"The pandemic has changed the game. We have the resources to build an economic model that doesn’t trash the planet and provides for all." STWR join the statement from the Global Campaign to Demand Climate Justice.
The word apocalypse comes from the word for revelation. The COVID-19 pandemic is revealing what the global majority has known all along: that the dominant economic system prioritises profits over people and planet.
With each new day of infections, deaths and destroyed livelihoods, the pandemic is exposing the gross injustices of our existing systems. Years of neoliberalism, ‘structural adjustment’ and austerity have dismantled the social welfare state, specifically underfunding and hollowing out health systems across the globe. We are left with deficits of life-saving equipment, and surpluses of polluting industries.
The dimensions of the collective suffering and individual trauma unfolding are too vast to contemplate. Families confronting loss or lockdown in abusive relationships; bodies facing devastating illness; communities facing hunger and isolation.
But the pandemic has also shown our enormous collective strength, and the possibilities that emerge when a crisis is taken seriously, and people join together.
For those of us in the global climate justice movement, the unravelling of the pandemic comes as no surprise. For decades, as movements we have denounced the violent impacts of an unequal global economic system, the devastation of an accelerating climate crisis, and the shockingly cruel ways in which those least responsible bear its heaviest burdens. For decades, we have demanded an end to a status quo that was and continues to be a death sentence for the world’s poorest. The coronavirus crisis is a stark reminder of a prolonged past, and our response to it a dress rehearsal for the present and future.
As with the climate crisis, the COVID-19 crisis loads the heaviest burdens on those most vulnerable. The poorest are affected first and worst. It inflames the disparities carved by wealth, gender, class, race, (dis)ability and other intersectional factors. The highest costs are being borne by those least able to pay them, who were always condemned to bear such costs.
Most clearly, those most at risk of infection are those least able to isolate themselves.
A lockdown means confinement in our homes. But some of us are entirely without a home, or live with multiple family members and relatives in one house. Some of us are internally displaced people’s or refugee camps, or in detention centres, or go without access to running water and sanitation. For some of us, home is the site of violence and abuse, and staying home means an end to public activity we rely on for our day-to-day subsistence. Some of us can’t stay home because we are working in the most crucial and life-sustaining sectors, such as agriculture, without protection, including many of the subsistence and family farmers who feed over two-thirds of the world.
Women and girls bear the brunt of care work in our current system, in the home, in our communities and also in the economy, as they are the majority of health care workers. This pandemic has shown us the importance of care work, the work needed to raise families, to cook and clean and take care of the sick and elderly. It has shown us the profound impact of the lack of public services and social institutions for care work . We must use this moment to understand the importance of care work, share it among all peoples and build a society and economy that takes on care work based on feminist, care-affirming principles.
In many countries, health, food and basic services sectors are supported by migrant labour, many of whom do not have a voice, recourse to public funds and most often serving with the least protection. Migrant voices are also most often ignored in climate discussions. In times of crises, whether health or natural calamities, they are one of the most vulnerable, discriminated against, and ignored.
Those most affected by the climate crisis – people in the Global South who have faced the violence of environmental degradation, extended drought, and forced displacement – have now become one of most vulnerable populations to contagion and its effects. In areas where the health of communities has been debilitated by polluting industries, leading to an array of respiratory and immunological conditions, people are particularly at risk to COVID-19.
The pandemic is already opening the door to a major economic crisis, with an upcoming recession that will render the vast majority of the global population – who live day-to-day with precarious livelihoods – in a condition of even more chronic poverty. The risk of famine and deep disruptions to food sovereignty is significant. Southern countries are burdened with illegitimate and unsustainable debt – accumulated through decades of exploitative and predatory lending by Northern governments, international financial institutions and big banks in collaboration with southern elites and those Southern governments with authoritarian and corrupt practices. The prioritization of payments of these debts have taken a heavy toll on public services and continue to take up a huge part of public spending that should be allocated instead to public health responses to the pandemic.
We are at a crossroads. For years, we have demanded ‘system change not climate change’. System change now seems more necessary than ever, and more possible. The rules of the game are changing swiftly. Upheaval is unavoidable.
