Reform Is Not Enough to Build Trust – a Call for System Change

Photo-illustration: Unsplash (Markus Spiske)

In 2021, the world has a chance to not just move beyond the acute COVID-19 public health crisis, but to do it in a way that sets us on a just and green path to recovery. As Greenpeace has previously said, we have an unmissable chance to put people and planet before private profit and power.

This will only happen when leaders face up to the causes of the interconnected medical, environmental, and economic crises we are facing. For that to happen the ‘global elite’ coming together for The Davos Agenda must acknowledge how 2020 has brought into sharp focus the many things that are wrong with our current economic system.

Building a better world is within our reach, but it requires global cooperation at unprecedented levels. It will require system change, not mere reform. It requires new rules and new investments, not saving the old failed system via adaptation or reform.

To foster trust, as The Davos Agenda aims to do, world leaders need to be seen to be working together, effectively, for the public good. Trust in political leaders is in decline because they are failing to keep people safe. Only honesty in the face of failure and cascading crisis backed by immediate, coordinated action can begin to change that.

Right now, the most visible – and urgent – way to earn trust is to come together to deliver a People’s Vaccine, available free of charge to all. No country is safe from COVID until all countries are safe from COVID. Delivering a vaccine to everyone, quickly, would not just prevent further human and economic hardship, but could be a powerful first sign of a more cooperative global spirit emerging for the post-COVID world.

Last year was, once again, the hottest year on record. In 2020, significantly more people woke up to the need for fundamental change. Across the globe, vast majorities indicated (in polls) that they are looking for radically better policies. In Japan, for example, 60 percent of people want transformational economic change. While in many countries, including India, Mexico, China, Brazil and South Africa, support for a green economic recovery is at 80 percent or higher. Only an ambitious and just green recovery agenda can earn the trust of these majorities.

Meanwhile, the Global Risks report 2021 illustrates how only urgent action on the climate and biodiversity crisis, as well as inequality and public health, can make the world resilient to future shocks.

In response, governments must urgently shift ‘our’ money, and invest it in public and planetary health. The vast previously ‘unavailable’ public funds that are being found amidst the pandemic must support a just transition to a better, safer, fairer, future.

Photo-illustration: Pixabay

So far, governments are failing this test by a huge margin. Thirty major economies have pledged $268 billion to fossil fuels, 47 percent of all public money committed to energy-intensive sectors as part of the COVID response. This, as UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, has pointed out, is simply unacceptable. It undermines the trust of people who want this crisis to be used to build resilience for the future.

In addition to shifting ‘our’ money, governments must change the rules that govern our economies. They must do so via transformational green and just recovery proposals, that strengthen our communities, respect our planet and address the root causes of injustice. No attempt to restore trust through reform can succeed. No simple notion of getting back to normal will suffice.

Civil society, including Greenpeace, has developed many proposals for a better future, whether for India, the United States, Spain or New Zealand. There is an abundance of ideas of how we can use this moment to build a new, and better normal. To deliver it, governments must do more than adopt the language of civil society proposals (such as US President Joe Biden using the phrase #BuildBackBetter during the transition), but also embrace the substance. Governments must adopt a true People’s Recovery.

Without fundamental change in trade or finance rules, for example, there can be no climate-resilient or just economic recovery. And without a shift in the hierarchy of norms of our decision-making on the local, national and international level, public and planetary health will continue to be sacrificed on the altar of private profit.

Part of the change we need is therefore a shift of power in the international system. With President Biden, we can expect the World Trade Organization to end its Trump-induced paralysis. Via its powerful dispute settlement system, it will be able to enforce its rules across the globe. The Paris Agreement, which the United States is thankfully rejoining, does not have such powers of enforcement. Indeed, no global organization ensuring human, social and environmental rights does. This has to change.

Photo-illustration: Pexels

This year, both the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Convention on Biodiversity (CBD) will hold major summits. There is a danger that these will be mostly greenwashing. That governments and businesses alike will use them as a stage to announce positive sounding net zero emission targets for 2050, 30 years from now, aiming to hide the fact that there are no clear benchmarks or binding laws to achieve them.

Instead, both meetings (COP 26 on climate and COP 15 on biodiversity) must be moments of immediate, transformational action, that illustrate to the world that leaders are ready to build a post-COVID global order where public good trumps private profit. They must, for example, be the place where International Financial Institutions announce that they are moving from conditionality based on neoliberalism and endless growth (GDP) to supporting just and green economic systems. They must be moments where governments commit to just transition funds and a global social protection mechanism. They must be where governments end the funding of fossil fuels once and for all and commit to their orderly and just elimination. They must also be where governments deliver a concrete plan to fully protect 30 percent of both land and oceans by 2030 in a just manner, fully supporting and realizing Indigenous Peoples’ rights.

“The seeds of trust lie in the truth of action.”

—Jennifer Morgan, Executive Director, Greenpeace International

The seeds of trust lie in the truth of action. We need to see immediate honest action we can believe in, that means a People’s Vaccine and investments in renewable energies and local economies, the economies of the future.

In 2021 the world has a chance to build a future that is open, cooperative, egalitarian, peaceful, in harmony with nature. A world with public and planetary good as its driving force.

These are the lights on the path towards a safer, fairer future. If our leaders are brave enough to change the system, then maybe, just maybe, they can lay the foundation for future trust.

Source: World Economic Forum