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In April 1945, as World War II came to a close, representatives from the fifty allied nations met in San Francisco with a vision for peace and a better world.  After two months of deliberations, the San Francisco Conference resulted in the Charter of the United Nations, ushering in a new era of global cooperation. 

The Charter begins with the most noble of ideas:  “We the peoples of The United Nations determined to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind, and to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small…”

The Charter also mandates that the UN and its member states maintain international peace and security, uphold international law, achieve "higher standards of living" for their citizens, address "economic, social, health, and related problems", and promote "universal respect for, and observance of, human rights...”

The COVID-19 pandemic is clearly one of the greatest challenges the world has faced since these principles were laid out 75 years ago.  And it reminds us of the warning that US President Harry Truman gave on the UN Charter:

"If we fail to use it, we shall betray all those who have died so that we might meet here in freedom and safety to create it. If we seek to use it selfishly—or the advantage of any one nation or any small group of nations—we shall be equally guilty of that betrayal. "

In the years since, and particularly since the global financial crisis, too many have lost sight of what we have accomplished—and what we have averted—through global cooperation.  That we have had the luxury to do so, is, in itself, a testament to the success of this cooperation. 

But we must build on this success.  COVID has been the most significant challenge in decades, but sadly it will not be the last problem we face in our lifetimes.  Some of these will be unexpected, some long anticipated.   As we look with hope towards recovery, we know that we face a challenge even greater in the form of climate change. 

This is why, on behalf of the global accountancy profession of over 3 million professional accountants, we call on the leaders of the G20 nations to recommit to global collaboration. 

How Far We Have Come

In the years since 1945, we have seen a proliferation of international organizations embodying the spirit of global collaboration.  From weights and measures to infectious disease, from biodiversity to securities regulation, global collaboration has become the norm.  We must never lose sight of what an incredible accomplishment this is. 

IFAC itself embodies this sentiment.  IFAC was established in 1977 to build a truly global profession and support the development of high-quality international standards in auditing and assurance, public sector accounting, ethics, and education for the accountancy profession. This has been a resounding success, growing from 63 founding members to over 170.   Today, professional accountants worldwide speak the same “professional language”, and are trusted by their clients, colleagues and communities to uphold the Code of Ethics for Professional Accountants.  This is in no small part due to the commitment of IFAC and our member Professional Accountancy Organizations working together.

The G20 in its current form has a different history: it was born out of crisis.  In November 2008, the global economy was in peril and world leaders needed to act, quickly and decisively.  Through the G20 and related institutions, such as the Financial Stability Board (FSB), we were able to avoid the worst-case outcomes of the great financial crisis.  Looking back to March 2020, that esprit de corps was sadly absent.[1]

Playing our Part

It is not enough that every community, profession or cause has its own international organization.  While this is of course an important first step, to achieve the full potential we need the multiplier effect of engagement and collaboration across and through international organizations.  Here, IFAC walks the talk.  Starting with our commitment to the B20, our relationships with organizations like the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) International Organisation Partnership, Business at OECD, International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) Foundation, the International Organization for Securities Commissions (IOSCO), the International Forum of International Audit Regulators (IFIAR), and the International Bar Association (IBA), among others, are vital to our mission. 

In this regard, IFAC is a proud signatory of the OECD IO Partnership’s Joint Statement of International Rulemaking.  This initiative embodies the true spirit of multilateralism and global collaboration, based on the recognition that “international organisations have a central role in supporting the coordinated action required to promote global public goods, tackle trans-boundary issues, and advance core policy objectives of their constituency, including achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.” 

Call to Action

The COVID pandemic has tested our ability to work together, and the results have been discouraging.  Looking to the future, issues like climate change simply cannot be solved by a single nation or group going it alone.  Far too many lives are already being lost every year due the effects of climate change.[2]  So just as the delegates in San Francisco recognized 75 years ago, world leaders must commit to working together through global institutions to anticipate and mitigate the global problems of the 21st century. 

We are all in this together.  And if we want to move forward, we must move forward together


[1] Global cooperation is more vital than ever. This is why, Borge Brende, President, World Economic Forum, 23 July 2020. 
[2] See, Deaths from Climate Change, World Health Organization.