The question is: what kind of change is unfolding? What kind of system is emerging? What direction will change take?
The powerful are taking advantage of the crisis to advance disaster capitalism and a new authoritarianism, handing themselves expanding police and military powers, and rushing through extractive projects. Many governments are seizing the chance to push through draconian measures, police the population, undermine workers’ rights, repress the rights of Indigenous peoples, restrict public participation in decision-making, restrict access to sexual and reproductive health services, and institute widespread surveillance. In the worst situations, repressive actors are using the moment of political instability to violently quash dissent, legitimise racism, religious fundamentalism and advance predatory mining frontiers, and execute land defenders.
But the crisis they are making use of, also offers an opportunity for our movements to shape the emergent future. Our movements know the way forward, the type of world we need to build. Across the world, people are realising that our dominant economic system does not meet peoples’ needs. They are clearly seeing that corporations and the market will not save us. They are noticing that when a crisis is taken seriously, governments are capable of taking bold action and mobilise enormous resources to confront it. The limits of the possible can be radically shaken and rewritten. Within weeks, policy proposals long-campaigned for in many contexts (an end to evictions, liberating prisoners, bold economic redistribution to name but a few) have become common-sense and mainstream responses.
We are living through a convulsive but very fertile political moment. Our world has been forced into solidarity by a virus which ignores all borders; our deep interdependence has never been more undeniable.
In such a crisis rethinking and reimagining our economic model is inescapable. Resilient and justice-based solutions are not only possible, but the only real solution.
It is clear now that we need a response of solidarity, equity and care, with massive public investment that puts people and planet first, not polluting industries and profiteers. Just recoveries, and global and national new deals to build a regenerative, distributive and resilient economy is both necessary, and increasingly politically feasible.
The fight for a new normal
We will not return to a normal in which the suffering of the many underwrote the luxuries of the few. While politicians will push for a rapid resumption of the status quo, we can’t go back to normal, as social movements have affirmed, when that normal was killing people and the planet.
Our climate justice movements are in both a perilous and promising situation. The urgency of climate breakdown has dropped under the radar, even as climate violence is relentless, expressed most recently in devastating storms across the Pacific, forest fires in China, and torrential rains in Colombia. Unless we take this political moment, climate action will be on the backburner, and economies in the rich North will be turbocharged and revived with dirty investments that deepen the climate crisis. We must be vigilant and persevering to ensure that addressing the climate crisis must be front and center of bailouts, and programmes to ensure the resilience of society and all peoples.
Our movements have an expertise which is invaluable at this time. While COVID-19 and the climate crisis may have different direct causes, their root causes are the same: a reliance on the market, a failure of the state to address long-term threats, the absence of social protection, and an overarching economic model that protects investments over lives and the planet. The same extractivist system that extracts, burns and destroys ecosystems, is the same system which enables dangerous pathogens to spread. The solutions to the COVID-19 and climate crises are the same: solidarity, redistribution, collaboration, equity, and social protection. It is our opportunity and responsibility to join the dots, and use this political moment to confront corporate power, and build a more just and sustainable society.
The horizons we can claim
The pandemic has changed the game. We have the resources to build an economic model that doesn’t trash the planet and provides for all. We have the momentum to recover from this crisis in a way that builds our resilience and fortifies our dignity as societies. Now is our time to claim it.
As members of the Global Campaign to Demand Climate Justice, we demand a bold response to the COVID-19 pandemic that simultaneously helps address the wider climate crisis, and transform the unequal economic system that has led to both.
We demand that governments:
Issue immediate economic and social measures to provide relief and security to all, particularly the most vulnerable and marginalised groups in our societies. Protect labour rights and guarantee protections for all workers, from the formal to the informal economy, and guarantee a universal basic income. Recognise, visibilise and value all care work, the real labour that is sustaining us during this crisis.
Governments must stop subsidies for fossil fuels and reorient public funds away from the military-industrial complex, and private corporations, and use them instead to ensure access to clean energy, water, and important utilities and public services for the well-being of communities.
