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Reaction: WTO negotiations on patents for COVID-19 Vaccines in developing countries

Responding to news that governments at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) have agreed a deal on patents for COVID-19 vaccines in developing countries, Jim Clarken, CEO, Oxfam Ireland said:

“This is absolutely not the broad intellectual property waiver the world desperately needs to ensure access to vaccines and treatments for everyone, everywhere. The EU, UK, US, and Switzerland blocked that text. This so-called compromise largely reiterates developing countries’ existing rights to override patents in certain circumstances. And it tries to restrict even that limited right to countries which do not already have capacity to produce COVID-19 vaccines. Put simply, it is a technocratic fudge aimed at saving reputations, not lives.

“The conduct of rich countries at the WTO has been utterly shameful. The EU has blocked anything that resembles a meaningful intellectual property waiver. The UK and Switzerland have used negotiations to twist the knife and make any text even worse. And the US has sat silently in negotiations with red lines designed to limit the impact of any agreement. 

“Ireland, represented at the talks by the EU, have continued to show inaction, which now must be seen as a huge moral failure. Furthermore, this inaction is a show of disregard towards the will of the Irish public, given that the majority of the Irish public, the Seanad, the Joint Committee on Enterprise, Trade and Employment and the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence are all in favour of a full TRIPS waiver and have called on the Irish Government to reverse their opposition.

“South Africa and India have led a twenty-month fight for the rights of developing countries to manufacture and access vaccines, tests, and treatments. It is disgraceful that rich countries have prevented the WTO from delivering a meaningful agreement on vaccines and have dodged their responsibility to take action on treatments while people die without them.

“There are some worrying new obligations in this text that could actually make it harder for countries to access vaccines in a pandemic. We hope that developing countries will now take bolder action to exercise their rights to override vaccine intellectual property rules and, if necessary, circumvent them to save lives.”

ENDS

For more information or to arrange an interview please contact:

Alice Dawson Lyons | alice.dawsonlyons@oxfam.org | 0831981869

Notes to editors:

  • Spokespeople are available for interview, including in Geneva, where the WTO is hosting its 12th ministerial conference.
  • The trade related aspects of intellectual property rights (TRIPS) waiver would facilitate the local production of Covid-19 vaccines, tests and treatments in low and middle-income countries. The IP waiver was proposed in October 2020 and is supported by over 100 countries; however it is still being blocked by the EU, the UK, and Switzerland. The final text agreed is a watered down waiver of one small clause of the TRIPS agreement relating to exports of vaccines. It also contains new barriers that are not in the original TRIPS agreement text.
  • In June, the Joint Committee on Enterprise, Trade and Employment formally recommended that the Irish Government supports a TRIPS waiver in the context of COVID-19 vaccines and other measures to ensure equitable and safe distribution of vaccines. This recommendation followed the passage of a unanimous motion in the Seanad in December 2021 calling on the Government to support the TRIPS waiver.

Starvation in the Horn of Africa is political failure

Hirsiyo Mohamed and her daughter, Maryam, at an aid camp in Doolow, southern Somalia in early May. File photograph: Malin Fezehai/New York Times

Just over 10 years ago, former president of Ireland Mary Robinson travelled to the Horn of Africa with Irish development and humanitarian organisations to sound the alarm on a devastating hunger crisis unfolding in the region. More than 13 million people across Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia were at risk due to one of the worst droughts to strike the region in 60 years. As a result of a delayed global response, the 2011 famine claimed the lives of more than 260,000 people in Somalia, half of them children under five.

The international community swore never again. Yet, a decade later, it is estimated that one person is likely to be dying of hunger every 48 seconds in drought-ravaged Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia. Irish development and humanitarian organisations have come together once more to call for urgent and collective action to tackle catastrophic hunger levels in the Horn of Africa and reduce the risk of widespread famine.

The figures are stark. The number of people experiencing extreme hunger in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia has more than doubled since last year — from over 10 million to more than 23 million today, with nearly half a million people in parts of Somalia and Ethiopia facing famine-like conditions.

The United Nations has warned that escalating global food insecurity is putting 750,000 people across five countries in East Africa, including Ethiopia, Somalia and South Sudan — at immediate risk of “starvation or death”. The UN also estimates that 1.5 million Somali children under the age of five will face acute malnutrition throughout this year, including over 385,000 who are likely to suffer severe levels.

Starvation is a political failure — it was in 2011 and it is today. The potential deaths of hundreds and thousands of people, especially children, may come despite clear, repeated and credible warnings from the humanitarian community. The failure to adequately address the deadly combination of climate change, conflict and the economic impact of Covid-19 has left the region in crisis and lives hanging in the balance.

