By Michael Swan
TORONTO, Canada, (The Catholic Register) – Discovering a hint of moral backbone at this year’s G20 negotiations, hosted by Saudi Arabia online over the November 20, weekend, was more than Canada’s representative to the G20 Interfaith Forum expected.
“I don’t really, or didn’t, have a great deal of expectation of the G20 this time around,” Rev. Jim Christie told The Catholic Register.
Christie’s low expectations, based largely on the relative absence of the US, were met in full. President Donald Trump spent much of the weekend away from the online negotiations, while the final communique vaguely promised to “spare no effort” to ensure “affordable and equitable access” to COVID-19 vaccines in the world’s poorer nations.
The world’s 20 largest economies also promised a six-month extension on an existing debt deferral program for poor countries so deeply in debt they can’t make the payments anyway. The 20 presidents and prime ministers declared themselves “determined to continue to use all available policy tools as long as required to safeguard people’s lives, jobs and incomes, support the global economic recovery and enhance the resilience of the financial system.”
They did not commit to any particular policy tool.
Working with the King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz International Centre for Interreligious Dialogue (KAICIID), the G20 Interfaith Forum had presented the host country and the 19 other participants with a 12-page document encouraging equitable access to vaccines and offering the resources of religious communities to aid in widespread vaccine distribution. The document came out of the G20 Interfaith Forum held virtually over five days in mid-October.
“We want them to roll out the vaccine. We want them to roll out the vaccine in a way that is just, fair and equitable,” said Christie, director of the Ridd Institute for Religion and Global Policy at the University of Winnipeg. “We’re suggesting that we can be part of the network that ensures that that happens.”
Christie could not point to any specific commitments by the G20 that would result in widespread vaccination in Africa, Latin America and the poorer countries of Asia.
“Nobody said, ‘Yeah, we’re going to do this unjustly.’ But in practice, that’s exactly what happens,” Christie said.
The G20 needs a buy-in from the US if it is going to be effective, according to Christie. “American exceptionalism over the last four years has been so appalling that without the United States really playing the game, where is anybody going to go?” he said.
Having a country with one of the worst human rights records in the world host the global event may have been the bright spot for Christie.
“They realize that their public perception, globally, is not by any means the most positive,” he said. “Their desire to deal with things like the advancement of women’s rights, the question of human dignity for all, of recognition that religious plurality is the nature of the world in which we live was really quite astonishing when you consider the history of recent years … It’s been more than a little interesting that they’ve been willing to have very open, very frank conversations.”