Think Global extra, April 2021
Date: 1 April 2021
Welcome to the April issue of Think Global extra, our monthly newsletter for activists and local groups.
The problem of restricted vaccine supplies because of pharmaceutical monopolies is now being widely reported in the media as the row about vaccine supplies between the EU and UK continues. Both sides have hoarded vaccine doses and both sides are blocking the proposal at the World Trade Organisation to suspend intellectual property rules that could unlock supplies.
It has also been reported that the contract between AstraZeneca and the Serum Institute, the Indian vaccine manufacturer that is making AstraZeneca doses, stipulated that Serum’s doses should be used to fulfil AstraZeneca’s contractual obligations as a priority, even though Serum is the main supplier to the global south.
The prime minister’s comments attributing pharma ‘greed’ for the success of the UK’s vaccine roll out also hit the headlines and gave us the opportunity to communicate our campaign to wider audiences, with the Independent, Evening Standard and Financial Times among those covering our response. Nick Dearden also had a comment piece on Al Jazeera.
Fantastic day of action in March
Thanks to everyone who took part in our day of action in March. Although the lockdown prevented most kinds of offline mobilisation in the UK, we certainly made a noise online, and members of our some of our youth network groups dropped banners off Westminster Bridge, and outside AstraZeneca offices in Cambridge and Liverpool.
We led the co-ordination of actions around the world on behalf of the global People’s Vaccine Alliance. We also organised a fantastic rally, with US senator Bernie Sanders sending a video message to it at the last minute. You can watch the rally and read a longer roundup of the day on our website.
Proposal to suspend patents
As we were running our day of action, the World Trade Organisation (WTO) was again deadlocked as it met to consider a suspension of patents on Covid-19 technologies. Two thirds of all WTO member states now support the proposal but rich countries continue to block it. A few rich countries got together to propose what they called ‘the third way’ but this was merely the same old way – promote partnerships between big pharma to increase supply. This option has always been available and where they have collaborated, deals have been secret and ultimately big pharma maintains control over distribution and price. Uganda paid three times more for AstraZeneca doses than the EU when it purchased from AstraZeneca’s partner, the Serum Institute.
Caroline Lucas MP tabled an Early Day Motion in parliament to help build parliamentary support and pressure for the WTO proposal. To support this, you can either take the email action on our website, or you can organise a lobby meeting with your MP using our parliamentary briefing (PDF).
Campaign activities for groups
If you want to build your understanding of the pharmaceutical campaign or hold a public webinar on the issues you can invite our campaigner, Heidi Chow, to speak at your events. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org to arrange.
We are hoping to demonstrate widespread grassroots support for a People’s Vaccine by getting local organisations to sign up to our solidarity statement. So far, we have had 54 organisations sign up but we believe we can get far more local trade union branches, local political party branches, church and faith groups, diaspora groups, environmental groups, NHS groups etc to also sign up. Can you help to reach out to other groups in your local area?
Here is the statement: Join the call for a People’s Vaccine
We’re also planning some kind of mobilisation in May, which we hope will involve in-real-life activities, but details of this are to follow.
- Fighting for a People’s Vaccine, 6-page briefing, February 2021
- The Horrible History of Big Pharma, 44-page report, December 2020
Campaign success on UK fossil fuel finance
The government finally announced the result of its consultation on ending overseas fossil fuel support at the end of March. While the policy itself is a bit of a mixed bag, the great news is that, as we demanded, there will be no delays to the ban being put in place. This is a real moment to celebrate after all of our hard work has pushed the government to this point. Thank you for taking action and for all of your support!
Over 5400 people took our online action to respond to the consultation and several local groups also submitted responses. This didn’t go unnoticed by the government, who highlighted in their statement that they had received over 42,000 individual responses in total, and that 95% of these argued for an immediate ban on fossil fuel funding from March 2021 onwards. Such an overwhelming response vastly outweighed the number of responses from the fossil fuel industry and made it impossible for the government to delay any further. It appears, at present, that this has ended the possibility of UK Export Finance offering support to the gigantic East Africa Crude Oil Pipeline or a major oil project in Brazil.
However, one disappointment is that the new policy will not apply directly to the UK’s development bank CDC Group, or other funds which the UK contributes to such as the Private Infrastructure Development Group. Instead, it will only ‘guide’ their policies; for instance, CDC has already launched its own Fossil Fuel Policy that says it will continue to invest in gas power in some circumstances. What’s more, CDC is already invested in numerous private equity funds that develop infrastructure around the world. The government claims that it cannot stop these funds investing in fossil fuels on CDC’s behalf.
Understanding how these loopholes will be applied, and how they might be challenged, is crucial. In the coming weeks we will be working with allies to ask questions in parliament, write letters to ministers and explore other routes to ending fossil fuel finance once and for all.
Cumbria coal mine
There’s also good news on the proposed new coal mine in Cumbria. In January we supported South Lakes Action on Climate Change (SLACC) in putting pressure on the communities secretary, Robert Jenrick, not to just let Cumbria County Council give the go ahead to the mine. After much pressure, including from the 9,000 people who took our action, he has now ‘called in’ the decision and will launch a public enquiry. It’s not the end of the mine, but it does make that possible. If you’d like to read more about the mine, see this blog post by Maggie Mason, a Global Justice Now activist who also leads on the mine campaign for SLACC.
Trade and climate
In the February Think Global mailing we included a new leaflet on why trade and investment deals make it much more difficult to take effective climate action. We’ve now produced a four-page briefing looking specifically at the problem of ISDS (or ‘corporate courts’) in relation to climate justice. See the trade section below for further details.
From the Ground Up II
The COP26 Coalition is organising a second global climate justice gathering 22-25 April. This time it will focus more on how we take action in the run up to the UN climate talks in Glasgow and beyond. This event was originally due to take place at the end of March, but was delayed due to the huge interest in running workshops. You can now register for the event.
