Think Global extra, January 2022
Date: 1 January 2022
It goes without saying that the last year has been difficult, but it has also highlighted for me just how important Global Justice Now is. More and more people are now talking about the need to waive patents on Covid vaccines (see this rabble-rousing speech from Richard Leonard in the Scottish parliament for instance) as a result of the public campaign we’ve been central to waging in the UK. That has happened not just in the press, social media, and protests but directly in communities as a result of campaigning by local groups. This aspect is not only vital, but something few others can bring to the table.
Similarly, the shocking climate consequences of corporate courts began to break through to wider consciousness, with a wider ecology of climate activists starting to talk about them. That wouldn’t have happened without our pioneering work.
As we go into the new year, our elected council is working with staff to develop a new longer term strategy. There’ll be more about that in the next Think Global, but one thing’s for sure – the unique role we play in organising people around the country against the obscene way the global economy works, and for a humane and egalitarian internationalism will remain central.
Thank you for everything you’ve done in the last year, and happy 2022.
Head of activism
- Pharma / People’s vaccine
- Trade / Corporate courts
- Climate justice / After COP
- Aid and debt
- Scotland extra
Cashing in on the crisis
The last few months have seen an exhibition of corporate pharma excess and shareholder greed beyond even normal levels. First, Pfizer announced in early November that its vaccine was set to rake in $36bn in 2021, making it the most lucrative drug produced in the entire history of medicine. For perspective, all of its drugs combined made $41bn last year. A few days later, Moderna announced it was set to collect vaccine revenue of around $20bn this year. Before November was out, AstraZeneca had announced that the vaccine it had previously aspired to deliver at cost would now be a profit-making venture.
Then, at the end of November, while the rest of the world reacted with worry to the emergence of the Omicron variant, big pharma companies’ stocks went soaring. We calculated that in the week following the news, 8 Moderna and Pfizer investors saw their wealth grow by over $10bn.
- Watch GJN’s Nick Dearden speak out against pharma profiteering on Democracy Now
- Read this Common Dreams article on pharma’s ‘obscene profits’
- Share Bernie Sanders’ tweet calling out pharma greed
Ironically and frustratingly, the outbreak of Omicron meant that the World Trade Organisation Ministerial Conference – at which global south countries hoped to push for an intellectual property waiver on vaccines – was suspended. But the WTO doesn’t need to bring the world to Geneva to make this decision, so we and our allies are now pressing for countries to come together online to agree to the waiver.
Boris Johnson increasingly isolated on patent waivers
With the emergence of Omicron and other variants made far more likely by global vaccine inequity, more and more politicians and public figures are backing moves to suspend intellectual property on vaccines. Our campaigners in Scotland achieved a significant breakthrough in December when Nicola Sturgeon issued her support for the campaign (see Scotland Extra below). The Irish Senead also passed a motion in favour of the waiver and Norway, previously one of the key blockers, has now said it would support a patent waiver on vaccines.
Even the industry’s own lobbyists are starting to admit they ‘failed dismally’ to roll out vaccines across the world, yet Boris Johnson’s government remains in thrall to profiteering behemoths like Pfizer. Apparently oblivious to the astronomical piles of cash these companies have already accumulated, government figures continue to argue that these companies need yet more financial incentives. But it’s clear that they are increasingly isolated in their position.
Further positive news came when a Spanish research centre shared their Covid test with C-TAP, the World Health Organisation’s knowledge-sharing platform, meaning manufacturers worldwide will be able to create it. With Covid diagnosis often held back by expensive tests in poorer countries, this was an important step in itself, but also showed what is possible when publicly-funded research stays in public hands.
Silence = Death: we press UK and G7 leaders to take action
We’re keeping up the pressure on the UK government, making sure our presence is felt in parliament and around the country. In November, we worked with partners to organise a protest outside parliament with MPs Caroline Lucas and Clive Lewis turning out to support us, as well as Baroness Shami Chakrabarty. Drawing on activist movements that campaigned for cheaper HIV/AID treatments in the 1990s, we used the message ‘Silence = Death’ to tell our MPs that they must speak up to prevent thousands more lives lost to Covid-19.
- Watch and share a video from the protest outside parliament
We took the same message to G7 leaders in Liverpool, with activists from our youth group in the city turning out on a wet and blustery day to send a clear message to the leaders of the world’s richest countries.
