Thursday, 29 January 2009

The EU passes climate change burden to world’s poorest

Europe’s refusal to commit money to help poor people cope with climate change could derail the chances of reaching a fair climate deal in Copenhagen, warned Oxfam International today. The EU's Climate Change Communication, published on 28 January and due to be adopted by Member States in March, sets out Europe’s position for the post-2012 negotiations. The proposal recognizes that massive resources are needed to help developing countries adapt to climate impacts and adopt green technologies, and has promising ideas on how to raise the money. But it completely fails to specify how much money the EU and other rich countries will make available. As Commissioner Dimas today acknowledged, finance is a make-or-break part of a global climate agreement. Yet early funding commitments have been stripped out of the final document.

Elise Ford, head of Oxfam International’s EU office, said: “Unless developing countries see hard cash on the table, there is a real danger they will simply walk away. It seems the Commission is pandering to Member States’ expected opposition to put money on the table – fueled by their worries about the impact of the recession.” A year ago, the European Union set a much needed minimum floor for negotiations with a call for a 20-30% mitigation cut by 2020. Now, instead of setting a target for adaptation finance too, the Commission has shrunk from any ambition, let alone responsibility as a major polluter. This seems to be a new EU, one that's signaling it's ready to race to the bottom.

Oxfam estimates that at least €38bn ($50bn) per year is needed to fund adaptation in developing countries, with Europe owing at least €12bn ($16bn). This needs to be managed by the United Nations and come on top of existing aid commitments. This is to ensure donors don’t divert money meant for schools and health services, and pass it off as climate finance they owe as a result of on-going pollution. “Developing countries will be alarmed that the UN – which by rights should be the governor-in-chief of new climate funds – is side-lined in the Communication. This leaves the way open for a spaghetti bowl of money flows, with no trusted referee to ensure countries pay their dues and the funds reach the poorest,” said Hugh Cole, Oxfam's Regional Climate Change Advisor for Southern Africa.

Oxfam welcomed the EU’s strong line that all rich countries should reduce emissions on a just basis, but argued the fairest way to cut the carbon pie by measuring countries’ historic responsibilities (per capita emissions) and wealth.

EU development ministers in Prague

The EU development ministers meet today and tomorrow in Prague for the first time in 2009. On the occasion of the meeting, CIDSE, the solidarity network of catholic aid agencies, urges the ministers to implement financing commitments and ensure that the needs of poor communities in developing countries are addressed in the global discussion on the financial crisis. The network of 16 development organisations from Europe and North America asks that EU member states should make sure that developing countries are given an equal voice in policy making to address the present crises and to prevent future ones.

CIDSE asks the EU development ministers to implement the commitments laid out in the European Council Conclusions of 10-11 November 2008 and the Doha Outcome Document. Moreover, it reckons that they should clearly call for the equal participation of developing countries in discussions on the reform of the international financial architecture, from a development perspective – one of the issues the Czech Presidency has put on the agenda of the Prague meeting. In particular, the network urges EU member states to:

1. Publish binding timetables on aid targets, as committed in the May GAERC council conclusions, by end 2009, to ensure that the EU meets the 0.56% ODA/ GNI commitment by 2010, and 0.7% by 2015;
2. Support the implementation of impartial and transparent debt workout mechanisms in order to deal efficiently and equitably with future debt crises. As expressed in the European Parliament report on FFD, the EU should also address the issue of odious and illegitimate debts;
3. Strengthen “international cooperation to combat tax evasion and tax havens” in order to ensure effective taxation to mobilise resources for development. To this effect, it is crucial to:
* take concrete measures to end all bank secrecy jurisdictions and tax havens;
* agree upon “principles of transparency, exchange of information and fair tax competition” such as country-by-country reporting standard for multi-national corporations;
* take specific measures and commit the necessary resources to “strengthen institutional arrangements, including the United Nations Committee of Experts on International Cooperation in Tax Matters”;
* lead on the “drafting and urgent finalisation of the United Nations Code of Conduct on cooperation in combating international tax evasion.”
4. Ensure financial reforms are participatory of all world governments; inclusive, comprehensive, and transparent. The current financial and economic crisis shines light on the need for far-reaching reforms of the international financial architecture. These reforms must see all world governments participate. The UN conference “at the highest level on the world financial and economic crisis and its impact on development” agreed in Doha provides a unique opportunity to take this process forward. Therefore, CIDSE urges EU governments to provide the political leadership and necessary resources to make this conference a milestone in the process towards a fairer and democratic international financial architecture which works for the world’s poor.

Trade Unions call for a new growth model

On the occasion of the World Social Forum in Belem, the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) has released a statement on the global economic and financial crisis. For the ITUC, the financial markets of today are characterised by the reckless pursuit of quick profits against a background of unbridled economic and financial liberalisation. Casino capitalism is clearly to blame for the scale of the crisis. The financial markets have failed their primary mission, which is to ensure the financing of the real economy. Another key factor underlying the crisis are the imbalances arising from excessive market deregulation and the non-intervention of States.

