Biden and Harris herald a welcome new dawn for global governance

Published on 20 January 2021

On the day of the new US President’s inauguration, there are positive signs that the new administration could bring about rapid transformation in global politics – above all in tackling climate change by promoting dialogue, cooperation and collaboration. This comes at a pivotal moment ahead of the upcoming COP26 summit and growing public support for collective action. With the world watching, President Joe Biden and Vice-President Kamala Harris present a hope that the US will shift policy towards action on climate change.

The signals are positive with Joe Biden having declared that he will re-join the Paris Climate agreement and is reported to be cancelling the Keystone XL pipeline permit.  But this will need to be a sustained commitment and prioritised alongside a range of critical issues that from a development perspective will have a fundamental impact on realising economic, social and environmental justice.

Commenting, Melissa Leach, Director at the Institute of Development Studies, said: “This is a critical year in global geopolitics as we begin the recovery from the Covid pandemic and face before us an opportunity to ‘reset’ our societies and economies for the better. The global health crisis and accelerating impacts of climate change painfully illustrate how interdependent and interconnected the world is. This is why it is so important for the new US President and his administration to enact their commitment to foster international cooperation between all nations.

“The US has an opportunity to inspire lasting change on climate change by leading on global policymaking and including the voices of those in extreme poverty suffering the starkest climate change impacts.”

At a time when the key challenges of climate change, Covid-19 and extreme poverty are universal, complex and truly global, the new US administration could lead to positive transformation on a range of development issues by:

1. Committing to the World Health Organisation

The US has the power and influence to help reform and strengthen global health governance, to encourage cooperation between all nations with the WHO and UN systems and to navigate constructively a new era with new global powers, including China. This is critical in the recovery from the Covid pandemic, particularly in gaining support for the WHO’s repeated calls for global solidarity to ensure fair access to safe and effective treatments and vaccines.

2. Encouraging global action on the Sustainable Development Goals

More needs to be done to make the universality of development a driving force for change and coordinate actions between nations, for example engaging with and influencing the China Belt and Road Initiative. This is the time for the US to show leadership in investing USAID not only in urgent aid relief but also in long-term development and the research and evidence needed to tackle the most pressing global challenges and help meet the SDG targets at home and abroad.

3. Reversing the ‘global gag rule’

Women in low-income countries should be able to receive the healthcare they need and to be able to exercise their reproductive rights. The ‘global gag rule’, placing restrictive conditions on NGOs in receipt of USAID and preventing them from providing legal abortion advice or services, has continued to expand since 2017. This is an issue that urgently needs to be rectified to prevent further damage to the sexual and reproductive health of many women in some of the poorest countries.

4. Acting to tackle injustices

The Biden/Harris Presidential term is an opportunity to bring greater understanding of the pervasive power imbalances and bring forward inclusive policies on race, gender, LGBTQI issues and freedom of religion and belief. The US President can set a positive example for recognising these social injustices and taking steps to rectify them.

5. Rebuilding trust in evidence and expertise

The global ‘infodemic’ is having severe implications for governance and recovery from the Covid pandemic by damanging trust between communities, policy makers and health experts. The US has a role to play in tackling misinformation and disinformation, the digital companies that publish it and the role it is playing in society. This is an urgent issue for the ongoing response to the Covid-19 pandemic, particularly for a successful roll-out and uptake for vaccination.

6. Developing progressive trade policies

Progressive trade policies are needed to ensure that the gains from trade are shared fairly – in ways that protect and enhance livelihoods, create equal outcomes, account for labour standards, and do not violate climate commitments or food security. There is an opportunity for the US to re-evaluate its trade and investment policies toward strengthening partnerships and investing in knowledge sharing as well as financial and technological investments. Trade policies should also be aligned with cooperation and collective action for global sustainability as an imperative rather than an afterthought.

7. Investing in research for development and mutual learning

Against a backdrop in the UK of significant cuts to Aid funding, it is vital that the US provides global leadership by renewing its commitment to multi and trans-disciplinary science needed for global challenges. The complexity and interrelatedness of Climate Change and Covid-19 demonstrate how vital it is to sustain support in equitable research partnerships and mutual-learning between low-middle and high-income countries.


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