Campaigns activities for groups
A few groups have already booked in conversations with our new pharma campaigner Tim Bierley – and he’s keen to work with and meet more local activists in the new year. If your group would like to hold either an in-person or Zoom-based public meeting on the campaign, please contact him on email@example.com to arrange.
Tim can also advise you if you’d like to contact your MP to ask them to press the government on vaccine equality. It’s also been great to see local groups including Global Justice York braving the wintry weather to run stalls and get lots of interest in the campaign. If you need more action postcards, A5 leaflets or stickers, we’ve plenty left. Just email firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Vaccine patents action card, A6 card ideal for stalls
- Vaccine patents leaflet, 4pp A5 leaflet for public campaigning
- Fighting for a People’s Vaccine, 4pp supporter briefing on the campaign
- Stickers: The global south needs a vaccine too, sheets of 12 for public campaigning
The way fossil fuel firms are using corporate courts to undermine climate action is going to continue to be a focus for us as we head into a new year. Over the last year it is something we’ve built up campaigning on, and the message is really beginning to cut through – both with the media and with activists.
Update from COP
During COP we got media coverage for the revelation that industry insiders themselves expect that if governments start being more ambitious in climate policy, this will drive an increase in corporate court cases. And that the amounts at stake could be in the trillions. It’s something that resonated with many of the climate activists at COP, who are familiar with what is known as ‘stranded assets’. These are fossil fuel reserves and infrastructure that energy companies already own but which now need to be decommissioned or left in the ground if we are to meet out climate targets, and many of them could be the subject of corporate court cases.
We also held a well-attended webinar during the People’s Summit at COP, including hearing from an Indonesian activist about the fight against corporate courts there, and the former trade minister of South Africa who oversaw South Africa’s withdrawal from corporate court treaties (as he puts it, ‘armageddon did not happen’!). You can watch the recording here if you missed it.
Just before Christmas we and our allies at War on Want handed in the signatures that we have collected on our corporate courts petition so far – over 45k. Santa and an elf took it to the ministry along with a stocking full of coal. That wasn’t the end for the petition though – we’ll continue building on that total, and it would be great to also see if we can collect more signatures by May. The ‘Five fossil fuel firms …’ leaflet has a QR code for people to sign, or we also still have some of the more traditional postcards – contact email@example.com if you could use more of either.
Into the new year
The next six months could be crucial in the campaign on the Energy Charter Treaty – the giant corporate court treaty between over 50 countries on the energy sector which many of the fossil fuel companies are using. The ongoing ECT ‘reform’ process is going nowhere, and some EU countries are starting to consider pulling out.
We are provisionally planning a day of action on corporate courts and climate in May – more on that as plans develop. To help gear up toward that, the spring could be a good time to hold a public webinar or group discussion on the issue. Jean or other staff would be happy to speak at an event – contact firstname.lastname@example.org
We’re also anticipating that negotiations may start up again with Canada after being paused last year for the Canadian elections. And we’ll be keeping an eye on developments in the UK’s new trade deals, especially the Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) and deals with India and the Gulf states. Looking further ahead we’re going to start looking into the impacts of trade rules on patents for climate technologies and whether that is a barrier to the climate transition, especially for countries in the global south.
- ‘Five fossil fuel firms…’ corporate courts A5 leaflet
- Climate injustice, corporate courts 4pp briefing
We were very critical of the outcome of COP26, with Nick saying “This agreement would have been an important document 20 years ago, but we are well past this stage now.” (read our full response). There was a lack of strong plans for global emissions reductions, continued reliance on dubious net zero targets, failures to meet climate finance targets, and the refusal to even include debt cancellation on the agenda.
Yet it would be wrong to say absolutely no progress was at COP26. Although the final agreement broadly reflected the interests of rich countries and polluters, several useful developments did happen in Glasgow:
- More than 20 countries committed to stop funding fossil fuels overseas. This agreement built on our successes campaigning for the UK to dump dirty development finance by strengthening the UK’s policy and extending it to other rich countries such as the US, Germany, Spain, Italy and New Zealand, resulting in over $20 billion a year moving away from fossil fuels.
- Agreements to reduce deforestation and methane emissions were announced, although without strong action plans these pledges will remain just words.
