In mere days, the French President Emmanuel Macron will make his play to put France back amongst the leading world players when he hosts his Paris Summit for a New Financing Pact.
The French Government has described the Summit as a ‘stepping stone’ aimed at building consensus around scaling up financing to tackle the climate crisis and global poverty. While Macron’s overtures call into question the UK Government’s promises of a ‘Global Britain’, I fear the summit will be little more than a talking shop. Let me explain.
Imagine a software development company working on a project to launch a new product. The project involves multiple teams, including developers, designers, and project managers. In this scenario, a meeting is scheduled to discuss any challenges and roadblocks. However, the project manager fails to invite the marketing team. Without them, discussions lack valuable insights and perspectives, collapsing the progress of the project.
This is exactly what's happening with this Paris Summit.
Excluding the voices of the poorer countries
When the challenges facing poorer countries are more acute than ever before, it’s shocking that they, alongside civil society, have been locked out of the planning of ideas and policy alternatives. It’s no wonder that so many of these countries from the Global South are rumoured to be boycotting in fear of a stitch up.
The lived experience of Christian Aid’s partners is evidence that there is no greater barrier to people living freely than that being trapped in a vicious cycle of poverty and debt.
Take the story of Bijana Tenesani, 26, who lives in Malawi. Last year, her family’s small business was destroyed in a storm. Explaining the interlinking nature of poverty and the climate crisis, she explained that it was ’because of extreme weather conditions…the community experiences food shortages yearly’.
How, therefore, can this summit truly tackle the real challenges of people like Bijana without listening to those that represent them?
Poverty and the climate crisis will not be resolved by richer countries talking to themselves in the hope of clearing their conscience with the pageantry of a summit. No, world leaders should be living up to their moral responsibility and use the formal global processes that enable poorer countries on the frontline of these crises to engage on a level playing field, not least the forthcoming COP28.
I am full of hope that we can get this right, but we cannot accept skirting around the edges to be the sum total of our global efforts.
The inadequacy of debt-for-climate swaps
Let’s not forget, there’s no greater illustration of a broken financial system than the stark reality that 6 in 10 are either suffering from a debt crisis or at risk. With the climate emergency fuelling the accumulation of debt of poorer countries, debt relief should be at the top of the agenda. Yet, debt cancellations and structural solutions that prevent the buildup of unsustainable debt are not on the table in Paris. Instead, the summit is likely to throw its weight behind debt-for-climate swaps. This option is not only inadequate, but it can also make things worse for poor people in those countries already struggling with debt burdens.
As Christian Aid’s partners in Kenya warn us, if there's no progress on debt cancellation then salary payments to thousands of government workers delivering critical public services will continue to be suspended to service debt payments. How can a government make progress under these enforced conditions? Impossible.
On tax too, African countries have consistently made proposals for a UN Tax body and convention to create and enforce fair global tax rules. Measures like this would curb tax dodging that divert crucial resources away from the most vulnerable. But you guessed it, nowhere to be seen on the Paris agenda.
Leadership from the Global South: a way forward
Look, credit where credit is due. Macron is right to have identified the interlinked challenges of poverty and the climate crisis. However, if he or anyone else is to make a marked difference, then they must recognise the exclusion of the Global South in economic decision-making as a main driver of these problems.
It's high time that those most responsible for creating the crises we face today step aside and follow the leadership of the Global South.