After UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson reshuffled his government ministers on Sept. 15, Britain now has a new person in charge of all things related to international development and foreign affairs.
Liz Truss is the new foreign secretary who will be heading up the Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Office (FCDO), taking over from Dominic Raab.
This means there will potentially be new decisions made that will impact the UN’s Global Goals — the 17 urgent priorities for the world which aim to end extreme poverty by 2030.
So who is Truss? The first woman in the Conservative party to hold the position of foreign secretary, Truss is an experienced politician who has held several other roles in cabinet since becoming an MP in 2010, including as environment minister and justice secretary. She will continue her role as women and equalities minister in her new role.
Truss is known for her strong beliefs in free-market economics, and in her most recent position as international trade secretary, she was concentrating on securing trade deals in the Indo-Pacific region, according to Reuters.
But what about fighting poverty? With the COVID-19 pandemic pushing an estimated 115 million more people into extreme poverty and a summer of extreme weather events highlighting the overwhelming need for urgent climate adaptation measures globally, it’s clear any new foreign secretary has their work cut out. This is especially true as the UK went ahead with billions in cuts to its overseas aid budget earlier this year, voting through the decision in parliament in July.
Stephanie Draper, the CEO of Bond, a UK network of international development charities and aid agencies, said after the announcement: “This year has hit home the need for global cooperation to deal with climate change, the rise in extreme poverty, and ongoing humanitarian crises. But this, undoubtedly, has been made harder by the cuts to UK aid.”
“It is critical that the new foreign secretary uses the upcoming international development strategy to ensure UK aid remains poverty-focused,” Draper said, adding that “the whole portfolio of the FCDO should focus on long-term, sustainable development for the most marginalised communities”.
Here’s what Global Citizen would like to see Truss focus on as she steps into her new role.
Supporting low-income countries to fight climate change
Low-income countries have done the least to cause the climate crisis but are already bearing the brunt of the worst effects of it.
Climate change and poverty are inextricably linked, with people in the poorest communities in the world disproportionately impacted by issues like food and water insecurity and air pollution.
Global Citizen wants to see Truss join her colleague, Alok Sharma, the UK's president for COP26, in calling out the “searing injustice” of the impact of climate change on low-income countries and ensuring that climate adaptation is prioritised and well-funded. That includes ensuring that climate finance for developing countries is funded directly and doesn’t get taken out of the UK aid budget.
Support vaccine access to end the pandemic
No one is safe until we are all safe and yet wealthier countries have made it harder for the whole world to be vaccinated against COVID-19, by hoarding vaccine doses as soon as they became available.
Almost 90% of people over the age of 16 have had at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose in the UK, while only 1.9% of people in low-income countries can say the same.
The foreign secretary is responsible for overseeing the delivery of vaccines around the world.
The UK aims to share 100 million doses of its surplus COVID-19 vaccines by June 2022, and after much delay, finally sent its first batches this July. Some 80% of the total doses will go to COVAX, a vaccine sharing facility set up to ensure every country has equitable access, while the remaining 20 million will be sent to countries directly.
But at a time when vaccines are needed urgently, the UK will only share 25 million doses before the end of the year, which is too little and too slow.
The facility needed 2 billion this year, but COVAX had to revise its vaccine delivery targets for this year downwards in September because of supply shortages caused by export restrictions and manufacturing delays. That means low and middle-income countries can expect a shortfall on doses and a slow-down of vaccine roll-out programmes.
Global Citizen is calling on G7 countries, including the UK and the European Union to share 2 billion doses of the COVID-19 vaccine as soon as possible.
That means Global Citizen is also calling on Truss to support a faster and more ambitious vaccine sharing programme in the UK to save lives and ensure the world can truly recover from the pandemic
Champion girls’ education
In 2020 a historic 1.5 billion children globally were out of school due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and it’s estimated that millions may never return.
This blow to education has been particularly bad for the progress that was being made to get more girls into school globally. It’s feared, for example, that 1.2 million girls in Asia will never go back to school, while UNICEF estimated in March that over 10 million more girls were at risk of child marriage, compared to before the pandemic.
It’s vital that the UK supports efforts to encourage girls back to school and end child marriage for good.
Tackle rising global hunger
Global hunger rose during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a report released by the UN in July. That’s because economic shutdowns dented people’s incomes to buy food while food production slowed as fewer people migrated to take up agricultural jobs.
As well as the effect of COVID-19, the climate crisis and ongoing conflicts around the world have also had an impact on food security in the past 18 months and now 155 million people around the world face acute food insecurity.
A report from Donor Tracker that Global Citizen recently reported on argues that the issue has become so serious that countries will need to double their investments in food and nutrition security through 2030 in order to solve it.
Global Citizen supports that recommendation and is calling on world leaders to address the hunger crisis as part of its Recovery Plan for the World campaign.
Unfortunately, the UK aid cuts have only made things worse. According to a report from Save the Children in May, a drastic 80% cut to nutrition programmes will have put tens of thousands more children at risk of famine this year.
It’s vital that more spending and focus on tackling malnutrition is a priority for the FCDO going forward.
Restore UK aid
This isn’t really in Truss’s remit — it’s actually the treasury that controls financial decisions, and it was chancellor Rishi Sunak who made the call to cut billions from UK aid in his budget in November last year.
But Truss will be an influential voice in the aid debate moving forwards. The cuts have led to devastating closures of vital programmes helping to alleviate hunger, provide health care, uphold women’s rights, and help girls’s stay in school, among other aims, all over the world. The UN has said the cuts to efforts to stop Neglected Tropical Diseases alone could cause 30,000 needless deaths.
Many of the challenges that the world faces require strong aid budgets from wealthy countries to deliver. This must be an idea that Truss gets behind.