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Japan discusses SDGs Action Plan 2021; US$61.8 billion budgeted to meet goals

On December 21, 2020, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga met with state and parliamentary ministers for the ninth meeting of the promotion of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) followed by the fourth 'Japan SDGs Award' ceremony. 

There has been great concern about possible delays in achieving the SDGs due to the COVID-19 crisis. In order to overcome the setbacks due to the pandemic, an 'SDGs Action Plan 2021' was discussed to:

  • Prepare for infectious disease outbreaks;
  • Make improvements in business and innovation to bring about behavioral changes in society;
  • Revitalize the region through the creation of a more harmonious relationship between economy and environment; and
  • Accelerate action through strengthened cooperation.

The total budget the government has planned for carrying out these goals is approximately ¥6.5o trillion (US$61.8 billion). 

At the Japan SDGs Award ceremony, several companies and organizations were awarded for outstanding domestic and international efforts towards the achievement of the SDGs. 

Press release – Ministry of Foreign Affairs (in Japanese)

Dutch NGO umbrella organization publishes electoral manifesto overview

In the run-up to the March 2021 parliamentary elections in the Netherlands, Partos, the Dutch NGO umbrella organization, published an overview of Dutch manifestos in the context of development cooperation.

The overview included a graph showing which parties support an official development assistance (ODA) budget of 0.7% of gross national income (GNI), whether these parties plan to strengthen civil society, and how coherent their development policies are.

The Party for the Animals (PvdD) has the most ambitious ODA commitment. PvdD wants to spend at least 1% of GNI on ODA.

Partos mentioned that while 10 years ago, 60% of voters in the Netherlands wanted to cut the government budget for development cooperation, only 34% of voters currently want to cut this budget.

At One Planet Summit, German Chancellor Merkel calls for action to protect biodiversity “not whenever, but now”

On January 12, 2021, at the online One Planet Summit to discuss the environment and climate change, German Chancellor Angela Merkel called for an accelerated international effort to protect biodiversity and natural habitats, “not whenever, but now.”

Merkel announced that Germany would join the 'High Ambition Coalition for Nature and People', initiated by France and Costa Rica, committing to protecting 30% of land and sea habitats by 2030 to halt the accelerating loss of species and to preserve vital ecosystems.

Merkel also urged the global community to take active steps against deforestation. The protection of the world’s forests is not only vital for biodiversity and climate protection but also global health, she said. Referring to the concept of One Health, she stressed that “human beings can only do well on a healthy planet with healthy flora and fauna.”

The One Planet Summit was launched by France, the United Nations, and the World Bank, to advance the implementation of the Paris Agreement on climate. This year’s one-day online summit was the fourth convention, after summits in Paris in 2017, New York in 2018, and Nairobi in 2019. Around 30 heads of state and international organizations attended the online summit to discuss the preservation of ecosystems and biodiversity, as well as fighting climate change.

Press release – Federal Chancellery (in German)

News article – Deutsche Welle

Canada commits US$43 million to Land Degradation Neutrality Fund

Canada's Minister of International Development, Karina Gould, has announced that Canada will contribute CA$55 million (US$43 million) to the Land Degradation Neutrality Fund. The Fund, created by the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification, supports "sustainable land management and land restoration" in low-income countries.

Canada's commitment to Land Degradation Neutrality Fund is a part of Canada's overall CA$2.7 billion (US$2.1 billion) climate finance commitment. 

Press release - Global Affairs Canada

France announces 50% increase in funding to IFAD during One Planet Summit

During the One Planet Summit on Biodiversity, held virtually on January 11, 2021, French President Emmanuel Macron announced that France will increase its funding to the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) by 50%.

France’s previous contribution to IFAD during its last replenishment cycle amounted to US$71 million.

The pledge will contribute to IFAD’s 12th replenishment, which aims to fund projects for rural people (including small-scale farmers, rural women, youth, indigenous peoples) to support food security and agricultural projects.

News article - Global citizen

Report - IFAD

South Korean government announces new plan to improve concessional loan process post-COVID-19

South Korea's Ministry of Economy and Finance (MOEF) announced how its concessional loan process will change post-COVID-19.

Finance Minister Nam-ki Hong stated that in light of global and domestic economic performances in 2020 and global economic outlooks for 2021, South Korea’s concessional loan program, the Economic Development Cooperation Fund (EDCF) will commit to the following:

  • Diversifying development finance by increasing official development assistance (ODA) budget and fortifying public-private partnerships;
  • Increasing investments in the green and digital sector, increasing the corresponding budget from US$5 million in 2020 to US$8 million in 2021 and US$1.4 billion by 2025;
  • Increasing the concessional loan budget for healthcare up to US$1.0 billion by 2025;
  • Strengthening partnership with multilateral development banks (MDBs) to address the financing gap that partner countries face while increasing co-financing scale with MDBs such as the African Development Bank and the Asian Development Bank;
  • Raising the share of EDCF’s untied assistance which was around 46.4% in the last five years to over 60% by 2025; and
  • Pursuing more effective management of the EDCF.

