#27 The G|O Briefing, December 3, 2020


This is an onsite, slightly edited republication of the complete G|O Briefing newsletter.

Today in The Geneva Observer, Le Monde’s Alain Frachon looks at Mike Pompeo's extraordinarily controversial tenure at the US State Department. His piece, which is on our site in French and in English, is a scathing indictment of the man. It's also an eye-opener on the new international coalition of religious State and Non-State Actors that has been built around the so-called "Geneva Consensus Declaration"—the Orwellian name of the divisive, anti-human rights, pro-traditional family, and anti-abortion declaration.

The Declaration was signed last September by some of the most illiberal, anti-women regimes in the world, led, unsurprisingly, by Mike Pompeo. With Trump and Pompeo gone, will the coalition built around the Geneva Consensus disband and the objectives pursued by its supporters abandoned? Don’t count on it. An expert on the religious right tells the G|O: “the movement has immense financial resources at its disposal and will not just stop here.” In the Briefing today, the UN’s attempts to make the weekend’s climate submit more than just another gabfest, the WEF is headed to Singapore, and the new heads of WIPO and WHO Foundation. Also, read to the end for our quiz on a story on the last audit of the Strategic Heritage Plan, the CHF 836 Million plan to renovate the UN’s complex in Geneva. The G|O got its hands on the June 2020 audit and read it, so you don’t have to!


The UN to its Member States,in plain English: Step Up or Shut Up...

... Well, that was, in essence, the UN’s message to its Member States’ leaders in the lead-up to a virtual gathering on Saturday to mark the 5th anniversary of the Paris Agreement. In an event called the ‘Climate Ambition Summit,’ the UN will join forces with UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, French President Emmanuel Macron, Chilean President Sebastián Piñera, and Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte to set out new and ambitious climate change commitments. The UN, along with the countries behind the call for action, are determined not to let the event turn into another gabfest and have not hesitated to ruffle diplomatic feathers in making sure that it doesn’t become one. World leaders are not going to be allowed to just take the floor as they wish. In fact, participation will be conditional upon making new commitments to tackling climate change and delivering on the Paris Agreement. Speaking time will only be allocated to countries willing to:

  • Commit to new, more ambitious, Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs)
  • Share their long-term strategies to set out pathways to net zero emissions
  • Announce climate change finance commitments to support the most vulnerable
  • Or to state crucially ambitious adaptation plans and underlying policies.“We must all maintain our focus on increasing ambition, and there will be no space for general statements,” says the organizers’ statement. “Announcements must show genuine progress from existing policies and Paris targets,” it concludes.

Despite the fact that some missions did not appreciate the UN placing conditions on who, when and how to take the floor, the organizers insist that this is a strategy to create a pathway to a successful COP26 in Glasgow in 2021. As one of the organizers explained to the G|O, there is no more time to waste with empty speeches. “Enough of demagogy.” The specter of the Madrid 25th Conference of Parties (COP25)’s collapse is evidently on the organizers’ minds, particularly on Selwin Hart’s—António Guterres’ special adviser on climate action, said to be the one who pushed for abandoning diplomatic niceties in light of the climate emergency.

With former US Secretary John Kerry as newly appointed climate change czar by Joe Biden—whose administration will re-join the COP on day one—and Xi Jinping’s bold statement about China “achieving carbon neutrality before 2060” (see Eric Berglöf’s piece on our site) the virtual gathering could offer some interesting perspectives on the way forward. It will also follow a ministerial event of the Carbon Neutrality Coalition on December 11, whose members include the four countries pushing for an action-oriented meeting. Positions, in other words, will have been coordinated beforehand. The Chinese 2060 plan is changing the dynamics of the conversation on climate change in China itself. Up until Xi Jinping’s speech, the bulk of the action was concentrated on reducing air pollution. Beijing encouraged private investments and foreign capital to be invested in green finance following a set of governmental “Guiding Opinions.” Another priority was the continuous development of new-energy vehicles to ensure that “virtually all new vehicles sold in China by 2035 are either hybrid or new-energy vehicles.” The Chinese president’s speech actually came as China was embarking on what Reuters described as “a coal-fired power production spree,” by far the sector that accounts for most emissions. Plans are now being revised to fall in line with Xi Jinping’s new line.


The WEF flies to Singapore

The World Economic Forum has announced it will be relocating its annual meeting from Lucerne to almost COVID-free Singapore. Originally, the meeting was to go ahead in a restricted format in Davos, then it was decided to move it to the Bürgenstock Resort near Lucerne.

The most recent decision has come following Switzerland’s—and Western Europe’s generally—failure to cope with a second wave, and potentially a third wave of post-Christmas COVID cases. The special annual meeting will be held between 13 and 16 May. Before that, during the traditional “Davos week,” (25 to 29 January) virtual events will be held “to rebuild trust and shape the principles, policies and partnerships needed for 2021.”

Why is a special, in-person meeting going ahead? “A global leadership summit is of crucial importance to address how we can recover together,” says Klaus Schwab, WEF Founder and Executive Chairman. Another reason could be that the WEF’s annual jamboree is a massive money maker, accounting for 14% of the Forum’s annual revenues. While we are still waiting for more details on the specifics (Davos normally swells by around 20,000 people during the summit and anything like those numbers will likely not be possible), simply holding the meeting in-person is also a gamble from an optics standpoint.