Prioritise the health and wellbeing of people. People must always be valued over profit, for an economy is worthless without its people. No one is disposable. Fully fund and resource health services and systems, ensuring care for all, without exception. Governments must also prioritise robust investment in other essential public services, such as safe shelter, water, food and sanitation. These services are not only essential in stemming the spread of disease in the long-term, but are core to governments’ obligation to respect, protect, and fulfill human rights for all. Therefore, they must not be privatised and instead be managed in an equitable, publicly-accountable manner.
Guarantee the protection of marginalised populations. Provide aid, social protection, and relief to rural populations and the families that compose them, who are at the forefront of feeding our world. Special protection must also be guaranteed for the social and human rights of all peoples put in vulnerable and precarious circumstances, such as those in situations of homelessness, people in prison, refugees and migrants, elders in home care, orphans, and especially environmental defenders who are now being murdered with even greater frequency under the cover of the COVID-19 emergency.
We call for an immediate cancelation of debt payments by Southern countries due in 2020 and 2021 with no accrual of interest nor penalties, so that funds can be used for health services to combat COVID19 and for economic assistance for communities and people who are facing greater hardships in the face of the pandemic and responses to it. A mere suspension of payments is not enough, and will simply delay the pain of debt servicing. We also demand an immediate start to an independent international process to address illegitimate and unsustainable debt and debt crises to pave the way for unconditional debt cancelation for all Southern countries.
Governments must also transform tax systems, abolishing fiscal holidays for multinational corporations which undermine revenues, and abolish value-added tax and goods and services taxes for basic goods. Take immediate steps towards stopping illicit financial flows and shutting down tax havens.
Support a long-term just transition and recovery out of this crisis, and take the crisis as an opportunity to shift to equitable, socially just, climate-resilient and zero-carbon economies. We cannot afford bailouts that simply fill corporate pockets or rescue polluting industries incompatible with a living planet. Rather, we need an economic recovery that builds resilience, dissolves injustices, restores our ecosystems, and leads a managed decline of fossil fuels and a justice-oriented transition towards a fair & sustainable economy. Governments should pursue economic programmes including just trade relations that prioritize domestic needs, dignified and decent jobs across the entire economy, including in the care economy, ecological restoration and agro-ecology, essential services and decentralised renewable energy — all necessary for an equitable and climate-just world.
Reject efforts to push so-called “structural reforms” that only serve to deepen oppression, inequality and impoverishment, including by international financial institutions such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, who may use the pandemic to push schemes in the Global South under the guise of “shortening the time to recovery.” The neoliberal pillars of austerity, deregulation, and privatisation — especially of essential services such as water, health, education etc — have devastated people across the world and are incompatible with a just recovery.
Bolster international cooperation and people to people solidarity. Global problems that respect no borders, whether they be the climate or COVID-19 crisis, can only have cooperative and equitable solutions. In a deeply unequal world, transferring technology and finance from the richest to the poorest countries is crucial. Governments should facilitate instead of hindering the efforts of people’s movements, citizens groups, Indigenous peoples and civil society organizations to link up across borders and countries for mutual support. We also call on governments to honor their historical responsibility and stop using tactics that dismiss that responsibility and delay a strong international response, such as withholding funding from the WHO and other institutions in a time of crisis.
Collaborate on the development of and unrestricted access to vaccines and any medical breakthroughs of experimental therapy drugs, led by principles of international cooperation and free distribution. We need to ensure that any COVID-19 vaccine will reach all and that no country will be able to become a monopoly buyer, and no entity a monopoly producer.
Immediately cease extractive projects, from mining to fossil fuels to industrial agriculture, including extraterritorial projects undertaken by corporations headquartered in your country, which are accelerating ecological crises, encroaching on Indigenous territories, and putting communities at risk.
Reject any and all attempts to waive liability of corporations and industries. The actors that are responsible, in so many ways, for this multifaceted crisis and the broken system absolutely cannot be granted loopholes that allow them to escape responsibility for their abuses at home and across the world.
Governments must not take advantage of the crisis to push through draconian measures including the expansion of police and military powers that undermine workers’ rights, repress the rights of Indigenous peoples, restrict public participation in decision-making, restrict access to sexual and reproductive health services, or institute widespread surveillance under cover of the crisis.