G77+China: Should we care?

The G77, a coalition of 135 nations, represents two-thirds of the membership of the UN—and 80% of the world’s population

Stephen Kimber and John Kirk / September 28, 2023

Argentina’s President Alberto Fernandez delivering a speech during the G77+China Summit at the Convention Palace in Havana, September 15, 2023. Photo courtesy President of the Argentine Republic/Flickr.

It seems to be the season of international summits. But which ones will matter most to the future of the planet?

Last month the leaders of BRICS—representing the economies of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa—gathered in Johannesburg to discuss expanding their membership with the goal of becoming a geopolitical alternative to Western-led initiatives.

Earlier this month the leaders of the world’s richest 20 countries that make up the G20, one of those key Western-led fora, met in New Delhi to talk about their own views on the state of the global economy.

But the September 15-16 summit in Havana, with the unusual moniker of “Group of 77 plus China” may well ultimately turn out to be the most significant for the future of the Global South and, by extension, all of us.

The G77 is a coalition of 134 developing countries formed in 1964. It seeks to support the collective economic interests of the Global South, and to strengthen its shared interests in the United Nations. China is not an official member, but supports the goals of the G77, and was represented in Havana.

Significantly the G77 represents two-thirds of the membership of the UN.

We need to pay attention.

Some three-dozen heads of state from Africa, Asia and Latin America, and high-ranking officials from 90 countries attended the meetings in Havana to protest the existing international order, and to demand change.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres spoke plainly in Havana: “I count on your group… to step up, to use your power, and fight—champion a system rooted in equality; champion a system ready to reverse the injustice and neglect of centuries.”

Cuba was elected to the presidency of the G77 and is seeking to bring together its shared concerns facing the Global South—from food security to the climate crisis, from redistribution of industrial research and technology to poverty eradication, from environmental degradation to mass migration.

Guterres made the case that “the world is failing developing nations,” and called for a world order that was “more representative and responsive to the needs of developing economies… trapped in a tangle of global crises.”

The planet is indeed in crisis mode, but with crises that have a far greater impact upon the Global South. Many among the G77 share the views of Guterres and believe that they live in an increasingly unjust international order. They also demand that industrialized nations must accept responsibility for their share of that global inequality.

Consider just a few markers of the current inequality. The world’s least developed countries produce just four percent of gas emissions yet suffer 69 percent of deaths caused by climate change. Developing nations have access to 24 COVID-19 vaccines for 100 people, while the Global North receives 150 per capita.

The focus of the summit was on the pragmatic use of science, technology and innovation—and for the right of the developing world to access and produce new scientific and technological knowledge,. Right now, a handful of industrialized nations control 90 percent of existing patents.

It remains to be seen how successfully the diverse interests of 134 developing nations can be transformed into practical strategies that can mitigate the massive challenges facing the planet. But their problems are far more immediate than those faced in the Global North. If political will is strong enough to resolve some key, shared, interests, this will have a major impact on their (and our) way of life.

Mass migration from poorer countries in Africa and Latin America to the North, the rejection by many developing countries of the Global North’s support for Ukraine, the emergence of populist military governments in Africa, the rise of India’s economic influence, and the significant investment of China in developing countries, all illustrate the changing realities of our world. The lessons of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the need for meaningful international cooperation before the next pandemic arrives, should also not be overlooked.

These changes, and challenges, occur at a time of shifting geopolitical tectonic plates, with the United States, China and Russia seeking to develop alliances around the world. In the face of the transition towards a new international order, can we risk ignoring the needs of the G77 plus China?

The challenges facing these 134 countries, actively supported by China, are very real—although often ignored in the mainstream media. We would do well to listen to these claims of the Global South, and the 6.4 billion people (fully 80 percent of the world’s population) while we can.

Stephen Kimber is an award-winning journalist and the author of 13 books, including What Lies Across the Water: The Real Story of the Cuban Five.

John Kirk is Professor Emeritus of Latin American Studies at Dalhousie University and the author and co-editor of 18 books on Cuba.