June 8, 2022 – The launch of the 9th Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles, California offers a vital opportunity to take stock of the critical challenges facing societies across the Western Hemisphere. The most significant challenge is not a new one. Even before the COVID-19 global pandemic, Latin America already experienced the highest levels of economic inequality of any region in the world. The pandemic deepened and accentuated the yawning gaps between rich and poor across the Western hemisphere. Facing that daunting reality, political leaders coming together this week must focus on truly creative and even daring ways to tackle systemic inequities.
Western Hemisphere nations are also experiencing a serious political crisis that is exemplified by the autocratic and extremist political trends one can see in the United States of America, Brazil, and with echoes in El Salvador, Peru, and even Costa Rica. A large and growing segment of the population throughout the Western Hemisphere has lost confidence in the notion that conventional political parties, or even democratic forms of government, can solve their most pressing problems. This alarming trend should spur Western Hemisphere leaders to engage in a serious conversation about how to redefine the practical meaning of democracy and put forward innovative plans to practice transparency, accountability, and hemispheric cooperation in ways that can deliver on the promise of prosperous, sustainable, and democratic societies across the hemisphere.
In the midst of the dual challenges of systemic inequities and dysfunctional democracies, the issue of climate change cannot be ignored. The effects of climate change are already threatening communities in the Caribbean Basin, and science warns that a tipping point in the Amazon is nearly upon us. If we are to contain and reverse this existential threat for all forms of life on our planet, the nations of the Western Hemisphere must take major and urgent measures to end the dependence on fossil fuels and adapt to the crisis already at hand. Unfortunately, we are far from that reality.
The challenges facing societies in the Western Hemisphere are alarming and monumental, but not impossible to solve. Doing so, however, will require true leadership and a firm commitment to break from the business-as-usual approach. Fortunately, we have guideposts to move forward. One place to start is to fully embrace the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) set years ago, and that offer a minimum set of specific results all nations should commit to produce. However, the SDGs are only a minimum standard. We can and must do more. Above all else, nations around the world must change course in terms of the economic policy system that has brought us to where we are today. We simply cannot repeat the mistakes of the past decades, hoping for a different result.