What Africa expects from Rishi Sunak and G7 – Dr Vera Songwe

FROM Leeds to Lilongwe, from Kirklees to Kampala, one thing is clear: we are all in the same storm, even if we aren’t all in the same boat.

The eyes of the world will be on Chancellor Rishi Sunak when he hosts a meeting of G7 finance ministers.

While almost half of people across the UK have now had a second vaccine dose, healthcare workers across Africa are awaiting their first and are still forced to customising out-of-date PPE. Yet we face the same threat from new Covid variants.

While a thousand homes are at risk of flooding in Yorkshire every year, millions of people across Africa face an annual food crisis because of climate change-related droughts. We share the same planet and can’t save it without helping one another.

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A lack of jobs holds back South Yorkshire because of a need for investment and a failure to level up after the deindustrialisation of coalfield communities. In South Sudan, economic development is also needed to bring prosperity and self-sufficiency to communities blighted by conflict and instability. There is one further difference. The average income in South Sudan is about two pounds a day. In Yorkshire it is £75 a day.

Dr Vera Songwe is Under Secretary General on the United Nations and Executive Secretary of the UN Economic Commission for Africa.

From the Rift Valley to the Yorkshire Dales, our natural environment in all its splendour and beauty makes life worth living and is the source of our wealth, both material and spiritual. Our tourism relies on conserving nature and protecting species, both in England’s green and pleasant land and in lush parks and valleys of the Serengeti the cradle of creation.

So it is with hope and anticipation that Africa now looks to Yorkshire’s adopted son – Chancellor Rishi Sunak – when he hosts the G7 finance ministers and that he takes key steps towards securing the greatest global investment deal in history, to tackle Covid, combat climate change, challenge injustice and safeguard nature.

This historic investment deal has two key dimensions. Firstly, ensuring that everyone everywhere has access to vaccines by the summer of 2022 so that the world can get on with building back better. Secondly, ensuring a great green job-rich recovery for all so we can confront the climate crisis and strengthen democracy together.

The IMF estimates that by buying and sharing vaccines to ensure 70 per cent coverage, the global economy would secure a 35-fold return on investment. Think of all the jobs preserved, lives saved, health costs averted, just by frontloading costs that will eventually have to be incurred many times over anyway. It makes sense. It is a sound money investment.

The global distribution of vaccines, writes Dr Vera Songwe, is key to defeating Covid.

India is a wake-up call for us all but this investment deal doesn’t just help us crack Covid though – it also helps us crack the climate crisis. Through the G7, Rishi Sunak can also secure agreement to make the IMF and World Bank share access to finance for green recoveries around the globe helping avert climate catastrophe and drive a green jobs revolution. Along the way this can help strengthen democracy in the worlds more fragile places. Another extraordinary return on investment.

These great returns will need to be secured through some new thinking. One of these new ideas is to direct the IMF to deploy its special currency to underwrite a new facility which will help African and emerging market countries access finance for green bonds.

Regional economic development efforts in the UK, from the Regional Development Agencies to the Northern Powerhouse to the Levelling Up agenda, have so much in common with international development done properly. They work when we can identify market failures and find local solutions that work.

In Africa, we can level the playing field by solving these market distortions in the same way that your City Region mayors, if given the right powers and the ability to direct investments, can be smarter than decision-makers in elsewhere.

In the same way that Westminster can support Yorkshire, so too can G7 leaders support Africa. The whole world needs the UK, as hosts of this historic G7 summit, to return to being a champion of smart development investment, aid and our shared sustainable development goals.

The UK is among the first major economies to be majority vaccinated. Your economy is bouncing back. Chancellor Sunak can now lead the charge back to crack Covid and crack climate change and restore his and the UK’s reputation as being a force for good in the world. Because if this global pandemic has taught us nothing else, it is that no one is safe until we are all safe.

Dr Vera Songwe is Under Secretary General on the United Nations and Executive Secretary of the UN Economic Commission for Africa.

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