UN, Non-Aligned Movement, Call For Greater Equity In COVID-19 Vaccines And Climate Change Response

In a meeting in Belgrade, members of both the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) and the United Nations (U.N) called on developed nations to do their part in global efforts to combat COVID-19 and climate change. Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo spoke at length about the inequity the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent vaccine rollout have exposed, stating that much of the Global South “are subject to the benevolence of powerful countries who give out their hoarded [vaccine] supplies at their own pace.” This imbalance, according to Akufo-Addo, is unacceptable, and the world “must not miss the opportunity of this occasion to take far-reaching decisions for a more equitable and balanced world, based on the principle of the equality of sovereign States.”

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who joined the conference remotely, implored the governments of developed nations to provide more to help developing nations stem COVID-19 as well as prepare for and combat climate change. Guterres stated that “fifty percent of all climate finance provided by developed countries and multilateral development banks should be dedicated to adaptation, to resilience.” Last month, Guterres called the global vaccine inequity an “obscenity” as developing nations are discussing booster shots, while “over 90% of Africans [are] still waiting for their first dose,” urging developed nations to increase vaccine production and distribution. Also this week, the CEO of BlackRock, Larry Fink, in an opinion piece for the New York Times, called on both the private sector and governments of developed countries to more effectively invest in transitioning the Global South economies to achieve global emissions goals, as climate change “will not respect national borders,” and that “without global action, every nation will bear enormous costs from a warming planet.”

The current vaccine inequity is a crisis that tests the world’s commitment to achieving global goals, a commitment that will only become more relevant as our species faces greater effects from climate change. In September, the World Health Organization (WHO) set a plan for vaccinating 40% of every country’s population by the end of this year and 70% by mid-2022. But of the 56 countries falling behind the strategy set out to achieve this goal, the vast majority were in the Middle East and Africa, according to the WHO. Eradicating COVID-19 requires global herd immunity, not just in developed countries. And again, if the world fails to unite against this crisis, it bodes very poorly for how we will combat the greater threat of climate change.

As Kester Kenn Klomegah of Modern Diplomacy describes, “The Non-Alignment Movement is an international organization of member states that oppose participation in military-political blocs and favour the peaceful co-existence of peoples.” Declared in 1961 in Belgrade, then capital of the now-defunct Yugoslavia and site of this year’s assembly, the NAM strived to find a middle ground between the charged nuclear alliances of the United States and the Soviet Union. Since the end of the Cold War, the NAM has dedicated itself to “developing multilateral ties and connection as well as unity among the developing nations of the world, especially those within the Global South,” said Klomegah.

During a conference with Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta on October 14th, President Biden promised to send an additional 17 million vaccines to the African Union, along with the 50 million already sent, and assured the African leader “we’re continuing our shared fight against COVID.” Though late in September, the WHO said it needs more than 500 million vaccines to reach its 40% goal in Africa by the end of the year, this most recent donation promise follows a greater push by the Biden administration to ramp up U.S. vaccine donations around the world. Unfortunately, Biden’s vaccine goals are considered by some health officials, namely Secretary-General Guterres, to be less than what global recovery requires. But this week’s donation promise will hopefully be indicative of a more inclusive and comprehensive global vaccine strategy that takes into account voices like that of the NAM. In a world still as divided and self-centred as it was in 1961, the advocacy of the NAM, with 120 member states, is and will continue to be an imperative medium for the voices of the Global South to be heard on the global stage.