The rich made $6.5 trillion in the pandemic. The UN chief wants them to give some back

New York: The United Nations chief wants urgent action, including a wealth tax, to help finance the global recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the world’s failure to unite on tackling COVID-19 has created wide inequalities, citing the latest reports that indicate “there has been a $US5 trillion [$6.5 trillion] surge in the wealth of the world’s richest in the past year”.

He urged governments “to consider a solidarity or wealth tax on those who have profited during the pandemic, to reduce extreme inequalities”.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.Credit:AP

Guterres’ call followed an appeal in October by UN World Food Program Executive Director David Beasley to the more than 2000 billionaires in the world, with a combined net worth of $US8 trillion, to open their bank accounts. He warned in November that 2021 would be worse than 2020, and without billions of dollars “we are going to have famines of biblical proportions in 2021.”

Guterres told the UN Economic and Social Council’s Forum on Financing for Development that since the pandemic began “no element of our multilateral response has gone as it should”.

He pointed to more than 3 million deaths, increasing coronavirus infections, the worst recession in 90 years, some 120 million people falling back into extreme poverty, and the equivalent of 255 million full-time jobs lost.

“Advancing an equitable global response and recovery from the pandemic is putting multilateralism to the test,” he said. “So far, it is a test we have failed.”

Shipments of COVAX-supplied vaccines arrive in Accra, Ghana, in February. Credit:AP

“The vaccination effort is just one example,” Guterres said, stressing that just 10 countries account for around 75 per cent of global vaccinations and many countries haven’t even started vaccinating their healthcare workers and most vulnerable citizens.

“Some estimates put the global cost of unequal access and vaccine hoarding at more than $US9 trillion,” he said.

The lack of global solidarity also means that while some countries have mobilised trillions of dollars for COVID-19 relief for their citizens, “many developing countries face insurmountable debt burdens” and face an impossible choice of servicing debt or saving lives, the Secretary-General said.

Guterres called for urgent action to make vaccines available to everyone, everywhere; to not only help developing countries but middle-income countries in distress. He said debt payments should be suspended beyond the end of the year into 2022 and said the international community needed to tackle the roots of the global debt crisis.

He said there also must be investment “in education, decent and green jobs, social protection and health systems.”

While the pandemic remains the immediate challenge, climate change can’t be ignored, Guterres said.

He again urged countries to deliver on the $US100 billion annual commitment made a decade ago to help developing countries reduce their emissions and cope with the inevitable impacts of global warming, such as sea level rise and droughts.

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan opened the forum urging mobilisation of money for developing countries “to recover from the COVID-inducted recession” and put them on the path to achieve UN development goals for 2030 including eliminating extreme poverty.

He warned that if vaccines were not made available to people everywhere as soon as possible “the virus will roam around and come back”.

“Production of the vaccine must be ramped up,” Khan said. “Patent and technology-transfer restrictions should be waived to enable this.”

Malawi President Lazarus McCarthy, chair of the group of 46 least developed countries, known as LDCs,called for access to vaccines and adequate funding for the World Health Organisation’s COVAX facility to buy and deliver vaccines to developing nations. WHO says COVAX needs $US5 billion in 2021.

McCarthy told the forum the least developed countries also want to ensure “that COVID-19 vaccines go beyond the current provision of 20 per cent” for the entire population under COVAX.

He also called for “full debt cancellation of all bilateral, multilateral and commercial debts owed by LDCs and a debt standstill with immediate effect” and stepped up development aid including financing to bring the world’s poorest nations into the digital world.


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