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Gordon Brown’s Keynote at the Launch of the Report

Transcript of the video provided by Gordon Brown, United Nations Special Envoy for Global Education and former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, for the launch of the report “Debt relief for a Green and Inclusive Recovery”

This conference today is of utmost importance, and in the month that we have found that we have an American president committed to net carbon zero by 2050 and a Chinese president committed to net carbon zero by 2060, this meeting is of great global significance as we fashion the new building blocks to take us there.

Today, you are showing how we start to build an environmentally sustainable future out of the case of covid and out of the world, disfigured not just by pandemics, but by pollution and by poverty. And you are exposing the burden of debt that weighs so heavily on the poorest countries of the world. So much so that millions go hungry, are denied health care and education, and are destitute as a result. And I’m here to say that by relieving the debts of the poor and releasing the money to address climate change, we can start to change our world. Indeed, it is solving one of the greatest injustices of our time, the injuries and pain caused by unpayable debt that we make possible one of the greatest advances of our time, the achievement of what are rightly called the sustainable development goals.

You are showing how we start to build an environmentally sustainable future out of the case of covid and out of the world, disfigured not just by pandemics, but by pollution and by poverty

So let’s look at the facts. That is, as of today, the world’s poorest countries, 76 of them with debt interest payments of more than 80 billions due this year and next, have despite the promises made by the G20, the IMF and the World Bank to stand behind them in their hour of greatest need, they’ve received only about a fraction of what they need in debt relief. They need that debt relief not only to fight covid-19, but to build education back better, to improve the safety nets, but of course, also to invest in a green recovery. They need this lifeline in the absence of what should have been a hundred billion fund agreed at both Copenhagen and Paris that should have been implemented to mitigate and adapt their economies. It was a promise that I and others will press for them to honour a COP 26 in Glasgow a year from now.

Yet the Green New Deal is even more urgent because we need increased ambition in all countries, rich and poor, if we are to reduce carbon emissions to our targets for 2030 and to achieve net zero carbon emissions later. And it’s quite simply this: unless we help developing countries play their part, we will fail to achieve our targets. Debt relief and the delivery of the support promised in the Paris Agreement is very much part of that 2030 plan.

You know, I’m proud that at the turn of the century, the United Kingdom was the first country to offer and pressed for under HIPC the 100 percent debt relief, the debt cancellation of 200 billion of debt incurred by the 38 poorest countries of the world. But securing debt relief today raises new problems that were not as important in the early 2000s. Then most debt was official debt, bilateral and multilateral debt owed to the rich countries or to the multilateral institutions. Now, 25 percent of the debt owed by poor countries is private sector debt. Then most of the private debt was negotiated through the Paris Club. Now one of the biggest creditors is China, outside the Paris Club.

Currently powerful private sector creditors, not least vulture funds, are shamefully threatening the poorest countries that if they press for private sector debt relief, they will exclude themselves from access to the financial markets. And the World Bank is saying that if the private sector won’t engage, then for the public sector to offer debt relief does not help poor countries, but simply subsidizes the private sector, who won’t give debt relief.

I’m here to say that by relieving the debts of the poor and releasing the money to address climate change, we can start to change our world.

I propose that in the first instance, in the third week of November, at the G20 meeting convened by Saudi Arabia, that all G20 members agree that all private and public creditors relieve the full 80 billion of debt payments this year and next. I want, secondly, that in return, the developing countries agree to allocate that money to both our social emergencies and to the environmental and economic emergency and create the Green Revolution. And thirdly, we instruct the next president of the G20 to prepare a comprehensive long term programme to relieve debt servicing payments where funds are spent as a result of the relief on social and environmental emergencies.

Indeed, it is solving one of the greatest injustices of our time, the injuries and pain caused by unpayable debt that we make possible one of the greatest advances of our time, the achievement of what are rightly called the sustainable development goals

But of course, as we know, the debt problem extends far wider than the fate of the 76 poorest countries. The overall total of developing country and emerging market debt servicing payments are about 500 billion in 2020 and again, another 500 billions in 2021. The Italian G20, which meets next year, should be asked to come forward with proposals under which, with debt relief included, that hundred billions promised poor countries were given at Paris is now provided to be devoted to financing a developing countries Green New Deal and the relief of poverty throughout the 2020s. This is the way to start to change the world for the better. And I welcome and applaud those of you who are determined to make this happen. For let us remember, it is indeed by addressing one of the great injustices, the burden of poverty and debt, that we can make possible one of the great economic and social advances. I want a world like you do where we achieve our goals for sustainable development. Thank you very much.

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