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UK Foreign Minister appoints new CEO of FCDO's strategic global forum institute

The UK Secretary for State for Foreign Affairs, Dominic Raab, has announced the appointment of Tom Cargill as the new CEO of Wilton Park, the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office’s (FCDO) strategic global forum institute, which hosts high-level intergovernmental and multi-stakeholder discussions aimed at driving collective global security and prosperity.

Cargill is currently the CEO of the business development organization, British Expertise International, and was formerly the CEO of the UK-based NGO, Foreign Policy Group.

Press release - UK government

UK Prime Minister appoints MP Helen Grant as Special Envoy for Girls' Education

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced the appointment of Helen Grant, a Member of Parliament (MP) for the Conservative Party, as the new UK Special Envoy for Girls' Education.

Grant will take over from Baroness Sugg, who formally held the role alongside her role as a Junior Minister for the Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Office (FCDO) but resigned in protest at the UK government’s planned temporary suspension of its commitment to provide 0.7% of its gross national income as official development assistance. Grant will not take on the role of Junior Minister of the FCDO.

Grant served under the former UK Conservative Prime Minister, David Cameron, as Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Women and Equalities between 2012 and 2015. She was also Minister for Sport and Tourism.

Twitter - Boris Johnson

UK invites India, South Korea, Australia to G7 summer meeting in 2021 with hopes of launching "D10" of leading democracies

The UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, has invited South Korea, India, and Australia to attend the G7 face-to-face meeting on June 11-13, 2021, which the UK is hosting in Carbis Bay, Cornwall.

The invitations are part of a bid by Johnson to turn the G7, a meeting forum for the world’s leading economies, into a forum for the world’s ten leading democracies. Johnson notes that the "D10" meeting will represent over 60% of the people living in democracies around the world.

The move to reformat the G7 has been met with resistance from some diplomatic circles, with France and Italy seeing it as an apparent attempt by the UK to diminish the power of the EU. The move does, however, have broad support from the US, with US President-elect Joe Biden keen to host a summit of democracies in his first year of office.

Johnson has also announced that he wants to host an early virtual G7 leaders' summit in February of 2021, in part to enable Biden to reaffirm US support for multilateralism, which came under great strain under Biden's predecessor. The UK government also confirmed that the agenda for the G7 will focus on:

  • Recovering and rebuilding from the COVID-19 crisis;
  • Championing action on the climate crisis and girls’ education; and
  • Promoting open societies, shared values, and human rights.

News article - The Guardian

Twitter - G7UK

Stronger measures desperately needed to stop pervasive sexual exploitation in development sector, says UK parliamentary report

An inquiry into sexual exploitation in the international development NGO sector by the UK parliament's International Development Committee (IDC) has found evidence of pervasive abuse of those receiving assistance. The report showed that accountability mechanisms to prevent abuses and hold perpetrators accountable are woefully inadequate with limited investigations, poor protection for whistleblowers, and weak safeguarding mechanisms. 

The Chair of the IDC, Sarah Champion, concluded in the report that the development sector was the "last safe-haven" for abusers and that the culture of the development assistance sector itself was a significant factor in the scale of the problem. The report singled out the UN, calling on the international body to stop the routine use of immunity from prosecution during missions as a shield to protect perpetrators.

Changes must go beyond a box-ticking exercise, the report emphasizes, and address the problematic culture of the development sector overall. Authors called for greater localization of programming to start approaching the issue, referring to the process of engaging recipients of assistance in the design and oversight of development programming.  

Inquiry report - IDC

News article - The Guardian

News article - Devex

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

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

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

With trade deal finally secured, UK officially leaves EU

The UK officially left the EU on December 31, 2020, after securing a trade deal on December 24, 2020. The deal will enable the UK and EU member states to continue trading goods free of tariffs and quotas, protecting an estimated £660.0 billion (US$857.0 billion) in annual trade. A deal has not yet been reached on trade in services, which makes up 80% of the UK economy, with negotiations ongoing in this area.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson hailed the agreement as historic and stated that it would enable the UK to be free to establish new trade deals with other countries around the world and would speed up the UK’s ambition to be a science superpower in the future.

It is not yet clear how the UK will cooperate in the future on international development with the EU and whether the UK will seek strong cooperation with the EU in key areas such as migration and conflict prevention in low-income countries.

News article - Associated Press

UK becomes first country to authorize use of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine, announces UK-India collaboration on new COVID-19 vaccine hub

On December 30, 2020, the UK became the first country to authorize the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine. The authorization occurred as COVID-19 cases surged in the UK due to the discovery of a new and even more infectious strain of the disease in the country.

The AstraZeneca vaccine, which was created with the help of Oxford University, uses traditional vaccine technology. It offers hope to low-income countries because of its low cost and easy storage, relative to other approved vaccines to date. AstraZeneca agreed to make no profit on the vaccine during the pandemic which has kept the costs low, and the vaccine (unlike the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine) does not need to be stored at extremely low temperatures, making it far easier to deliver.

AstraZeneca has announced an agreement with the Serum Institute India (SII) to produce one billion doses of the vaccine for low- and middle-income countries. India supplies more than 50% of the world’s vaccines and 25% of the UK’s National Health Service’s generic drugs.