The crisis is now being exacerbated by a global food shortage triggered by the conflict in Ukraine. East Africa imports 90 per cent of its wheat — a staple food for most people in the region — from Ukraine and Russia. Disruptions in grain supply, in addition to soaring prices of oil and fertilisers, are driving regional food prices to an all-time high. In Somalia alone, the prices for staple grains are more than double those of last year.

Equally important is the escalating climate crisis. The Horn of Africa is in the grip of its fourth successive dry rainy season. This year’s March-May season is predicted to be the driest on record. In some places, it hasn’t rained since 2019.

The reality is the most vulnerable communities who are least responsible for the climate crisis are being hardest hit. Rich and industrialised countries have contributed around 92 per cent of excess historical emissions and 37 per cent of current emissions, whereas Africa’s current emissions stand at just 4 per cent. The collective carbon emissions of Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya are 0.1% of the global total.

Meanwhile, conflict — exacerbated by the climate crisis — is also fuelling the hunger crisis. Conflict damages food systems, limiting the ability of farmers to access their land and their pastures.

Ireland has been outspoken at the UN Security Council on highlighting the impact of conflict, climate change and hunger on the ability of people to produce and access food essential to their survival. This voice is needed now more than ever.

We are calling on the Irish Government to demonstrate and hold firm leadership at an international level to ensure an immediate and radical mobilisation of aid in the region. This includes ensuring that rich nations, as well as our own, meet the UN appeal for Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia to help save lives now. The UN estimates that humanitarian funding of US$4.4 billion (€4.2 billion) is required to provide life-saving assistance and protection in the region. At the time of writing, the appeal is drastically underfunded.

Each day of delay unnecessarily exacerbates human suffering, increases the scale of the crisis, and raises the cost of the response.

The members of Dóchas are coming together to sound the alarm on extreme hunger and do all we can to avoid widespread famine. Warnings can no longer be ignored instead, it is imperative that governments, including Ireland, and the international community act now to prevent the catastrophic humanitarian disaster that is unfolding before our very eyes.

Jane-Ann McKenna is chief executive of Dóchas, the Irish network of international development and humanitarian organisations.

Information source, The Irish Times.

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Oxfam Ireland urges Tánaiste Leo Varadkar to support full TRIPS waiver as nearly 30,000 people have died every day from Covid-19 since TRIPS waiver first proposed

A majority of the Irish public, the Seanad and the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Enterprise, Trade and Employment are in favour of a temporarily waiving intellectual property rights for COVID-19 vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics (known as the TRIPS waiver). The TRIPS waiver would facilitate the local production of Covid-19 vaccines, tests and treatments in low and middle-income countries.

Nearly 30,000 people have died every day from Covid-19 since WTO talks on a TRIPS waiver began back in 2020. 81 per cent of people in Ireland have gotten two doses of the Covid-19 vaccine compared to less than 13 per cent of people in low-income countries. The waiver is necessary to address these grave inequities and prevent further death and illness amongst those in the global south.

For more than a year, vaccines were not available and once supplies began, they were sporadic and too often delivered too close to expiry to be used in full. This has limited countries’ ability to plan effective vaccine rollouts. Furthermore, it has undermined trust between the EU and countries in Africa.

The IP waiver was proposed in October 2020 and is supported by over 100 countries; however it is still being blocked by the EU, the UK, and Switzerland. In recent months, the public, the Seanad, the Joint Committee on Enterprise, Trade and Employment as well as leading thinkers in Ireland including Mary Robinson, President Michael D. Higgins, and 350 Irish experts have called for a TRIPS waiver. This call is being ignored by the Irish Government and is resulting in the needless loss of life.

The public and other government bodies are urging the Irish Government to use our influence in the EU to advocate for a TRIPS waiver. Next week, the World Trade Organisation will hold a ministerial conference at which the TRIPS waiver will be up for negotiation. Ireland will be sending representatives to this meeting. However, Ireland is ignoring calls for a full TRIPS waiver. This will result in many more unnecessary deaths. Low-income countries cannot afford to wait any longer.

If you are interested in hearing more about the vaccine inequity, you can watch a conference Oxfam Ireland co-hosted here.

If you would like to email your TD’s to urge the government to support a TRIPS waiver, you can find an email template here.

