G20 decisions need clarity, action

G20 decisions need clarity, action

It knows what needs to be done, but lacks will

President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen (C-back) looks on as US President Joe Biden (L) gestures towards Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (3rdL) and French President Emmanuel Macron (2nd R) greets Director-General of the World Trade Organization (WTO), Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala (R), at the start of the G20 Summit. Credit: AFP Photo

The G20 summit in Rome, which was the first in-person meeting of the group’s leaders in about two years, sought to address a range of issues that should most engage the world’s attention now, like climate change, the state of the world’s economy and the Covid-19 situation. What the G20 decides is important because it represents about two-thirds of the world’s population and 85% of its economic output. The summit assumed special significance because the start of the UN climate change conference, called CoP26, coincided with it. Yet, the outcome of the meeting largely disappointed, because it made only some vague and general promises rather than specific commitments. The final communique issued by the summit reiterated some old ideas and targets but there was no reference to any plan of action to achieve them. 

The communique mentioned an agreement to end public financing for coal-fired power generation but there was no roadmap for phasing out domestic use of coal. The target year for realisation of carbon neutrality was left unclear as “about mid-century’’. The promise of $100 billion a year to poor countries as reparation and financial support for their mitigation efforts was once again made, with no details of how this will be done. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s suggestion that developed nations set a target of providing 1% of their GDP as finance for green projects in emerging economies did not elicit any clear response. There was also some public criticism within the group, as seen in US President Joe Biden’s remark that Russia and China “basically didn’t show up in terms of any commitments to deal with climate change.” The proceedings as a whole did not show any serious commitment to containing global warming to less than 1.5 degrees C above pre-industrial levels, which is a declared aim. The outcome could best be described in the words of UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres: “I leave Rome with my hopes unfulfilled, but at least they are not buried." 

There was an expression of support to WHO’s target of inoculating 40% or more of the global population against Covid-19 by the end of 2021, and at least 70% by mid-2022. The existing financing and distribution constraints will have to be resolved to achieve these targets. It is also important in this context that Modi told the meeting that India is ready to produce over five billion vaccine doses for the world by the end of 2022. The proposal for a global flat tax of 15% on multinational companies found support again, though there are differences over implementation. What emerges is that most decisions and pledges at the meeting need more clarity, and need to be backed by action.