The Group of 20 (G20) leaders met in Rome on 30th and 31st October 2021. In their own words, the leaders met in an effort to address the most pressing global challenges and coalesce around common efforts to recover from the Covid-19 pandemic. They also made a commitment to enable sustainable and inclusive growth across the world.
The G20 aims to improve co-ordination among its members on the main global issues. The Group comprises the world’s largest and richest countries. It accounts for 60% of the global population and 80% of global gross domestic product (GDP). It counts among its membership world leading economies such as the United States (US), China, the European Union, India, Canada, Brazil, South Africa and several others.
In terms of geographic representation, the G20’s membership encompasses Asia, North America, Latin America, Africa and Europe.
Given the scope of its membership and the weight as counted in population and GDP, the G20 is certainly a formidable forum and its decisions will impact just about every country, even if they are not part of the exclusive club. This is the context in which the Declaration issued at the end of the most recent G20 summit must be assessed.
G20 leaders appear to have struck a relatively inclusive tone in their Declaration. Some of the issues addressed in this Declaration are the global economy, health, sustainable development, support for vulnerable countries, the international financial architecture, environment, energy and climate, sustainable finance, gender equality and women’s empowerment, international taxation, and trade and investment among several others. Unfortunately, space will not permit each of these to be elaborated on.
Notwithstanding encouraging signs for the global economy, with economic activity having picked up in 2021 compared to a year ago, the situation remains precarious, especially given the ongoing disruptions to global supply and value chains and skyrocketing oil prices. G20 leaders have pledged to monitor and address the challenges facing the global economy. However, it remains unclear what this will entail, especially given the zero-sum economic competition between the US and China, the two largest economies.
On sustainable development, to their credit, G20 leaders have pledged to accelerate progress towards the attainment of the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The SDGs form part of an agenda adopted by all UN members to end poverty, improve health and education, reduce inequality, and spur economic growth, whilst simultaneously tackling climate change and the preservation of the environment. In their quest to help countries attain the SDGs, G20 leaders have made a specific commitment to support industrialisation in Africa. This is perhaps one area in which Caribbean countries and other small states can lobby the G20 to expand its commitment to the region. The fact that the Caribbean was not singled out is also a reminder that not having a seat at the table where global decisions are made also comes with serious consequences.
The other significant aspect of the G20 Declaration deals with energy and climate. These are essentially two sides of the same coin. G20 leaders made a commitment to tackle the urgent threat of climate change and to achieve a successful outcome at the UN Climate Change Conference taking place on Glasgow at the time of writing. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, climate change represents an existential threat or deathly phenomenon for Small Island Developing States (SIDS) such as those in the Caribbean. That it has the attention of the G20, which themselves are largely responsible for the crisis, is a good thing. However, given the absence of the leaders of major greenhouse gas emitters from Glasgow such as China (largest emitter) and Russia, and uncertainty about the commitment of some present, there is a gap between what is written on paper and real-life commitment.
The G20, simply by virtue of its economic and demographic weight, does have an important role to play in global leadership. However, there is more to leadership than fancy declarations. Words, action and positive change equal leadership. Words without action equate to (mis)leadership or a missed opportunity to lead.
Joel K Richards is a Vincentian national living and working in Europe in the field of international trade and development.