Op-Ed

Time to promote stronger, greener and healthier development for the post-COVID era

When Prime Minister Philip Brave Davis took the podium of the UN General Assembly a few weeks ago to call for fairer vaccine distribution, greater resources for climate change mitigation, and more development financing, he was articulating common concerns of the developing world, and joining a chorus of appeal for action on these vital fronts.

When developing countries eye the post-COVID world, they will find themselves headed to an uncertain future.

Full economic recovery is still some way away. The report last week by the International Monetary Fund points to a widening gap between the winners and losers of the global COVID-19 recovery, due to uneven vaccine access.

Nearly 40 percent of the population in advanced economies has been fully vaccinated, compared to just 11 percent in emerging markets, and an even smaller share in developing nations.

The pandemic has set back decades of progress in the global implementation of the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

According to the UN Sustainable Development Goals report last year, predictions show that the pandemic will return 71 million people to extreme poverty. This is the first increase in global poverty since 1998. The livelihoods of half of the world’s workforce have been severely affected.

Developing countries suffered severe COVID-induced economic hardships, facing rising debt and liquidity risks, and development financing gaps have become more prominent. Tourism-dependent small island developing countries have been hit particularly hard.

At the same time, a longer term and potentially more catastrophic crisis is all around us.

Extreme weather patterns are wreaking havoc around the world, from the deserts of Africa to European heartland, from Australian forests to Caribbean corals.

Although human activities have declined sharply during the epidemic, emissions are expected to only drop by 6 percent in 2020, lower than the 7.6 percent annual reduction required for the implementation of the Paris Agreement. Emissions are expected to rise again as the pandemic control measures are lifted.

All this, coupled with severe food shortages in some parts of the world, the yawning digital divide, and increasing scarcity of development resources, spells a future of mounting uncertainties and challenges for many developing countries.

As the largest developing country and a responsible global citizen, China came up with its own proposals for reinvigorating post-COVID global development. President Xi Jinping put forward a “Global Development Initiative” at the 76th General Debate of the UN General Assembly.

He called for renewed efforts to bring forward the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. He offered China’s recipe for stronger, greener, and healthier development going forward, which is underpinned by the building of a global community of development.

Based on the core principles of putting people first and leaving no one behind, this initiative calls for urgent, cooperative and concerted global action to tackle the pressing challenges facing all countries.

First, defeating COVID-19. Recognizing that the raging pandemic poses the greatest obstacle to global recovery, President Xi Jinping announced, even before China fully developed its vaccines, that Chinese vaccines will be made globally available and be a public good. And China called for increasing the accessibility and affordability of vaccines for developing countries and promoting fair and equitable global distribution of vaccines.

China turned its commitment into concrete actions. While racing to vaccinate its own people and put down multiple localized outbreaks, China has provided more than 1.2 billion vaccine doses or bulk vaccines to more than 100 developing countries, including 100 million doses donated to developing countries, with the goal of reaching the 2 billion milestone in vaccine provision before the end of this year. China has further donated 100 million US dollars to the COVAX Facility.

We support the appeal by The Bahamas for developed countries to honor their commitments of delivering vaccines to developing countries as soon as possible. No one would be truly safe until everyone else is safe.

China supports origin tracing of COVID-19 on the basis of science in order to prevent a recurrence of the virus, but is opposed to politicization and stigmatization on this issue.

Second, mitigating the climate crisis. Both China and The Bahamas have had more than their fair share of climate disasters.

For The Bahamas, Hurricane Dorian has made the costs and perils of climate change painfully clear. For China, this year alone, we suffered from unprecedented torrential rain and urban flooding in two provinces causing serious casualties and property losses.

China made a serious promise to the people of the world that it will strive to peak carbon emissions by 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality by 2060. This means that China needs to achieve the biggest reduction in carbon intensity at the shortest time between emission peaking and carbon neutrality, and with lower levels of per capita GDP and emissions.

According to estimates by Chinese experts, reaching the carbon neutrality target requires annual investments of US$1.2 trillion between now and 2060, and would take nothing short of a transformation to the way China runs its economy and society.

China will do its best to convert the climate challenge into a green growth opportunity. We will vigorously support green, low-carbon, circular, and sustainable development in developing countries and help them upgrade their economic, energy, and industrial structures.

To this end, we committed to not building any new coal-fired power stations overseas. And China announced at the UN Biodiversity Conference (COP15) in Kunming the setting up of a Kunming Biodiversity Fund with China’s initial contribution of 1.5 billion yuan.

We hope the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) coming up in Glasgow will send a clear political signal of upholding multilateral collaboration and intensifying climate action. We call on all parties to convert their climate goals into concrete policies and actions.

We echo UN Secretary General Guterres’ call to developed countries to honor their commitment of supporting no less than $US100 billion to developing countries to fight climate change.

Humanity must learn to respect and protect nature, and build a community of life for humans and nature in order to leave a clean and beautiful world to posterity.

Third, increasing development financing. China calls for caring for the special needs of vulnerable developing countries by providing them with debt suspension and development aid. We call on multilateral organizations and private creditors to join in debt suspension and reduction.

We support expanding the IMF’s special drawing rights, and increasing liquidity for developing countries to enhance their capacity for development.

China will provide another US$3 billion in international aid in the next three years to support developing countries in fighting the pandemic and restoring economic and social development.

Fourth, reducing poverty and enhancing food security. China proudly achieved its centennial goal of ending extreme poverty by the centenary of the founding of the Communist Party of China this year. At the same time, it is estimated that in 2019, about two billion people worldwide will be affected by moderate or severe food insecurity.

The new Bahamas government is rightly highlighting agricultural production as one of the priority areas for economic diversification. China is ready to assist this endeavor wherever possible.

Building a global community of development also requires further progress of industrialization, digital economy and connectivity both within and among countries.

At the end of the day, humanity’s ability to realize truly global development will to a large extent depend on whether countries can overcome division, exclusion and recriminations and embrace open and inclusive partnership.

We must rise above geo-strategic rivalry and zero-sum mentality, and pursue solidarity, cooperation and true multilateralism based on equality and mutual respect.

The world is again at a crossroads of history. For humanity to survive and thrive, building a community with a shared future is the right way forward.

• Dai Qingli is China’s ambassador to The Bahamas.

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