Dear G20: The virus doesn’t discriminate but humans do

Dear G20 finance ministers, central bank governors and heads of state 

In the upcoming meetings of the G20, the European Council and other national and international fora, you will be discussing how to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic and the deepening economic crisis. 

Trillions of dollars of public money are being put on the table, and sweeping plans are being discussed — the decisions taken now by governments, financial institutions, regulators and investors will shape our world for decades to come. 

The Covid-19 pandemic is teaching us a lesson about the importance of care, equity and balance. The health crisis is hitting virtually every country and community. Although the virus does not discriminate based on race, gender or class, human systems do. As with the deepening climate crisis, the vulnerable, the poor, women and the excluded are the ones paying the highest price.

While we witness an unprecedented disruption of business as usual, the pandemic also keeps highlighting the stark disparities and injustices in our societies. Illness and school closures are exacerbating the inequalities in healthcare and unpaid care work, 70% of which is carried out by women. Hundreds of millions of people have been pushed into poverty and hunger. Most governments don’t have the resources needed to face this formidable challenge. 

This is a choice point for all of you. One that will go down in history books as either the moment when you truly stepped up to the challenge, or the moment when you caved in to powerful elites, used our public resources to shore up special interests or simply tried to restore the status quo ante and increase inequality.

What we need is a healthy, green, feminist and just recovery. 

This means rebuilding our economies in a way that works for everyone. It means progressive tax reforms to guarantee and invest in universal access to healthcare, education, social protection, and a clean environment as basic human rights. It means protecting workers’ rights and creating millions of fairly paid jobs in industries that contribute to the deep decarbonisation needed and which don’t hurt the environment and our communities. 

It means addressing gender-based violence and ensuring adequate pay and safe working conditions for care workers — during the crisis, but above all in the long term. Building more equal feminist economies that support men and women caregivers through paid sick, family and medical leave from work. It also means enacting nationally and globally equitable solutions to the climate crisis, so that no one is unfairly left behind to deal with the effects  of climate change. 

Such a just recovery can only be achieved if lower-income countries are freed from the burden of structural adjustment programmes and debt, and are able to mobilise the resources to face the immediate needs created by the pandemic as well as the longer-term, systemic change towards low-carbon economies and energy systems. 

It is also essential that civil society activists and organisations that speak truth to power and advocate for the needs of the excluded, are involved in decision making and protected in the exercise of their functions through respect for civic freedoms.

As the decision-makers in the richest countries on the planet, you are expected to make these decisions in the interests of the many. Those trillions of dollars are our money. The lives at stake are our lives. The future hanging in the balance is our future. You have a responsibility towards present and future generations to be loyal stewards of the public good.

Yet, vast amounts of public money have already been spent on supporting fossil fuel corporations and other polluting industries, mostly with no strings attached. Rather than investing in a better future, you’re dragging us back into the past. 

But we are reaching the point of no return. So, we the undersigned, representing civil society organisations from all fields, are putting you on notice. 

You are still in time to make the right call and make sure that the resources available for the recovery will be spent on reducing inequalities, ensuring gender justice, repairing injustice, recognising and putting an end to structural racism, avoiding climate change and the resulting extinction of entire ecosystems. 

The only acceptable response to the Covid-19 crisis is to enact recovery plans that aim to fix what’s broken in our societies and start us on a new path to a more just and sustainable future for all.


May Boeve, executive director,

Julia Sánchez, secretary general, ActionAid

Lidy Nacpil, Asian Peoples’ Movement on Debt and Development

Pascal Vollenweider, Climate Campaign director, Avaaz

Rajiv Joshi, founder, Bridging Ventures

Kieran Suckling, executive director, Centre for Biological Diversity

Lysa John, secretary general, Civicus

Tasneem Essop, executive director, Climate Action Network

Catherine Abreu, executive director, Climate Action Network Canada

Luisa Neubauer, Fridays For Future Germany

Beckie Malay, Salina Sanou and Riccardo Moro, global co-chairs, Global Call to Action Against Poverty

Jennifer Morgan, executive director, Greenpeace International

Yeb Saño, director, Greenpeace Southeast Asia

Nnimmo Bassey, director, Health of Mother Earth Foundation 

Sarah-Jayne Clifton, director, Jubilee Debt Campaign

José Maria Vera, executive director (interim), Oxfam International

Tzeporah Berman, international programme director, Stand.Earth

André-Yanne Parent, executive director, The Climate Reality Project Canada

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