The UK Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab, on a recent visit to India on December 15, 2020, announced that the UK and India together will set up a new virtual vaccine hub to help deliver vaccines for COVID-19 and other deadly viruses.

The new hub will help British and Indian experts share information on clinical trials and regulatory approvals and support the delivery of the COVID-19 vaccine and other vaccines to people who need them in a secure and efficient way. The collaboration is part of a new UK 10-year plan to boost UK-India relations around trade, global health issues, and the climate crisis.  

News article - Associated Press

Press release - UK government

Press release - UK government

UK to provide additional US$61 million in humanitarian assistance to support those impacted by COVID-19 crisis and hunger

The UK government has decided to provide an extra £47 million (US$61 million) in humanitarian assistance to support over one million people especially impacted by the COVID-19 crisis and hunger. The assistance will include support to Syria, South Sudan, Nigeria, Somalia, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Venezuela, Mozambique, as well as the Sahel region of Africa, and is aimed at providing food, nutrition, water, and shelter.

The announcement is part of the UK’s continued global leadership on addressing humanitarian crises and comes after new UN data showed that humanitarian crises are worsening around the world, with 235 million people expected to be "in need of urgent assistance" in 2021, a stark increase compared to 175 million people at the beginning of 2020.

Press release - UK government

Former UK Minister for Overseas Development calls on Prime Minister Johnson to reinstate UK's 0.7% GNI to ODA commitment, prioritize world’s poorest

Lynda Chalker (Baroness Chalker of Wallasey), a former UK Minister for Overseas Development, has called on the UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson to ensure that the UK continues to be a global superpower on international development.

Chalker was Minister for Overseas Development under former Prime Ministers John Major and Margaret Thatcher, and notably, Chalker was in office when international development was managed within the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and prior to the establishment of an independent department.

Chalker wrote in the UK newspaper, The Independent, calling for Boris Johnson to:

  • Reinstate, as quickly as possible, the UK’s commitment to providing 0.7% of its gross national income as official development assistance (ODA);
  • Ensure that the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) fully utilizes the development expertise of staff from the former Department for International Development (DFID) who are now part of the FCDO;
  • Focus UK ODA on poor countries; and
  • Use UK ODA to support best buys that create multiplier effects, including funding for water, hygiene, and sanitation in low-income countries.

News article - The Independent

EU and UK reach post-Brexit deal enabling UK’s participation in EU research program

The EU and the UK officially agreed on a deal on the terms of their future relationship that leaves the door open for UK researchers to participate in Horizon Europe, the EU’s €84.9 billion (US$99.9 billion, 2018 prices) research program for 2021-2027. 

The UK would be required to make a financial contribution to the EU budget to participate in Horizon Europe. The specific terms of cooperation have not yet been agreed on. 

News article – Science|Business

Press release – European Commission

UK plans to hold new climate and development meeting in March 2021 following “dismal levels” of support at December 2020 Climate Ambition Summit

The UK government, which is hosting the COP26 climate conference in late 2021, has indicated that it is planning to set up a meeting in March 2021 to focus on climate and development, bringing together donors and countries that are especially threatened by the climate crisis.

The announcement follows “dismal levels” of support in the form of financial pledges for low-income countries at the Climate Ambition Conference on December 12, 2020, co-hosted by the UK, the UN, and France. 

One of the purposes of the conference was to facilitate rich nations to announce post-2020 pledges, but only a handful of EU countries made new commitments (Germany, Luxembourg, Belgium, Portugal, Austria, Iceland, and Ireland). The disappointing responses leave a significant gap in the funding required to support low-income and small island states to adapt to climate change.

News article - Climate Change News

UK submits climate adaptation plans to UN, aims to help low-income countries tackle and adapt to climate crisis

The UK government has become one of the first countries to submit its climate adaptation plans to the UN to address the climate crisis at home and abroad. The plans were submitted on December 12, 2020, the same day that the UK hosted the Climate Ambition Summit to encourage countries to make greater commitments to tackle climate change, ahead of the COP26 climate conference which the UK will host in Glasgow at the end of 2021.

The plans put adaptation at the center of the UK’s domestic and international climate action, and they cover multiple issues such as the natural environment, infrastructure, business, and industry. The UK’s international climate action plans include: 

  • Maintaining the government’s commitment to double its International Climate Finance (ICF) contribution to £11.6 billion between 2021-2026, with a focus on programs that support: clean energy; sustainable management of land and marine resources; sustainable production of nutritious food; resilience-building for countries and communities to adapt to and cope with the damaging effects of climate change; and the expansion of sustainable cities, infrastructure, and transport;
  • Continuing UK support for the 'Least Developed Countries Initiative for Effective Adaptation and Resilience' (LIFE AR) program;
  • Developing with international partners, including both low- and high-income countries, an Adaptation Research Alliance (ARA) which will be launched at COP26 and aims to deliver action-based, transdisciplinary, practical adaptation and resilience solutions;
  • Supporting the international Risk-informed Early Action Partnership (REAP) which aims to improve response to climate disasters, via a range of activities; and
  • Working to emphasize the importance of nature-based solutions in adaptation and resilience across the globe.

