Loading... please wait

See full session, here: https://finance.yahoo.com/video/rockefeller-foundation-president-call-covid-192937605.html

Raj Shah, Rockefeller Foundation President, joins Yahoo Finance’s Andy Serwer at The 2021 Concordia Annual Summit to discuss vaccine availability for Covid-19 around the world, outlook on herd immunity, climate change, and access to energy.


Video Transcript

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: Want to get over to our editor in chief Andy Serwer now who is live at the Concordia Summit with a special guest. Andy.

RAJ SHAH: Lower income countries grew faster than the rest of the world. We beat back HIV/AIDS, we beat back Ebola, we succeeded at bringing health and real improvements in living standards to the world’s poorest people over decades. And COVID-19 is turning all of that around. Today, 500 million people have been pushed back under an expanded definition of the poverty line in lower income countries. You have immunization rates in Africa are under 4%. In Asia, they’re creeping up but still not anywhere near the levels you’re seeing in OECD economies.

And the result of that is many, many of us expect over the next decade that wealthy nations and wealthy populations will have the resources to fight COVID and recover quickly. And lesser developed countries will be stuck in a slower growth environment. With that outcome, that huge divergence is really consequential for the world. It means more poverty, more migration, less of an effort to come together and fight climate change, what we just heard about. And we really believe now is the moment for much bolder, much more transformational action to turn that around.

ANDY SERWER: Yeah, that inequity. So in other words, it speaks to the inequity and exacerbates the inequity, those trends that we were just talking about. That’s sobering. And I want to ask you about, say, just vaccinations for COVID. Because less than 10% of the developing world is vaccinated. What can we do about that? And what are you guys at Rockefeller looking to do there?

RAJ SHAH: Well the reality is America has led at least a half dozen times major global efforts in the last 50 years to overcome big disease burdens, smallpox, polio, Ebola, now COVID-19. And we just need to do so much more to make vaccines available in lesser developed countries. We need to get beyond the sort of positive press release mindset and really do the types of things that invest in health workers all across the world so they can actually deliver vaccines and immunizations. As you point out, 10% is where we’re at kind of globally in the lesser developed nations. We do need to be at 70% by the middle to end of next year in order to have real herd immunity for the world.

And until we get there, we’re going to have more variants, those variants are going to undermine the US economy and the global economy. And we will never all be safe unless we deal with this as a global community. That’s not happening right now. So the Rockefeller Foundation has committed a billion dollars to a global green recovery. Our investments in health are part of that. We support testing, oxygen, vaccination, and other such efforts all around the world in order to give everybody a chance to get to 70%.

ANDY SERWER: Is that part of your COVID charter program?

RAJ SHAH: That is part of our– yes absolutely. In fact, we’ve called for a COVID charter because we want people to see that the world is basically at war with a pathogen, COVID-19, that is harming billions of people. And the reality is during wartime, we muster great resources to respond. And in America for example, we have mustered great resources. In fact, by percentage of GDP, richer countries have spent 24% of GDP in stimulus actions to respond to the economic consequences of COVID-19.

Lesser developed countries have spent 2%. And that’s why you see this huge divergence. It’s why we’re at 10%. It’s why those who are skeptical about the next decade are well grounded to be somewhat skeptical that we can get over this together.

ANDY SERWER: But it can be a difficult political argument to make because it’s essentially a foreign aid, healthcare argument in the United States, which doesn’t always play well. But the argument would be that their dollar is well spent because otherwise the variants come back and cripple the economy at a greater rate?

RAJ SHAH: Yeah, that’s exactly right. In fact, if you look at lower income countries that have low vaccination rates are four times more likely to generate variants of concern that will undermine the economic recovery in wealthier countries. So making the investment, which is about $50 billion, four different people, including the Rockefeller Foundation have said, what would it cost to achieve herd immunity all over the planet? The answer is about $50 billion. There’s some debate about how much of that is for delivery and how much is for vaccine procurement. Right now, we’re nowhere near having that $50 billion.

We have maybe a quarter of that, maybe a third of that. So we need to raise those resources, we need to organize a proper global effort and campaign, we need to empower some of the alliances that have come together, including the Covax alliance to actually buy and distribute vaccines. And frankly, we have to help countries with everything from human resources to deliver vaccines to cold chain and ultra cold chain to be able to protect the sanctity and effectiveness of those vaccines.

The one thing I’ll say is we’ve done this before. I was pleased to be part of an effort in 1999, 2000 when the world launched the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization. And at that time, about 40%, 50%, about 40% of the world’s kids were being immunized. Today, it’s North of 70% because of a 20 year global effort. That’s the kind of focus we need on COVID-19. But we need it to happen much, much faster.

ANDY SERWER: One more question about COVID before we switch over to climate change a little bit. President Biden is holding a summit I believe on Wednesday that speaks to that 70% threshold that you just mentioned, Raj. And what you hope to hear from the president the day after tomorrow?

RAJ SHAH: Well I’ve a tremendous amount of faith in President Biden’s ability to marshal the global political energy to actually fight COVID in lower income countries. I think the first thing he has to do is sort of commit to 70%, set a deadline, get everybody to agree to that. The second thing is between the United States and other nations, we have to have the public funding to achieve that goal. And I think the president here and all of his counterparts around the world should make commitments to do so.

