and social justice groups with a shared strategy: urging a just and green recovery. Members range from 100-year-old global organisations to local start-ups, and across the country, thousands of people are taking part in the #WaveOfHope to signify their support. Global leaders should hear their calls.
Carbis Bay will not be the last word but the opening chapter, with world leaders gathering again in the autumn in Glasgow for COP26. If the UK, as hosts, are to meet the historic magnitude of the demands of these global challenges, we must lead by example: setting ambitious climate targets and reversing cuts to aid. The eyes of the world are upon us. We must rise to the occasion.