- There was a commitment to have further dialogue on funding for Loss and Damage. Although proposals from the global south to establish this funding were disappointingly rejected, the inclusion of Loss and Damage in the final text (for the very first time) represents important progress.
The huge mobilisation that the climate justice movement managed around COP means we are not going to let the UK government and big polluters of the hook. Important decisions from court cases challenging the UK’s funding of a gas project in Mozambique and on whether the Cumbria coal mine should go ahead are expected soon. And the Cambo oil project is now officially on hold after a year of campaigning by grassroots activists.
With the UK still holding the COP Presidency (until Egypt takes over ahead of COP27) and the government failing to live up to its warm words on climate action, it’s all the more important we continue to challenge them in 2022. The experience of last year has shown that together we are powerful, and can win.
Future of the COP26 Coalition
Having managed an impressive mobilisation in difficult circumstances, there is now some discussion of whether the COP26 Coalition should continue beyond COP under a different name. Many local hubs found the experience of working together to have been a positive one and don’t simply want to drop it.
The coalition is planning a ‘Climate Justice Weekender’ in Birmingham 19-20 February to discuss what this might look like. It is very much open to anyone who was involved in a local hub, and we would encourage local hubs to ensure someone represents them. The plan is currently to hold it as a ‘hybrid’ event which will allow people who don’t feel they can attend an in-person meeting to still be part of it. Further details to follow from the coalition.
AID AND DEBT
CDC drops the pretence
In December, the government presented plans to rebrand the UK’s infamous development bank, CDC Group, as British International Investment (BII). Not only are they now completely dropping ‘development’ from CDC’s name; they have completely dropped any pretence of this being a development organisation designed to tackle poverty.
Instead, BII will exacerbate all of CDC’s worst tendencies to invest in for-profit, private sector projects that increase inequalities. We responded by co-ordinating a letter outlining our concerns to the Foreign Secretary (co-signed by CAFOD, Christian Aid, StopAIDS, the TUC, Unison, the National Education Union and others) which was covered in the media.
If you’d like to write a letter to your MP raising concerns about the rebrand of CDC Group to British International Investment, you could use our joint statement as a guide.
It has now been over a year since Zambia was forced into default by its private sector creditors. These big banks, including BlackRock, HSBC, JP Morgan and others, could be making up to 250% profit on their investments. In December, the IMF gave a $1.4 billion loan to Zambia, but this will only make the debt crisis worse in the long run. With the UK government involved in ongoing negotiations on restructuring Zambia’s debt, we must turn up the pressure on the banks and the government to ensure a just resolution, that includes debt cancellation, for the Zambian people.
We will be targeting big banks and asset managers demanding debt cancellation next year. Our potential targets have offices in Birmingham, Belfast, Bournemouth, Bracknell, Bristol, Cardiff, Cheltenham, Edinburgh, Exeter, Glasgow, Guildford, Leeds, Liverpool, London, Manchester, Milton Keynes, Reading and Sheffield. If you’d be interested in organising a local stall or action in these locations next year, let Daniel know: email@example.com
First Minister supports a People’s Vaccine
The hard work of Scottish activists campaigning paid off this month when the First Minister made a statement in support of a People’s Vaccine in the Scottish parliament. She followed this up with a personal letter to Prime Minister Boris Johnson in which she wrote of her support for “a waiver under the TRIPS Agreement for Covid-19 vaccines as an important part of our collective effort to address the ongoing global health crisis” and urged the UK government to “end its opposition at the WTO”. Such a whole-hearted endorsement of our campaign is very welcome and we hope to use her support over the coming weeks to persuade others to back the patent waiver.
Many of you contacted your MSPs during the summer and autumn asking them to add their name to the Scottish parliament motion put down by Labour MSP Sarah Boyack calling for an end to pharmaceutical monopolies on Covid-19 vaccines. Almost half of all MSPs signed the motion. And on December 21 there was a debate on global vaccine inequality in the Scottish parliament. Together with Oxfam and Christian Aid we sent a briefing to all MSPs for the debate.
To date, no Conservative MSPs have signed Sarah Boyack’s motion. We would really like to persuade some Conservative MSPs to back this campaign as a couple of Conservative MPs in Westminster are now backing our call. Please consider writing to your local Conservative MSP on this issue. If you would like some bullet points to help you write an email, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.