Report - UK Climate Adaptation Communication

Press release - UK government

UK announces US$90 million for UN’s Central Emergency Response Fund and calls for other major economies to contribute

The UK government has announced that it will provide US$90 million to the UN’s Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF), and has called for other major economies to contribute to help meet global humanitarian needs.

The UK is one of the world’s leading humanitarian donors; it committed US$1.8 billion in official development assistance (ODA) for humanitarian action in 2018. The government confirmed its ongoing commitment to providing humanitarian assistance in its statement at the UN General Assembly Plenary Session on Humanitarian Affairs (held on December 11, 2020) and called upon other major economies to step up their financial support, given that 83% of all humanitarian funding is covered by only 10 donors and needs and costs are escalating.

The UN estimates that 1 in 33 people in the world required humanitarian assistance in 2020 and costs are rising with a call for US$28.8 billion in funding required in 2020, rising to US$35.0 billion in 2021 as need increases.

The UK government also called for donors to not only step up funding but to also invest more of their funding in anticipating crises, noting a more proactive response using early warning systems, data, and political solutions could cut costs of humanitarian assistance by 30%.

Press release - UK government

News article - Devex

UK government to retain parliamentary International Development Committee

The UK government has confirmed that the parliamentary International Development Committee (IDC), tasked with holding the government accountable for its development assistance, will not be closed down following the merger of the Department of International Development (DFID) into the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO).

Writing to parliamentarians, the leader of the House of Commons and a Conservative member of Parliament (MP), Jacob Rees-Mogg, stated that the government would not be bringing forward a motion to alter the current parliamentary committee structure following the merger of the DFID and FCO to create the new Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) in September. The government had initially asked for the IDC to be closed down and its functions to be taken up by the Foreign Affairs Committee.

The government’s change of decision likely resulted from strong opposition across parties to abandoning the IDC and its important oversight function of UK official development assistance (ODA). The government proposal would have required a majority vote within Parliament.

The chair of the IDC, Sarah Champion, has thanked MPs from across all parties for their support and said it is a huge relief that the Committee will continue to exist, noting its importance in ensuring proper oversight of UK ODA policy and spending.

News article - Devex

UK becomes first country to approve COVID-19 vaccine

The UK became the first country in the world to authorize the use of the COVID-19 vaccine created by Pfizer-BioNTech on December 3, 2020, after the UK’s medical regulatory board authorized the vaccine under emergency procedures.

The UK, which has purchased 40 million doses of the vaccine, started to inoculate its citizens on December 8, currently with people 80 years old and older, frontline health and social care workers, and care home workers first in line to receive the vaccination.

Most of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines purchased by the UK will arrive next year.

News article - CNN

UK calls for strengthening of UN and African Union partnership

The UK Minister for Africa, James Duddridge, called for the partnership between the UN and African Union (AU) to be strengthened.

Speaking at the UN Security Council high-level debate on cooperation between the UN and the AU, Duddridge highlighted how the UK was already investing US$27 million in the AU's COVID-19 Response Fund and was a strong supporter of the AU’s Continental Early Warning System.

He also noted that the UK supported, on a case-by-case basis, access to UN-assessed contributions for future AU-led operations to support peace.

Duddridge highlighted three areas for which he felt the UN-AU partnership could be further bolstered in the future:

  1. Working together to provide early identification of risk to regional peace and security;
  2. Coordinating efforts to support peaceful resolutions to conflict; and
  3. Joining up to deliver peace agreements, support democratic governance, and build peace.

Press release - UK government

Bulk of UK ODA budget cuts in 2020 due to delayed multilateral payments, capital transfers to UK’s development finance institute

The Independent Commission on Aid Impact (ICAI), the UK’s development assistance watchdog, has released a new report assessing the process by which the UK government managed cuts to its official development assistance (ODA) budget in 2020. The UK government announced in July 2020 that the 2020 ODA budget would be cut by £2.9 billion (US$3.8 billion) as a result of the economic impact of the COVID-19 crisis.

ICAI highlights that the government prioritized not cutting programs that were connected to COVID-19 or to the UK Conservative government manifesto's commitments on topics such as education, ending preventable deaths, climate, economic development, human rights, and security.  

In order to minimize disruption, ICAI also notes that the government deliberately tried to avoid the private sector and NGO suppliers bearing the brunt of the cuts in 2020 and instead focused on multilateral bodies. The report highlights that the majority of the cuts, 89%, were achieved by temporarily withholding payments to multilateral organizations as well as completing capital transfers to the UK’s development finance institution, the CDC Group. Only 11% of the cuts fell on bilateral programs.

While ICAI’s report is predominately positive about how the government managed the process, it has warned that some of the cuts in 2020 are likely to roll over into 2021, as payments to multilateral entities are restarted. The UK government has already announced a further reduction in the UK ODA budget in 2021 with the UK only reaching 0.5% of gross national income (GNI) rather than 0.7% of GNI.

ICAI is critical that the lack of transparency throughout some government processes heightened uncertainty among suppliers and contractors.  

Report - ICAI

News article - Devex