#25 The G|O Briefing, November 26, 2020

To ski or not to ski? The question is more than just financial this year.

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

Today in The Geneva Observer, as the weather draws in and temperatures drop, Angela Merkel is calling for the general closure of ski resorts across the EU, while Swiss Health Minister Alain Berset has defended the decision not to force Swiss resorts to close. To ski or not to ski? The question is more than just financial this year.

Cases have been falling consistently over the last few weeks and the situation seems to be improving for the moment. In Geneva, the gradual process of reopening has begun. The G|O team is looking good, having gone though long spurs of ‘digital detox’ and walks around the lake to see the Jet d’eau, turned back on as symbol of Geneva’s gradual lifting of measures.  In June, after it had been off for over 80 days during lockdown 1.0, it had been switched on by Dr. Tedros at a ceremony meant to “highlight the importance of international cooperation in the fight against the pandemic.” Chastened perhaps by some of the worst figures in Europe, no such fanfare or WHO approval this time around.

With the return of the US in the multilateral fold, International Geneva will be growing again. Not so Britain and its less global aspirations.

A few days ago, we published a piece written by Obama-era State Department official Marie Anne Slaughter.  She wrote that:

“Faced with a global pandemic and climate change, political leaders around the world … will find that investing in domestic resilience and international diplomacy and development makes more sense than boosting military budgets.”

It seems, however, that “faced with a global pandemic and climate change,” the British government has not found this. Instead, in the past week, they announced the biggest military spending increase since the Cold War and a slashing of the overseas aid and development budget.
In terms of priorities, the UK announced its strategy would focus only on countries in which its “development, security, and economic interests align.” Not quite ‘Britain first’ but the taste is similarly bitter.
In 2021, the UK will be chairman of the G7 and hosting the COP26 meeting (which has been delayed by one year—to be held in 2021 in Glasgow). It is, nominally at least, attempting to boost its post-Brexit, ‘Global Britain’ brand as a major player in international affairs. But although the move has been heavily criticised by many within and without the UK, it’s unlikely the opposition will lead to any change in policy.

As the decision was only announced yesterday, it’s unclear as yet exactly when and how this will impact International Geneva, although it certainly will: the UK is one of the world’s biggest donor countries. This said, most funding decisions for the next year are set, so it may take a year or so to trickle through. With COVID-19 recessions across the board, it is expected the UK is just the first of many to cut aid spending, which will have a massive effect on NGOs and others in international development.

Does WHO indirectly incentivize the kind of funding it wants to avoid?

Another story we’ve been covering is the issues around WHO’s financing. One of the specific issues stated over and over again is the discrepancy between funding that comes into WHO for specific projects and money that WHO is able to do what it wants with. The problem is twofold: one of reliability, the other of its freedom of action. Eighty percent of WHO’s funding is voluntary, meaning that WHO has issues planning long-term—a problem when it comes to health. The fact that most of those voluntary contributions are earmarked for specific projects means it also doesn’t have control over its working priorities.

This issue is garnering more and more visibility. Global health policy experts have long been vocal that this is as a critical issue for WHO moving forward. At the WHA in May, Swiss President Sommaruga explicitly said that one of the issues was its arbitrary mode of payment to WHO. She asked: “Is it decent to demand so much from WHO and to pay so arbitrarily?” WHO seems to agree, praising loudly countries that give more flexible funding. But a recent working paper published by the Graduate Institute’s Global Health Centre’s findings imply that WHO’s structures incentivise precisely the opposite type of funding.

Written by co-director of the Global Health Centre Suerie Moon and researcher Fumi Kurihara, the paper suggests that countries that do not earmark their contributions are actually less able to wield influence on specific issues. One of the global health policymakers they interview highlighted that if you don’t earmark your contribution—that is to say, if you haven’t specifically funded a project—“you tend to know less about what’s going on, you tend to have less access to the Secretariat information,” and you are not necessarily invited to the meetings related to that project.

The paper concludes: “As long as earmarking comes with certain informal but substantive privileges and benefits within the organization, there is and will be an incentive for governments to continue providing earmarked contributions.”

And finally, we are introducing a new periodic feature in our Briefing: a webinar selection! While we at The G|O encourage you all to spend time away from the screen if you do find a spare couple of hours down the sofa, we thought we could share our picks for some of the incredibly interesting stuff we come across emanating from the international Geneva landscape. Please send us your recommendations and why to talktothego@thegenevaobserver.com.
Our pick this week is the recent conversation between Richard and Richard, aka Richard Baldwin and Rick Samans, on the future of work.
Organized by the newly created TASC Platform of the Graduate Institute, with a little help from the Swiss government; it is a good primer to sink your teeth into one of the most important questions facing societies today, and even more so when we think about post-pandemic ‘building back better.’

The labor environment is incredibly complex, and while it is being fundamentally reshaped by technology, there is also a broader set of paradigm changes at work here. As the authors of The Work of The Future, Building Better Jobs in an Age of Intelligent Machines—a new MIT study—write, this doesn’t necessarily mean a grim future: “History and economics show no intrinsic conflict among technological change, full employment, and rising earnings.” In fact, the central problem is that the labor market is “skewed towards the top.” That even in an economy generating plenty of jobs (at least until COVID-19) “the majority of workers have tasted only a tiny morsel of a vast harvest.” In the present volatile environment, labor protections and regulations matter more than ever.

Today's Briefing: Philippe Mottaz

Edited by: Paige Holt