The third component is the approach has to be public private. I mean, part of our call for a COVID charter as the Rockefeller Foundation is a real belief that if you’re going to solve these problems, you need public private partnerships. And so we need manufacturers to make more vaccine doses available. We need countries to allow those doses like India has to let Serum Institute sell those doses to other nations so that everyone has access to more volume. And we need to do that as a joint effort between governments and companies. And right now, that jointness is not really happening the way it needs to.

ANDY SERWER: Calling for that is music to the Concordia organizers’ ears, because that’s what they’re all about, right? Climate change, the United Nations climate conference is upcoming. And you’ve talked about the need for electrification but of course also to reduce a reduction in carbon emissions. How do you rectify those two goals?

RAJ SHAH: Well here’s how. We just heard Secretary Kerry say that 55% of global GDP are in countries that have committed to holding climate change to 1 and 1/2 degrees Celsius temperature rise. That means 45% are not part of that equation. Well why are they not part of it? It’s because they account for a small share of total emissions, about 20%. It’s because they look and they say, well, why would we expend tremendous resources to solve a problem we haven’t caused at a time when our priority is finding an on ramp for human opportunity for our own people, jobs, upward economic mobility, real improvements in their living standards?

And without a good answer to that question, I just simply don’t think you get a global climate deal. So the answer the Rockefeller Foundation is proposing is bringing together a public private partnership, that concept again, in a big global alliance to end energy poverty. There are a billion people that live without access to one light bulb’s worth of power for a whole year, which means you really can’t do anything if you don’t have access to any amount of basic electricity.

And in the 63 countries that are energy poor, we now know that addressing energy poverty, giving people access to renewable electrification, can create half a billion jobs, half a billion jobs, real upward mobility, and frankly is the only real path to get countries interested in a serious energy transition on a global basis. So we’re excited to be putting this partnership together and launching it at the COP this year in Glasgow. And we need all of you in the Concordia community to come join us. If you’re an energy company, or a technology company, or a development agency, or a government, this is really something we should all be doing together with urgency and focus.

ANDY SERWER: Is this connected to the initiative that you announced at Concordia last year? And how so?

RAJ SHAH: Absolutely. This is in fact an extension of successes that Rockefeller has invested in for almost 10 years on the ground. In India, for example, we partnered with Tata Power to reach– our goal is to reach about 100 million people with these are called rural mini grids. They’re solar installations with battery backup, with often AI based remote battery management, energy management systems. But the bottom line is we’re able to provide power at 20 some cents a kilowatt hour to people who either never had access to any real electricity or rely on diesel generators that are dirty, that are expensive, that are unsafe. And this is much, much cheaper and much more effective.

And what we’ve seen in the almost million people we serve through these types of projects is once people plug in, they grow. They grow their energy consumption, they grow their family’s economic welfare, they grow their communities right out of poverty. And they do it using renewable power.

And the world has a choice. If we can get these 63 nations to grow their future based on renewable energy instead of fossil fuels, we’ll save 4 billion tons of carbon dioxide emissions. So while right now people don’t look at these countries as having caused the problem, in fact, we’re looking at a genuine solution that can create jobs, that can create opportunity for a billion plus people. And that could help us create a just and equitable recovery from this unique crisis we’re in.

ANDY SERWER: Where does China fit in when you talk about those countries? Which camp does it sit in? Which group is it in?

RAJ SHAH: It sits in all of the camps. It’s amazing. China is, of course, a huge part of the supply chain for photovoltaics and for energy storage solutions, especially for lower income and developing countries. At the same time, the Chinese Belt Road Initiative is currently financing about 112 gigawatts of new coal generation in 27 partner countries. That’s really the wrong direction. And I’m encouraged by some recent Chinese statements that they want to green the BRI, or green the Belt Road Initiative. One way to do it is invest massively with us and others to help bring renewable electrification to the world’s poorest countries and communities.

And really let’s use this crisis to sort of do the big bold things we did after World War II, the Marshall Plan that lifted up Western Europe, the creation of the Bretton Woods institution that maintained some degree of long term economic stability. That’s the mindset we should have. And that’s why we’ve called for the COVID charter. And it’s why we’re launching this alliance.

ANDY SERWER: Raj, how would you assess the mindset of business leaders when it comes to the green economy? And initially the thought was this is sort of a charity work. And then it ultimately should become a profit center. Where are we in that continuum do you think?

RAJ SHAH: Well, I think in the energy space in particular, we’ve made the shift to profit center. It was sort of side project to now this is the future. And the question is how fast do we get there and who’s going to win in that future. And we see that in our partnerships. I mean, when we partner with Tata, we have 30 other companies that approach us and say, OK, how did they do that? How do we work with you to make this real? So and we know these things will be very profitable over time, which is why it makes sense to do as a public private partnership.

But I still think without real public leadership, and investment, and holding up their end of the bargain, it’s still too hard for companies to just make these big leaps in infrastructure on their own when they’re up against a fixed infrastructure of fossil fuel dependent economic reality.

ANDY SERWER: All right. We are going to have to leave it at that. Please join me in thanking Dr. Raj Shah, president of the Rockefeller Foundation. Thank you so much.

RAJ SHAH: Thank you, Andy. Thank you.