On the fringe of the WSF, the ITUC, ITUC-CSA (Trade Union Confederation of the Americas) and the Brazilian trade union organisations CUT, FS and UGT are organising a World Trade Union Forum from 28-30 January. It is open to all the organisations and movements present in Belem. The Decent Work Alliance, led by the ITUC, the ETUC, Solidar, the Global Progressive Forum and Social Alert, is also organising events during the WSF on the following themes: a new financial architecture to ensure decent work; a global welfare state; and the decent work, decent life campaign.

The ITUC underlines that without a social dimension, globalisation has forced workers from the North and South to compete with each other to attract multinationals and private equity funds whose profits were constantly soaring until the onset of the current credit crisis. "A new model of growth must be developed without further delay; a model based on market regulation and that generates green growth, which will spawn huge opportunities in terms of job creation," said Guy Ryder, general secretary of the ITUC. The ITUC defends the idea of an economic system that is ecologically sustainable, socially just, geopolitically balanced, and that takes on board the proposals of the trade union movement and other civil society actors.

To read the full statement: >>> here.

Monday, 26 January 2009

Global food crisis will worsen - 1bn people need help now

Urgent action is needed to prevent hundreds of millions more people slipping into hunger as a result of volatile food prices and increasing energy and water scarcity, said international agency Oxfam today. Decades of underinvestment in agriculture coupled with the increasing threat of climate change mean that despite recent price falls, future food security is by no means guaranteed, and in fact the situation could get worse, said Oxfam on the opening day of a UN conference in Madrid to address the issue. Oxfam’s warning comes on the day that two new reports are published, detailing the threats to global food security and exposing the lack of adequate coordinated international action to tackle hunger.

The reports, A Billion Hungry People and The Feeding of the Nine Billion are published by Oxfam and the UK think tank, Chatham House respectively, and together are a call to action to politicians, and representatives from the private sector and civil society meeting to discuss the implementation of the UN Taskforce’s response. Although global food prices have fallen in the last few months, they are not back to previous levels, and are likely to rise sharply again in the future. Furthermore, price volatility itself is a problem, and more needs to be done to address the underlying structural issues that cause the chronic hunger affecting 1 in 6 people in the world today, according to Oxfam. Current severe food shortages in Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Mozambique and Zimbabwe are evidence that the global food crisis is far from over. Even before recent price rises, there were over 850m people classified as undernourished. Now, there are nearly a billion, as a result of the price rises, alongside other factors such as political instability and conflict.

“Not enough has been done to tackle the situation. There is a lack of coordination at all levels and the opportunity for root and branch reform of the aid system has not yet been taken. International institutions and donors must reverse decades of under-investment in agriculture and scrap blatantly distortionary polices such as biofuels mandates that make things worse,” said an Oxfam representative, who is attending the conference. “The recent decision by the EU to reinstate export subsidies for dairy is the direct opposite of what’s needed: a retrograde step that calls into question their commitment to longer term reforms,” he added.

The Feeding of the Nine Billion, published by Chatham House and part-funded by Oxfam, predicts demand for food will increase as the world’s population grows by 2.5bn to 9.2bn by 2050. It also notes a UN prediction that climate change will increase the number of undernourished people worldwide by between 40m and 170m. Meanwhile, Oxfam’s A Billion Hungry People includes recommendations for reform of the humanitarian aid system and makes a strident call to poor countries to do their bit by investing more in agriculture, targeting women and small-scale producers. Developing countries must increase social protection measures for vulnerable populations – including cash payments and employment creation programs for those at risk of hunger. Rich countries must ensure long-term predictable funding to developing countries for investment in agriculture and climate change adaptation.

Friday, 16 January 2009

The Paris Declaration: Confronting the crisis from below

More than 150 representatives of trade unions, farmers’ movements, global justice groups, environmental groups, development groups, migrants’ groups, faith-based groups, women’s groups, the have-not movements, student and youth groups, and anti-poverty groups from all over Europe gathered on 10 and 11 January 2009 in Paris to analyse collectively the current crises, to develop joint strategies and to discuss joint demands and alternatives in response to these crises. Participating organizations have also been Attac, Friends of the Earth Europe, Oxfam, and the German and Italian trade unions Verdi and CGIL. Together, they endorsed a ‘Paris Declaration’ which says:

“As the financial and the economic crises intensify, millions of women and men are losing their jobs, houses and livelihoods. Tens of millions more are forecast to join the 1.4 billion people already living in extreme poverty. The crises worsen the social, ecological, cultural and political situation of the majority of people on our planet.
Despite the evident and foreseeable failure of the current economic model, world leaders are responding by trying to preserve the system that is responsible for the crises. Governments have been quick to bail out bankers, corporate share holders and their financial backers with hundreds of billions in public money. To solve the problem, they put into place bankers and heads of corporations: the same actors that created the crises. The workers, the jobless, the poor – all those affected have received no help in their daily struggle to make ends meet, and to cap it all, they are now supposed to pay the bill.
Governments´ proposals to deal with the unfolding economic crisis do not address the other dimensions of the crisis we face today – global justice, food, climate and energy – and with it the need to transform the economic system towards one that allows us to satisfy the basic needs of all people, to implement all human rights and to restore and preserve the ecological basis of life on our planet.