Concerning the climate crisis, MOEF announced that South Korea will hold the P4G Summit (Partnering for Green Growth and the Global Goals 2030) in Seoul in May 2021 and continue to cooperate with the Green Climate Fund whose headquarters is located in South Korea.

Press release – Ministry of Economy and Finance

Dutch government donates additional US$29 million for COVID-19 vaccines in low-income countries

The Netherlands is spending an additional €25 million (US$30 million) for the purchase and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines in low- and middle-income countries. This was decided by the Dutch Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation (FTDC), Sigrid Kaag, in response to an urgent request made by the World Health Organization (WHO).

According to the WHO, US$5.0 billion in funding is needed to ensure 1.3 billion doses of vaccines for 92 countries. The Dutch contribution of €25 million (US$30 million), paid through the development cooperation budget, will allow for the purchase of approximately five million COVID-19 vaccine doses.

Press release – Government of the Netherlands (in Dutch)

Two former heads of intelligence call for increased foreign assistance from Australia

In a podcast series launched by the Australian Council for International Development, Richard Maude and Alan Gyngell have called for Australia to increase its foreign assistance budget. Both men were previously heads of Australia's intelligence agency, the Office of National Assessments.

Maude, now in the role of Executive Director of the Asia Society Australia, indicated that Australia’s step up in the Pacific had come at the expense of areas in the Indo-Pacific region. Gyngell emphasized the need to update Australia’s foreign policy and put more emphasis on soft power compared to the amount of attention going to intelligence agencies and defense.

News article - Brisbane Times

UK mobilizes US$1.0 billion from global donors to support COVAX Facility through match funding

The UK has mobilized an additional US$1.0 billion from global donors to support the COVAX Facility, which provides low-income countries with access to COVID-19 vaccines.

The UK government mobilized the money through match funding, pledging to provide £1.00 (US$1.30) for every US$4.00 dollars committed by other donors, up to the value of £250 million (US$324 million). This funding is on top of the £548 million (US$711 million) the UK pledged to the COVAX Facility.

This announcement came at the same time that the United Nations Secretary-General, António Guterres, made a three-day virtual visit to the UK (January 10-13, 2021) as part of the celebrations of the UN's 75th anniversary. Guterres held several meetings, including with the UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, and Alok Sharma, who was previously Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, and is now full-time President of the UK-hosted COP26 climate conference that will take place in November 2021.

Press release - UK Government

UK COVID-19 cases surge as likely result of more contagious new variant; country braces for double-dip recession

The UK’s COVID-19 cases have surged by 50% in the first week of January 2021 compared to the last week of December 2020, and deaths related to COVID-19 have risen by 21%.

Most analysts attribute the steep rise to the emergence of a new variant of the virus that is proven to be 50-70% more contagious, though it is not associated with more severe symptoms. Hospitals in parts of the country are at capacity and the country has entered its third lockdown with schools and non-essential shops closed, as well as with travel curbed.

The UK Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, is preparing for the country to have a double-dip recession. Oxford Economics, a consultancy firm, is expecting the UK’s gross domestic product to fall by 4% in the first three months of 2021 as a result of the new restrictions. The firm is not expecting the economic fallout to be quite as bad as the lockdown in the spring of 2020 though, when the economy fell by 20%.

The UK has initiated a massive vaccination plan and is first rolling out vaccines to healthcare workers and populations particularly vulnerable to COVID-19.

News article - The Guardian

News article - AP

Biden administration's NSC to include focus on climate crisis and return of global health security directorate

US President-elect Joseph Biden is reorganizing and strengthening his National Security Council (NSC) team and will seek to break down barriers between national security and domestic issues, including through a focus on cross-cutting topics such as the COVID-19 crisis and the climate crisis.

The announcement of new NSC staff members included Elizabeth Cameron, Senior Director of the restored global health security directorate. Cameron is a biologist and biodefense expert who wrote the "pandemic playbook” under former US President Barack Obama. This directorate had been disbanded under the Trump administration.

For the first time, climate change will also have a seat at the NSC table with former US Secretary of State John Kerry serving as the special envoy for climate with the status of an NSC 'principal' ("usually reserved for top national security officials and Cabinet secretaries").