Building local coalitions
The mobilisations working group of the COP26 Coalition is now encouraging people to set up local versions of the coalition in order to mobilise towards Saturday 6 November, the day in the middle of the UN climate talks when the big mobilisation is planned. Due to the situation with Covid-19, we are still a bit unsure what exactly the mobilisation will look like, but it will probably be demonstrations in key cities around the country, rather than one big demonstration in Glasgow, although the latter hasn’t been ruled out yet.
A good way to start coalition-building is by organising a public meeting with allies locally. If you’d like some help doing this, including with speakers, contact Guy in the activism team: email@example.com
- Decarbonising Aid: why the UK must end its overseas fossil fuel financing before COP26, four-page briefing
- The Case for Climate Justice, 16-page illustrated booklet (available to order)
Corporate courts and climate action
Now that the Trade Bill has come to an end and the US trade deal is on hold, we’re moving a new phase of our trade campaign.
Over the coming months, we’re going to focus on the impact of corporate courts on climate action. Corporate courts (more properly known as ISDS) can be written into trade rules. They enable transnational corporations to sue countries outside of the national legal system for almost anything they don’t like – banning toxic chemicals, introducing a sugary drinks tax, anti-smoking policies, capping water rates, raising the minimum wage – you name it. Either the corporations want payoffs in the millions or even billions, or they use corporate courts as a threat to force governments to back down.
Corporate courts have long been used to oppose environmental protections. Now that we are finally seeing more governments around the world begin to take long needed action to tackle the climate crisis, we are seeing more and more corporate court cases challenging those actions:
- RWE, an energy company, is suing the Netherlands over the phase out of coal-fired power stations, while another energy company, Uniper, is threatening to do the same.
- Ascent Resources, a UK fossil fuel company, is about to sue Slovenia for requiring an environmental impact assessment on fracking plans.
- Rockhopper, a UK fossil fuel company, is suing Italy over a ban on offshore oil drilling close to the coast.
- Lone Pine, a fossil fuel company, is suing Canada over the introduction of a fracking moratorium in Quebec.
- Westmoreland, a mining company, is suing Canada over a phase out of coal-fired power stations in Alberta
As the UK starts its independent trade policy it should be leaving corporate courts behind. Instead it wants to set them in stone.
Energy Charter Treaty
This is an investment deal between more than 50 countries specifically on the energy sector, which includes corporate courts. Italy has pulled out of the Energy Charter Treaty, and several other European countries are also considering exiting. So far the UK wants to stay put, but if we can ramp up the pressure that could change.
UK-Canada trade deal
The UK has signed a trade agreement with Canada. It has corporate courts in it, but the clauses are currently suspended until they’ve been reviewed. Nearly three quarters of mining companies globally are headquartered in Canada, and nearly half of all investment in mining goes through the Toronto Stock Exchange. Canadian mining and energy companies are active in corporate courts, suing governments for action on climate change.
Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP)
The UK wants to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade deal between eleven countries around the Pacific rim which Joseph Stiglitz called ‘the worst trade deal in the world’, and which includes corporate courts.
Corporate courts give fossil fuel companies the power to sue governments for taking action on the climate emergency. They are an obstacle to a clean energy transition and to achieving climate justice.
Take action in April
The UK-Canada deal comes into force this month, and the corporate courts clauses in it need to be reviewed within three months. If enough of us speak out in those few months, we can force that review to be held in public and call for corporate courts to be dropped from the deal.
- NEW: Climate injustice: how corporate courts block climate action, four-page briefing
- How trade deals are fuelling climate breakdown, four-page A5 leaflet
- Five reasons modern trade deals are terrible for the climate, four-page briefing
- Trans-Pacific Powergrab, our 2018 briefing on why we shouldn’t join the Trans-Pacific Partnership
- Trade Secrets, Nick Dearden’s short book on the US trade deal (as a pdf, ebook and web pages)
In March we launched a new campaign action against some of the biggest banking corporations in the world, demanding that they offer debt cancellation to any global south government that requests it. Cancelling these debts could free up vital funds for governments to spend on healthcare and Covid-19 vaccines.
Banks and speculators such as HSBC, Blackrock, JP Morgan and UBS could be making up to 250% on the debts they hold from global south governments. Our research has found that the amount that African governments owe to private sector creditors would be enough to vaccinate the entire continent three times over. This is completely unjust in the midst of a global pandemic, which is why we projected our demands onto their offices alongside our campaign launch.
Last year, G20 governments agreed to suspend some debts between governments to ease the burden of the pandemic on low income economies. But this didn’t include debts owed to private banks who have continued to profit from the debt they hold, at higher rates of interest, throughout the pandemic.
We need to ensure that these vastly rich speculators are held to account and take action to ensure that governments have the funds to respond to their pandemic. You can write to the CEOs of Blackrock, UBS, HSBC and JP Morgan to demand debt cancellation via our website.
If you’d like to organise a local event or action on debt cancellation, contact firstname.lastname@example.org. We’re working with Jubilee Debt Campaign, CAFOD and Christian Aid on this campaign, so these groups could also be allies locally.
- Under the Radar, briefing on private sector debt and coronavirus, October 2020
- Daniel’s short article for Novara Media and Nick’s feature article for New Internationalist are also good for background.
Our annual youth network event takes place on Saturday 10 April. Featuring Larissa Kennedy, NUS president, climate justice activist Mary Lou Malig, and South African health justice advocate Umunyana Rugege. Find out more (aimed at under 30s).
Annual General Meeting
This year’s AGM will take place on Saturday 5 June. Like last year, it will take place on Zoom. If you’re a member of Global Justice Now you can register to join the event.