Guyana’s tenure as Chair of the Group of 77 (G-77), the largest intergovernmental organization of developing countries in the United Nations system ended in mid-January 2021. When it assumed the chair in January 2020, over a week after St Vincent and the Grenadines became the smallest country ever to be appointed to the UN Security Council, the GOFAD blog (January 9, 2020) heralded ‘Caribbean Leadership at the UN as grasping opportunities to enhance the region’s profile and influence’. Apart from some official statements and reports in the media very little is known to truly assess Guyana’s performance and impact. A report will no doubt be disseminated nationally and regionally. It will hopefully be the basis of national and regional discussions that would provide useful observations and lessons learned. Herein lies an opportunity for fostering civic engagement and fulfilling one of the goals of functional cooperation by contributing to foreign policy coordination in the CARICOM Community.
Some Areas of Interest
At the start of the new Decade of 2020, the international arena is consumed by mandates to achieve the comprehensive targets of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Within this framework for action, the most prominent for both the Security Council and the G-77 are peace and security, climate change, equality and inclusiveness and financing for development. Within the G-77, Guyana as Chair would have had greater leverage than St Vincent and the Grenadines as a non-permanent member of the Security Council. This has more to do with the structure of the G-77 and the more flexible scope of its programmes than with the competence of the diplomats involved. On 13 March 2020, UN Headquarters entered into a complete lockdown due to the rapid spread of the Novel Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in New York City and around the world.
COVID-19 : A Constraint or Opportunity
Like most organizations, COVID19 accelerated the UN's adaptation of telecommunication and online platforms. The issues of concern are: How much did the change in method of work effect of the UN and G-77; the nature of consultations among G-77 members; the Chairpersons in the G-77 Chapters; and the channels of communication among the Guyana Coordinating Team in New York, other locations and the capital, Georgetown?. How did the Group stay engaged and active with its main mandates through the changing working methods? The Group reaffirmed that the imposition of unilateral coercive economic measures against developing countries are impediments to economic and social development and to dialogue and understanding among countries. But was there a call for more resources to be mobilized in a timely manner to accelerate implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development? .
There are reports of two meetings of the Chairpersons of the G-77 Chapters, held virtually on 15 September and 11 December 2020, with a keynote address by H.E. Mr. Hugh Todd, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of Guyana, at the opening of the first meeting. He stressed the need for deepening South-South cooperation and coordination within the Group, especially due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and noted that the long-term impacts of the pandemic were yet to be fully assessed. But there has been no elaboration on the divisions in opinions that prevailed within the G-77, nor updates on the outcomes of the Chapters' engagements for 2020, except echoes of the need to harmonize their work. What therefore was done to keep the channels of communication open between the Chapters, exchange of substantive ideas, share documents and disseminate relevant statements and agreements that needed to be highlighted? There are many more questions.
Biodiversity and Climate Change
It is widely recognized that climate change and biodiversity are interrelated. The United Nations and Britain co-hosted a Global Climate Ambitious Summit, virtually, on December 12, 2020 to mark the fifth anniversary of the landmark Paris Agreement. It was viewed as a preparation for the UN Climate Change Conference (COP-26) in Glasgow, Scotland in November-December 2021. The stage was set for Guyana to play a prominent role in the run up to the Climate Ambitious Summit. In September, 2020, H.E. Dr. Mohammed Irfaan Ali, President of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana, delivered two statements on behalf of the Group of 77 and China at the Biodiversity Summit and the Climate Change Forum in Commemoration of the 75th Observance of the United Nations. President Ali sent a strong and positive signal on G-77’s commitment to multilateralism and its resolve to strive for peace, justice and development. He also advocated the importance of strengthening solidarity to address the development challenges. It would however be important to learn what were the strategies developed within the G-77 process to deal with the seven (7) interrelated thematic programmes established by the Conference of the Parties (COP), all of which are at the centre the Caribbean’s priorities. They include agriculture, dry and sub human lands, forestry, inland waters, marine, costal and mountain diversities. That the University of Guyana has established a graduate programme in Biodiversity will peek the interests of that community in particular, for possible partnerships with institutions in the G-77 countries. Biodiversity and Climate action are also high on the agenda of the CARICOM Community and is also of interest to businesses, local authorities and NGOs. Taken in context it is part of the quest to strengthen South-South Cooperation. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is closely allied to Guyana's promotion of the priorities of the Alliance of Small Island States. To what extent was this high on the agenda of G-77?
Intersection of G-77 and UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC)
ECOSOC is at the heart of the UN system to advance three dimensions of sustainable development -- economic, social and environmental. The intersection of G-77 and ECOSOC must focus on how, following the setback imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, developing countries can get back on track with the achievement of the 2030 Agenda. What was the nature of discussions on enhancing productive capacity, diversifying the productive base?
Conclusion: Toward Social, Distributive and Reparatory Justice
Barbados Prime Minister, Hon. Mia Mottley at the Virtual Pivot Event coordinated by the IDB, October 16, 2020 aptly frames the aspirational goal for Guyana’s role at the G-77, as “time to pivot the Caribbean as a global leader.” For grasping the opportunity to "pivot the Caribbean", we complement the Government of Guyana, the Guyana Permanent Representatives to the UN, H.E. Rudolph Tempow and his successor H.E Carolyn Rodriques-Birkett, and leader of the Guyana G-77 Coordinating Team, Ambassador Neil Pierre. We look forward to engagements in which the Coordinating Team will share the lessons learned from its experience in chairing the G-77 in these challenging times. Success is defined by how effective was the attempt to create a level playing field through the rules-based multilateral UN system, and promote the full participation by all peoples in the benefits of sustainable development. In this regard, the Coordinating Team stimulated global consciousness by leading G-77 to unanimously support the draft resolution on the World Summit for Social Development and the substantive amendments to Elimination of Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and related Intolerance, a follow-up to the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action. These are fundamental pillars to social, distributive and reparatory justice.
Edward and Auriol Greene Directors, GOFAD.