It is time for change!
We can build a system that works for people and the environment, a system to serve the needs of the many, a system based on the principles of public benefit, global equity, justice, environmental sustainability and democratic control.
As a first step, immediate measures must be implemented to address the social impacts on people, whilst supporting the ecological conversion of the economy.
We call upon all social movements in Europe to engage in a process of change.”

The meeting supported mass mobilisation for a central demonstration in London on 28 March 2009 ahead of the G20 meeting: ”20 governments cannot decide on the future of the global financial system and economy.” It called to undertake a day of action in the week of the G20 meeting, preferably on the 1 April (Financial Fools' Day) all across the world, exposing unaccountable financial power and promoting democratic control of finance. Participants said the meeting was a further step in a long-term process of building spaces for European networks to meet. A follow-up event is planned for 18-19 April 2009 in Frankfurt am Main, Germany.

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Trade Unions urge World Bank and IMF to take action against unemployment

An 80-strong high-level delegation of trade union representations from around the world is meeting with the International Monetary Fund Managing Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn and World Bank President Robert Zoellick, as well as Board members and several other officials of the two bodies, this week in Washington to push for further immediate anti-recession measures and effective global regulation to ensure future global economic stability. The delegation is led by ITUC (International Trade Union Confederation) President Sharan Burrow and General Secretary Guy Ryder. Top of the list of union concerns is the spectre of spiralling global unemployment, as more and more employers cut staffing in the face of the credit squeeze.

"Action by governments and the international financial institutions to support decent jobs is essential in the face of the expected world-wide employment crisis, and will lay the foundation for economic recovery. While the IMF has been encouraging industrialised countries to adopt vigorous fiscal stimulus polices, which we believe it is correct in doing, it has been putting forward a much more traditional 'fiscal discipline' approach in its advice to most developing countries. Developing and transition economies are now rapidly beginning to suffer from the global economic crisis and the IMF and the World Bank should jettison failed policies of the past and focus their efforts on maintaining and creating employment, both to deal with the present crisis and to lay the foundations for economic recovery," said ITUC General Secretary Guy Ryder.

The IMF has agreed to emergency loans to several countries particularly affected by the economic crisis. While the conditionality of these loans is not as complex and onerous as that imposed during the Asian financial crisis of 1997-98, ITUC affiliates are concerned by the some of the conditions or required "prior actions" that feature in many of these, such as interest rate and utility price hikes, restrictions and even reductions in wages, particularly in the public sector, and reductions of pension payments other public spending cuts. All of these will dampen the level of activity of economies already in recession and lead to a reduction in workers' living standards, and are inconsistent with the fiscal stimulus polices the IMF is encouraging rich countries to adopt. The ITUC is particularly concerned with the some conditions of a loan agreement that the IMF just concluded with the authoritarian government of Belarus. In exchange for a $2.46bn emergency loan, the government of Belarus, which has been condemned by the ILO for violating fundamental workers' rights, has promised to apply wage restraint throughout the broad public sector, increase utility prices and pursue privatization. Belarus is also required to reform its the social safety net and focus assistance on "the most vulnerable groups", which could result in reduced social protection for many workers since they cannot express and defend themselves freely due to repression of trade unions carried out by the Lukashenko regime.

The union delegation is putting forward a comprehensive and practical recovery and reform package, based on the "Washington Declaration" presented to the November G20 leaders meeting in Washington. The package stresses that governments need to be prepared to ensure further coordinated cuts in interest rates and to front-load investment in infrastructure, education and health to help stimulate demand growth and reinforce public services. This needs to be accompanied by tax and spending measures to support the purchasing power of low- and middle-income earners, and concrete steps to launch investment in green goods and services, to help address climate change.

Noting that the IMF was called upon by the G20 to assume a major role in designing a new regulatory framework for the global financial system, the international trade union delegation will insist that they must have a seat at the table in a re-regulation process that puts the real economy, not the interests of global financial speculators, as the central priority. The union delegation is also urging the World Bank to help contribute to avoiding a repetition of the catastrophic impact of the recent food price crisis on poor countries' populations by going beyond providing emergency relief loans and helping developing countries increase their food security. In so doing, both IFIs must reverse some of the policies they encouraged poor countries to adopt in the past, such as the reduction of state aid to agriculture through low-cost seeds and fertilizer, the dismantling of public grain stocks, and the shift from food to bio-fuel production.