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800% increase in funding needed for extreme weather emergencies over last 20 years

Rich countries, corporates and individuals most responsible for climate crisis must foot the bill – new Oxfam report

07/06/22

The amount of money needed for UN humanitarian appeals involving extreme weather events like floods or drought is now eight times higher than 20 years ago — and donors are failing to keep up, reveals a new Oxfam brief today. Average annual extreme weather-related humanitarian funding appeals for 2000-2002 were at least $1.6 billion and rose to an average $15.5 billion in 2019-2021, an 819 percent increase.

Rich countries responsible for most of today’s climate change impacts have met only an estimated 54 percent of these appeals since 2017, leaving a shortfall of up to $33 billion. Rich and industrialised countries have contributed around 92 percent of excess historical emissions and 37 percent of current emissions, whereas Africa’s current emissions stand at just 4 percent.

The countries with the most recurring appeals against extreme weather crises — over 10 each — include Afghanistan, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo, Haiti, Kenya, Niger, Somalia, South Sudan and Zimbabwe. Across Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan and Ethiopia more than 24.4 million people now face severe levels of hunger and food insecurity – together, those countries are responsible for just 0.1 percent of current global emissions.

Speaking on the launch of the report, Footing the Bill, Jim Clarken, Oxfam Ireland CEO, said: “The increasing frequency and intensity of extreme weather events due to climate change is putting more and more pressure on an already over-stretched and underfunded humanitarian system. And it is the people in poorer communities and low-income countries who are paying the heaviest costs. Destruction from these storms, droughts and floods is also increasing inequality; those most vulnerable are hardest hit and yet they lack the systems and funding that wealthier countries have to cope with the effects.

“Make no mistake, this is a disaster of our own making. Human activity has created a world 1.1˚C warmer than pre-industrial levels and more alarming still, we will overshoot the 1.5˚C safety threshold on current projections. If we do not heed the warnings now and cut emissions, our shameful inaction will have catastrophic consequences for humanity.”

The UN appeals focus on the most urgent humanitarian needs, but that barely scratches the surface of the real costs in loss and damage that climate change is now wreaking on countries’ economies. The economic cost of extreme weather events in 2021 alone was estimated to be $329 billion globally, the third highest year on record. This is nearly double the total aid given by rich nations to the developing world that year.

The costs of loss and damage to low- and middle-income countries — for instance, the money needed to rebuild homes and hospitals or provide shelter, food and emergency cash transfers after a cyclone — could reach between $290 billion and $580 billion a year by 2030. This does not account for the catastrophic loss of life, cultures and ways of living, and biodiversity.

Clarken continued: “For many of the countries hardest hit by climate change, it is a case of crisis on top of crisis, as they are already facing conflict, the economic fallout of COVID-19 and now the global food crisis further triggered by the war in Ukraine. They cannot be expected to foot the bill for climate-driven loss and damage that they are not responsible for. Rich countries, rich people and big corporations most responsible for causing climate change must pay for the harm they are causing.”

Rich industrialised nations have stymied loss and damage finance negotiations for years. At COP26 in Glasgow, they rejected developing countries’ calls for a new finance facility to address loss and damage and instead agreed to a three-year ‘Glasgow Dialogue’ to discuss future arrangements.

Ahead of 56th sessions of the UNFCCC Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI) in Germany, which includes the first ‘Glasgow Dialogue’ on loss and damage since COP26, Oxfam urges:

  • Rich country governments to pledge bilateral finance to address loss and damage, in addition to existing climate finance and ODA commitments.
  • All governments to agree to establish and fund a finance facility for loss and damage at COP27, with annual contributions based on responsibility for causing climate change and capacity to pay.
  • All governments to agree to make loss and damage a core element of the UNFCCC’s Gender Action Plan.

Download Oxfam’s brief Footing the Bill here.

ENDS

CONTACT: Alice Dawson Lyons | +353 (0) 83 198 1869 | alice.dawsonlyons@oxfam.org

Notes to editors

  • Photos and video from Burkina Faso and Guatemala are available for download.
  • The countries with the most recurring appeals linked to extreme weather (Afghanistan, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Haiti, Kenya, Niger, Somalia, South Sudan, Uganda, Chad, Sudan and Zimbabwe) account for 1.4 percent of global emissions.
  • According to Aon, the total economic cost of extreme weather events in 2021 is estimated at $329 billion globally, the third highest year on record, behind 2017 and 2005.
  • Rich nations provided $178.9 billion in official development assistance (ODA) in 2021. This is equivalent to 0.33 percent of donors’ combined gross national income (GNI) and still below the UN target of 0.7% ODA to GNI.
  • According to estimations by Markandya and González-Eguino, the estimated costs of loss and damage by 2030 range from $290 billion to $580 billion, and according to Climate Analytics from $400 to $431 billion.
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