With the results of the US presidential election looming, there is a collective sense of waiting with bated breath for the outcome. There can be no doubt it comes at a crucial juncture for international development, with only ten years to meet the UN Sustainable Development Goals deadline and with the world facing multiple global challenges – Covid-19, climate and environmental change, poverty, inequality and injustice.
These are shared global issues that impact us all and require international cooperation and leadership. A new presidential term presents opportunities for the US to re-engage positively on these critical and time-sensitive development issues, at national and international policy levels. If we had the opportunity, we would ask the new President to address these ten areas as priorities:
1. Putting climate and the environment first
As the US is officially due to withdraw from the Paris Agreement on climate change on the 4th November one of the first actions of a new President should be to recommit to the Paris Agreement. Crucially, a new President needs to commit to national level investment and regulation to curb polluting industries and promote nature-based solutions to climate and environmental problems, supporting the vital system changes needed to secure everyone’s futures, and contributing to climate justice locally and globally.
2. Committing to the World Health Organisation (WHO)
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.
The WHO’s repeated calls for global solidarity in relation to Covid-19 highlight how important cooperation is for tackling the pandemic effectively and for ensuring fair access to safe and effective treatments and vaccines. The US did not take part in the recent global vaccine initiative and suspended financial contributions to the WHO. A new President should immediately reverse these decisions.
3. Prioritising the Sustainable Development Goals
We have now entered the ‘decade of delivery’ for the UN SDGs that were established to ensure that no-one is left behind. Yet 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.
4. 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.
5. Tackling injustices
The tragic death of George Floyd made us all acutely aware of the terrible and deep-seated injustices and inequalities that exist in the US and around the world. The next 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.
6. Tackling misinformation
Digital technologies and innovations have brought new opportunities to people all over the globe, but they are also bringing new challenges and disruptions. The new global phenomena of misinformation – what the WHO has termed the ‘infodemic’ – is having severe implications for the Covid-19 pandemic and beyond, including trust between communities and their leaders.
The US has a role to play in helping to tackle this 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 a vaccine, if and when one becomes available.
7. Strengthening international cooperation
Covid-19 has painfully illustrated how interdependent and interconnected the world is. Instead of focusing on national interest, a priority for the next President should be one that aims to restore respect for the international rule-based system, and to encourage cooperation, respect and learning between all nations – high- middle- and low-income.
8. Reforming international tax systems
$240 billion are lost every year into tax avoidance by multinational companies. As developing countries rely more heavily on corporate income tax revenue, they suffer disproportionately from multinational tax avoidance. The G20/OECD Inclusive Framework is a new body leading the reform of international rules for taxing multinational companies and has 134 country members, including the US. Within this framework is an opportunity for the US to play a critical role in tax reform, to ensure the dominant US tech companies such as Amazon, Google and Facebook pay their fair share of tax within the countries they operate.
9. Developing progressive trade policies
Accompanying development strategies should be progressive trade policies 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. Now is also 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.
10. Invest in research for development and mutual learning
There are no easy technical solutions to the development challenges we all face and it is important that the US, as a powerful and influential nation, invests in the multi and trans-disciplinary science needed. This must involve bringing together STEM scientists with social scientists, academics from the arts and humanities, business and entrepreneurial innovators, public services and citizens. To deliver, the US should support equitable research partnerships and mutual-learning between low-middle and high-income countries.