Paris Summit: For the sake of justice and environment, an open letter from experts

Over 140 economists and policy experts call for changes in how nations and international finance institutions work, to foreground social and ecological welfare

(L-R) Chancellor Olaf Scholz of Germany, President Emmanuel Macron of France, President Joe Biden of the United States and  Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India (photo: Getty Images)
(L-R) Chancellor Olaf Scholz of Germany, President Emmanuel Macron of France, President Joe Biden of the United States and Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India (photo: Getty Images)

Bharat Dogra

Ahead of the Paris ‘Summit for a New Financing Pact’ on 22–23 June 2023 — hosted by French president Emmanuel Macron, with India and Barbados as co-hosts — over 140 experts (including renowned academics such as Professor Yanis Varoufakis, former finance minister of Greece, and Professor Jason Hickel) have written an open letter to the heads of various wealthier countries and international finance institutions. The letter calls for more significant efforts towards overdue improvements that would advance social justice and environmental protection.

For context, the Paris Summit is being positioned as the first step in a two-year roadmap to overhaul the global financial architecture. The Summit’s stated goal is “building a new contract between the countries of the North and the South to address climate change and the global crisis”. The United Nations secretary general and leaders of several countries are expected to attend.

One of these leaders will be Mia Mottley, the prime minister of Barbados, who was in a leadership role in the Bridgetown Initiative. Several of her suggestions from that summit are expected to be taken forward here as well.

Further highlighting the relevance of the Paris Summit, this open letter of over 140 experts says:

“We, the undersigned economists and policy experts, believe that for the summit to make progress towards this much-needed goal, the global north leaders who hold both an outsized say in our global financial architecture and an outsized historic responsibility for climate change must come with serious proposals for public international reparations. “Unlocking and redistributing public trillions is of course only part of what is needed — our international monetary, trade, tax and debt rules are systematically skewed towards the global north, allowing wealthy countries to drain a net $2 trillion a year from low-income peers. We need a dramatic transformation of this system to one that is rights-based, people-centred, democratic and transparent.”

If the richest countries want to make a real difference in these crucial areas, they can easily find the resources for this. As the open letter says, “The reality is that public finance is not scarce, especially for [the governments of the global north]. We saw them make trillions of dollars in fiscal space available for bank bailouts in 2008, for Covid-19 responses since 2020 and for militaries and police forces year after year. They have no shortage of levers to pay their fair share for the public interest, climate and cost-of-living solutions that are desperately needed — both within their borders and abroad.”

The experts call on the richest countries to commit adequate resources and move beyond the weaknesses of their existing approaches which have failed in the past. The letter continues:

“Unfortunately, the most prominent proposals from global north leaders in the lead-up to the summit show there is a risk it [may become] an effort to simply rebrand existing approaches. So far, the World Bank Group Evolution Roadmap, Just Energy Transition Partnerships, and the global north [countries’] negotiating positions on the climate ‘loss and damage’ fund all rely heavily on the idea that governments can incentivise private banks and corporations to build climate solutions and spur development with only small public contributions and rule tweaks. “From the ‘Billions to Trillions’ agenda to the still-unfulfilled $100 billion-year climate finance promise, we have seen this approach fail again and again, with far less private money leveraged than promises and profits prioritised over climate and inequality benefits — or often, even basic human rights safeguards.”

The way forward

To ensure that the Paris Summit can go beyond previous failed approaches, the policy experts propose that:

“Global north leaders show they are serious about charting a new path by using the summit to begin shifting funds away from the parts of our economies that are most dramatically driving our current crises: (1) Stop funding fossils — instead make companies pay for their damages: While low-income households around the world have been pushed further into poverty over the last few years, oil and gas companies made record profits and wealthy countries continued to heavily subsidise them. This does not just defy economic justice, but climate science too: in the International Energy Agency (IEA) scenario that maintains a 50 per cent chance to limit global heating to 1.5°C, there is a rapid phase-out of fossil fuels, and no new investments in new fossil fuel production or LNG [liquefied natural gas] infrastructure. Ending fossil fuel handouts in high-income G20 countries alone would raise about USD $500 billion a year. And prominent estimates of a permanent answer to fossil fuel ‘windfall’ taxes range around $200–300 billion a year. There is also already momentum to stop a particularly influential form of fossil fuel support, international public finance. Pledges so far would end a key $38 billion a year that plays an outsized role in enabling [a] large fossil infrastructure lock-in in wealthy countries and shift it towards renewable solutions. If a few key laggard countries, including Japan, Germany, Italy and the United States, keep their overdue promises to do this at the summit, it will go a long way to cementing fossil fuel-free public finance as a global norm. (2) Cancel illegitimate global south debts: The last few years of global crises have compounded already untenable debts in many developing countries, draining public funds that are critically needed to deliver both vital social services and climate action. These debts are also unfair, having been incurred through our neo-colonial global financial system or, in many cases, during colonisation. [The] two very first steps global north leaders can take at the Paris Summit are to unconditionally cancel public external debt for at least the next four years for all lower-income countries (estimated at $300 billion a year), and to support rather than block the development of a new multilateral mechanism for sovereign debt cancellation and workout under the United Nations. (3) Tax the rich: The wealthiest 1 per cent have captured two-thirds of [the] new global wealth created in the last two years, all while we are likely seeing the biggest increase in global inequality and poverty since World War II. Progressive taxes on extreme wealth starting at 2 per cent would raise $2.5 to $3.6 trillion a year, and related proposals to crack down on tax dodging would significantly augment this. Global north leaders can show they are serious about this by starting with an initial ‘1.5% for 1.5°C’ tax on extreme wealth and dedicating this to the new ‘loss and damage’ fund, and by agreeing to advance a universal and intergovernmental UN tax convention.”

Summing up the significance of these proposals, this open letter says, “Together, these modest proposals add up to $3.3 trillion a year — new research in Nature Sustainability estimates the fair climate debts of wealthy countries are double this at $7 trillion a year [till] 2050. But even this initial redirection of harmful economic flows would have staggering impacts — it would be enough to close the universal energy access gap ($34 billion), fill the ‘floor’ of the ‘loss and damage’ fund ($400 billion per year), meet the overdue climate finance target fully with grants ($100 billion per year) and cover emergency UN humanitarian appeals ($52 billion per year), with plenty to spare.”

The letter concludes by saying, “We can’t afford anything less.”

One hopes that the very important issues raised in this open letter will get the due attention at the Paris Summit, so that it can truly move beyond a business-as-usual approach to give some real hope for justice and environment protection, with special emphasis on climate change mitigation and adaptation.

The writer is honorary convener for the Campaign to Save Earth Now. His recent books include Planet in Peril, Man over Machine and A Day in 2071.                                                                              

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