The spectacle of business and government elites flying around the world in private jets at a time when most of the world could still be under travel restrictions would not be a good look. However, “Davos” has already become a byword for a hypocritical and out-of-touch globalized elite flying in private jets to discuss the need for action on curbing emissions, so perhaps the PR damage is already done.

From Switzerland’s perspective, however, nervous questions remain. Although the WEF’s press release states unequivocally that “it will return to Davos-Klosters for the Annual Meeting 2022,” is this a one-off, or is it the beginning of a shift symbolic of the Asia-Pacific pivot? Is Switzerland’s traditional—and privileged—position as host state more a result of historical path dependencies, or do the Alpine nation’s location and policies truly add value? The news is already making waves in the Swiss German press. An NZZ article featuring Philipp Wilhelm, the 32-year-old new socialist mayor of Davos, says: “The politician used to demonstrate against the WEF, now he has to get it back.” It may be that while in theory, they would prefer the ‘capitalist’s convention’ not to happen at all, if it’s going to happen, then it might as well happen here.


Elsewhere in the ecosystem

Time for a little quiz on a real story of concern to quite a few of the G|O readers:

An already busy IT helpdesk gets an additional 1000 workstations to handle. How many more people do you hire? Correct answer: none! You spend $US4 million a year on a cleaning service. Is the service a) on-site and working 24/7, b) available on demand when you call them, or c) around every once in a while? Correct answer: B! Really! Your magnificent historical palazzo, built on a hill in 1934, has 26,000 meters of original heating pipes. For how many more years do you expect them to provide you comfort? Even taking into account that heating pipes do not corrode because they don’t contain air? But given the fact that replacing them is a $14 million job, you’d still plan ahead, right? You say yes. Wrong! The correct answer is no! Friends, this is, told as it is, some of the few surprises taken from the last, and somewhat damning, audit of the Strategic Heritage Plan, the CHF 836 million plan to renovate the UN complex in Geneva. Dated June 2020, the doc is hush-hush. We read it for you. Our story is on our website.

WHO Foundation appoints US pharma executive as CEO

The WHO Foundation announced yesterday (December 7) the appointment of Anil Soni, head of global infectious diseases at the US-based pharmaceutical company Viatris, as its first Chief Executive Officer, effective January 1, 2021. The WHO Foundation was set up in May to try and address WHO’s perennial funding issues: It’s meant to raise funds from wealthy individuals, foundations, and private interests and provide WHO with a reliable pot of money. Its target is to raise CHF 1 billion in 2021. There are big conflict of interest questions here over whether the Foundation will essentially allow WHO to get funds from sources it wouldn’t normally be able to. In a Devex interview, Soni didn’t quite assuage those fears:

“I'm moving to the WHO Foundation from Viatris. Viatris is one of the world's largest generic and specialty pharmaceutical companies. We literally make nearly half of all the AIDS medicines in the world. The WHO would not accept a check from the company Viatris or even from the Viatris Foundation, even if it was intended to support something that was not oriented towards our particular area of interest or our particular set of medicines. But the WHO Foundation absolutely could do that.”

This is clearly the point for WHO. "Anil has a unique set of skills that spans the public and private sectors," said WHO chief Dr. Tedros Adhanon Ghebreyesus. Indeed, Soni started his career as a business analyst for McKinsey, the business consultancy, helping to set up the Geneva-based Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria, and then joined the Fund as a senior advisor between 2002 and 2004.

In his mid-twenties at the time, he was reportedly the youngest D1 in International Geneva, according to a former health official. He also held the post of CEO at the influential Clinton Health Access Initiative (2005-2010) and was also a senior advisor for HIV at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (2010-2011). In late 2012 he joined Mylan pharmaceuticals company (which in November 2020 merged with Upjohn, a division of Pfizer, to create Viatris). In 2017, Soni was also a finalist for the top post at the Global Fund.


WIPO's Tang Swings into Action

Daren Tang, the new Head of the World Intellectual Property Organization, describing WIPO as “the World’s innovation agency,” provided clear insights on where he wants to take the agency on his watch in his first virtual press encounter.

A former semi-professional jazz musician while at law school, Tang went on to pursue a career as an international lawyer and negotiator for the government of Singapore. In a departure from the low-key professorial style of his Australian predecessor, Francis Gurry (whose tenure and actions have been controversial), Tang forcefully argued the importance of bringing Intellectual Property (IP) out of the world of registrations and onto the world stage.

"We need to connect IP to the world … we need to mainstream IP.” He said, continuing, "We need to start seeing [IP] not only as a vertical but also as a horizontal catalyst for jobs, for enterprise growth, economic development, and social and cultural vibrancy. … IP is a tool to make our lives better." - Daren Tang

He also said WIPO needs to help enterprises take IP ideas to market, noting that this is particularly important for SMEs and start-ups throughout the world, outlining his desire for WIPO to reach out to young stakeholders.


Today's Briefing: Philippe Mottaz - Jamil Chade -

Edited by: Paige Holt