Covid, injustice, climate change: Boris Johnson must do more to crack the crises

© UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor

When President Biden comes to Britain, it’s up to the Prime Minister to make sure he sees a country he can do business with. As the new President told the world in his inauguration address: any one of the “cascading crises” that the world now faces “would be enough to challenge us in profound ways. But the fact that we face them all at once, presents this nation with the gravest of responsibilities”. Yet we cannot, and should not, expect America to save the world. As the 2021 President of the G7, Boris Johnson will have to do more, in the words of a new campaign launching today, to “crack the crises” and bring all the other countries behind a shared plan to tackle Covid, injustice and climate change.

Without global leadership, the G7 has been paralysed since 2018. With Donald Trump signing up to a communique at the end of the Vancouver summit, only to trash the agreement on Twitter on the flight back to Washington, the writing was on the wall. The following G7 summit in Biarritz didn’t even have a communique for leaders to sign up to, and the one due in Camp David was cancelled by the host: Donald Trump.

So when Biden comes to Britain, and the eyes of the world alight on Carbis Bay in Cornwall in June, the stakes could not be higher. With half of the economies of the world in recession and the IMF describing the economic impact of Covid as the worst since the Great Depression of the 1930s, global growth this year will inevitably be driven by China and India. We need both to kick-start the global economy in the same way the G20 London Summit did in 2009 and tackle global poverty as the United Kingdom did by meeting the UN’s 0.7% aid commitment at the G7 summit in Lough Erne in 2013.

With the World Bank predicting that 150 million people have been pushed back into poverty since the start of the crisis and will be living on less than £1.50 per day, now is not the time to cut aid and turn our backs to the world. The secondary impacts of Covid are hitting the poorest hardest, both at home and abroad. The role of leadership is to put first those who have fallen furthest behind.

New polling released by the Crack the Crises campaign today shows that this is not just our view as former ministers, but that of the majority of the British public too. 57% of people think governments should keep their promises even if it’s hard to do, or circumstances change. Only 27% oppose this. Meanwhile, majorities see Covid, injustice and climate change as issues that can only be tackled through global cooperation, not by each country going it alone.

It isn’t hard to see what is driving this new spirit of solidarity. From applauding NHS frontline workers, while rejecting anti-vax disinformation and vaccine nationalism, to standing for racial justice and demanding a just transition to net zero, we have all had a year during which we have had to act local but also think global. For this was the year that Britain answered the call of a 23-year-old footballer and a 100-year-old veteran. Amid the tragedy and the horror, of both the pandemic and the recession, Britain has found a new hope.

This new hope has brought together organisations representing more than 10 million people across the UK, uniting to demand concerted action on Covid, climate change and help for struggling communities at home and abroad. The new coalition, ‘Crack the Crises’, is calling on the UK government to demonstrate leadership on the global stage. The coalition unites nature, development, climate change and UK social justice groups with a shared strategy: urging a just and green recovery. Members range from 100-year-old global organisations to local start-ups.

Of the crises that President Biden listed in his inaugural address, the one we have the most optimism about is “America’s role in the world”. The others – “a raging virus, growing inequality, the sting of systemic racism, a climate in crisis” – will require a global response. His call to the citizens of his own country is a rallying call to the citizens of every country: “Will we rise to this occasion? Will we meet our obligations and pass along a new and better world for our children?”. The answer starts in Carbis Bay, in Cornwall, England. But it also must run through the COP climate summit, in Glasgow, Scotland. The eyes of the world are on the UK and the only way to Crack the Crises is with a unity of purpose that we must rediscover again.

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