Gordon Brown urges G20 countries to back $2.5tn coronavirus plan

Larry Elliott
Photograph: Roberto Ricciuti/Getty Images

Failure by the G20 group of leading developed and developing nations to organise a global Covid-19 recovery plan is a potential death sentence for the world’s poor, the former prime minister Gordon Brown has said.

Brown, who pushed successfully for coordinated action during the financial crisis of 2008-09, said the lack of G20 action was disgraceful and risked a second wave of infection for rich countries.

Writing in the Guardian, the last Labour prime minister said 225 past and present world leaders, academics and heads of civil society groups had written a letter demanding that the next meeting of the G20 be brought forward from late November.

“For the first time this century, global poverty is rising and three decades of improving living standards are now in reverse,” Brown said. The “great reversal” would push an additional 420 million people into extreme poverty, he said.

Brown was instrumental in giving the G20 more power in 2008-09, but said it had now gone awol – absent without lending – and had no plan to convene for six months.

“This is not just an abdication of responsibility; it is, potentially, a death sentence for the world’s poorest people whose healthcare depends on enhanced international aid and on whom the richest countries depend to prevent a second wave of the disease hitting our shores.”

In the early stages of the Covid-19 pandemic, the International Monetary Fund estimated that emerging and poorer developing countries would require financial help worth $2.5tn (£1.98tn) to see them through the crisis.

The G20 promised a swift response using all available policy tools, but Brown said promises had not been met. “With new Covid-19 cases around the world running above 100,000 a day, and still to peak, the vacuum left by G20 inactivity means that allocations from the IMF and the World Bank to poorer countries will remain a fraction of what they have said is required.

“The G20’s failure to meet is all the more disgraceful because the global response to Covid-19 should this month be moving from its first phase, the rescue operation, to its second, a comprehensive recovery plan – and at its heart there should be a globally coordinated fiscal, monetary and central bank stimulus driven forward with an agreed global growth plan.”

The letter to the G20 said an immediate summit was needed to:

  • Unlock $80bn of debt relief that would provide poor countries with a breathing space until the end of 2021

  • Organise global coordination of the development, mass manufacturing and equitable distribution of a universally and freely available Covid-19 vaccine as quickly as possible 

  • Provide extra resources from the IMF and the World Bank

  • Agree a global plan based on green investment

Brown said: “In the last financial crisis environmental investments formed less than 10% of the stimulus. To make this recovery sustainable the Green New Deal needs to go global, and to help pay for it, a coordinated blitz is required on the $7.4tn estimated to be hidden untaxed in offshore havens.”

More than a hundred countries have sought help from the IMF since the crisis began, but the signatories to the letter – including former prime ministers Tony Blair and Sir John Major – said the poorest countries needed international aid within days not weeks or months.

Helen Clark, New Zealand’s former prime minister, said: “The IMF has said emerging markets and developing countries need $2.5tn to overcome the crisis but only a fraction of that has so far been allocated.”

The vaccine alliance Gavi is holding a funding conference in London later this week in which it is seeking pledges from governments so that it can continue to provide vaccines for poor countries.

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, a former vice-president of the World Bank and an ex finance minister in Nigeria, said:  “We urge every G20 member to support in full the  $7.4bn replenishment of Gavi – which between 2021 and 2025 will immunise 300 million children, saving up to 8 million lives.”