News article - The Washington Post

UK Prime Minister appoints Alok Sharma as full-time President of COP26, Fiona Bruce as Special Envoy for Freedom of Religion or Belief

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, appointed Alok Sharma, the former Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), to be the full-time President of the COP26 climate conference, which the UK is hosting in November 2021 in Glasgow.

Sharma was already the President of the COP26 but was delivering on this role alongside his BEIS role, which many felt was unsustainable in the long-term. Johnson has appointed Kwasi Kwarteng as the new Secretary of State for BEIS on January 8, 2021.

Johnson also announced the appointment of Fiona Bruce, Conservative Member of Parliament for Congleton, as his Special Envoy for Freedom and Religion or Belief. Bruce will work with UK faith actors and civil society to implement the Bishop of Turo’s recommendations for the Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) to do more to support persecuted Christians around the world. She will work closely with Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, who is responsible for Human Rights at the FCDO.

Press release - UK government

Press release - UK government

EU doubles access to BioNTech-Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines with purchase of 300 million additional doses

The European Commission and BioNTech-Pfizer reached a deal for the EU to purchase 200 million additional doses of BioNTech-Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine, with 100 million more as an option, doubling the doses that EU member states can purchase to 600 million.

The EU has already been rolling out the BioNTech-Pfizer vaccine. The additional doses will be available starting in the second quarter of 2021. This purchase will enable the EU to go beyond vaccinating its own population to supplying vaccines to neighboring countries.

Clinical trials found the Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccine, which uses new messenger RNA (mRNA) technology, to be 95% effective. The vaccine was the first approved by the EU for use on December 21, 2020. 

Press release - European Commission

Australian researchers discover possible new target for mosquito-borne virus treatments

A team from the University of Queensland's School of Chemistry and Molecular Biosciences has identified a single antibody that could protect against a variety of mosquito-borne viruses including Zika, West Nile, and dengue.

The viral protein named NS1 provides a new target for treatments. To date, the antibody has demonstrated benefits in laboratory-based trials.

Press release - University of Queensland

Outcomes of US Senate special elections will likely boost US foreign assistance

The outcome of two US special elections in the state of Georgia, giving Democrats a slim majority in the Senate and thus meaning there is a Democratic majority in both houses of Congress, will likely change funding for US foreign assistance, expedite confirmations of key appointees in the next administration, and result in new policies.

The runoff elections were held because none of the US Senate candidates in Georgia received the required 50% of overall votes in the November 2020 general election. The outcome means that the makeup of the US Senate will be 50-50, but Vice President-elect Kamala Harris will break any tie. Although a slim margin, this gives Democrats control of all committees and allows them to set the agenda. 

Development advocates believe that this will bring increased funding for US foreign assistance, including for polarizing topics such as climate change and family planning. Confirmation of political appointees in the new administration will not face the obstruction that a Republican majority may have imposed. Policy changes, such as the permanent repeal of the Mexico City Policy—also known as the 'global gag rule'—may be legislatively possible.

Some experts cautioned, however, that large increases in funding, even for the COVID-19 global response, may be difficult. Bipartisan support for US foreign assistance has been strong, but a sharp increase in funding will now likely raise Republicans' concerns regarding debt and deficit.

News article - Devex

EU approves Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine as second available for use

The European Commission has authorized Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine as the second one available for use. The approval, which was based on the assessment of the EU’s medicines regulator, the European Medicines Agency (EMA), follows its approval of Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccine on December 21, 2020. 

This latest approval means an additional 160 million doses will be available in 2021 for EU member states under a deal between the Commission and Moderna. 

Both vaccines use messenger RNA (mRNA) technology. Clinical trials found Moderna’s and Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccines to be 94.1% and 95% effective, respectively. 

Press release - European Commission

Germany provides US$59 million for development of COVID-19 therapeutics

German Minister of Education and Research, Anja Karliczek, has announced a new program amounting to €50 million (US$59 million) to strengthen the development of drugs and other therapeutics against the COVID-19 virus. The program specifically aims to support the clinical test phase, in which the safety and effectiveness of a new treatment are tested.

In addition to the availability of vaccines, effective therapeutics against COVID-19 are decisive in successfully fighting the pandemic, Karliczek said. Even with a high vaccination rate, people will continue to get infected with COVID-19, which is why therapy options for the various stages of infection are pivotal.

German companies and researchers with an operational site in Germany are eligible to apply for the funding provided.

Press release – Federal Ministry of Education and Research (in German)

Increasing vaccine access and use of cash transfers, tackling climate crisis at top of Norway's 2021 development agenda

The Managing Director of the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (Norad), Bård Vegar Solhjell, has presented the top three priorities for Norwegian development assistance in 2021, stating that it will be even more crucial this year after the setbacks for lower-income countries in 2020.

The World Bank estimates that there may be 100 to 150 million more people living in extreme poverty in 2021, compared to in 2020. 

According to Norad, the first priority is to provide access to vaccines for everyone. The Norwegian government will continue its involvement in the distribution of vaccines and health resources through the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator (ACT-A). Countries will not see their economies flourishing again until the pandemic is over, so vaccination is an important factor for all other types of development assistance. 

Second, Norad will focus on increasing its use of direct cash transfers. The overall goal is to provide an easy and unbureaucratic social security net for the receivers. Broad international research has shown that cash as assistance functions well but has been used less by Norway. 

Third, Norad sees the importance of restarting investments in societies and businesses. This could and should be included in efforts to tackle the climate crisis, according to Norad, and the potential benefits for investments in renewable energy, agriculture, oceans, and other sectors are significant as world leaders come together to address climate priorities. 

Op-ed - Dagsavisen (in Norwegian)

European Investment Bank provides US$59 million loan to Jordan to procure COVID-19 vaccines, health equipment

The European Investment Bank (EIB) has provided US$59 million in loan financing to the government of Jordan to support the procurement of COVID-19 vaccines once they are available, the vaccination campaign, and the purchase of necessary medical equipment. 

The loan, which is a part of the 'Team Europe' response to COVID-19, will help finance the Jordanian government’s national COVID-19 preparedness and response plan. 

Press release - European Investment Bank

UK NGO network analyzes five key themes that will shape UK development sector in 2021

Stephanie Draper, the Chief Executive of Bond (a UK NGO network for organizations working in international development) analyzed five key themes that will shape the UK development sector in 2021:

  1. The on-going COVID-19 pandemic and the opportunity to build back better: Draper highlighted that in the short-term, the focus will be on returning to normality, with social and economic restrictions around the world likely to continue in some form throughout 2021. However, in the medium term, the decade offers the biggest opportunity to build back better, and 2021 will be marked by how governments, donors, and multilateral institutions manage recovery. Draper argued that the 'build back better' agenda will dominate the G7 (hosted by the UK) and the World Economic Forum’s meetings, both to be held in the summer of 2021. She also highlighted some governments that are already showing the potential for positive reform, with Amsterdam using the 'doughnut' economic model to rebuild the city, and China apparently looking into the ‘Gross Ecosystem Product’—a measure of growth to complement a gross domestic product that captures ecological impact.
  2. Climate and environment: Draper argued that climate change will be largely reflected in the UK's 2021 policy agenda with the UK hosting the UN COP26 climate conference in November 2021. Draper questioned whether enough progress will be made to avert dangerous climate change impacts or to raise sufficient climate finance to support mitigation and adaptation and called on the UK development community to mobilize a diverse set of stakeholders to bolster progress. Draper highlighted the importance of youth inclusion in the conference and the need to ensure that intergenerational fairness is taken into account within government decision-making. Finally, Draper noted that the climate crisis must be viewed as part of a systems approach that looks at soils, oceans, biodiversity, and social justice—not just a stand-alone issue.
  3. Global Britain and the need to maintain leadership on development: Draper argued that 2021 offers a major opportunity for the UK to redefine its global role following its exit from the EU, with the UK hosting two major international summits—the G7 in June 2021 and COP26 in November 2021. Draper highlighted the importance of ensuring continued UK leadership on development assistance and lamented the government’s announcement to temporarily suspend its commitment of delivering 0.7% of gross national income as official development assistance (ODA), arguing that this move will undermine UK global leadership. Draper wrote, however, that there is a small chance that Parliamentarians may refuse to make the suspension when they vote on it this year, given growing cross-party support. Draper also questioned whether the forthcoming publication of the UK’s Integrated Review of its defense, diplomacy, and development policy will actually provide the UK with a clear strategy and reset for its development assistance, suggesting the UK may be left without a clear strategy in 2021.
  4. The need for inclusion and equality transformation in the sector: In 2020, the Black Lives Matter movement reminded people of the presence of systemic racism in all parts of British society, including in UK NGOs. 2020 saw many UK NGOs making commitments to address the issues. Draper argued that 2021 is the year of reckoning with the need for UK NGOs to deliver on these commitments and put inclusion and equity at the heart of their organizations.
  5. The post-pandemic NGO: Draper predicted that as a result of reduced resources to the sector due to the economic recession and UK ODA cuts, there will be more NGO partnerships and mergers. Draper also noted that for many NGOs, going back to the office full time is probably going to be unlikely, with many adopting hybrid office models, combining remote work with coming together for key events.

News article - Bond