THE two-day annual meeting of G20 — the leaders of the world’s 19 wealthiest nations plus the European Union — has wrapped up in Hamburg, Germany with a closing speech from its host. G20 is composed of Argentina, Australia, Brazil, China, Germany, France, Britain, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Canada, South Korea, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Turkey, the United States and the European Union.
Also attending were the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Guinea, Senegal, Singapore and Vietnam.
G20 accounts for just over 58 per cent of the global GDP, though that is down from a peak of 60.9 per cent before the 2008 financial crisis. The G20 members contribute 85 per cent of the global GDP. In the nearly 20 years since the group was formed, the United States has remained the leader, but China has moved up the ranks, from the sixth largest economy in 2000 to the third today, behind only the United States and the European Union.
Consumers of these nations buy the bulk of goods produced by the world’s largest companies because they make up two-thirds of the global population and have the most spending power per capita.
Despite several years of middle-class wage stagnation, the United States still leads the world in per capita GDP, both in absolute terms and based on purchasing power parity (a measure of how much consumers can buy based on the cost of goods where they live).
Readers may remember that G20 was an extension of G7 and was formed after the Asian financial crisis of the late 1990s when it became obvious that ‘global financial issues could no longer be managed’ in traditional ways. Or, that is how former US Treasury secretary Larry Summers and his research assistant Matthew Schoenfeld explained in a 2012 article. ‘It is said one should visit one’s doctor before one has a serious medical problem’, they wrote. ‘It is in this way that the first decade of meetings of the G20 finance ministers and central bank governors will be remembered.’
Germany presided over the G20 summit this year and put on the agenda topics such as the climate change, free trade, and helping migrants and refugees that are important for all but not so for the US president Donald Trump. The latter has already rowed with Europe once over climate change and refugees at the G7 summit in Italy. He has also visited Poland, Europe’s rogue guy that is also the region’s greatest carbon emitter, ahead of the G20 Summit, perhaps symbolising once again his uneasy relationship with the European Union.
Early in the week, German chancellor Angela Merkel criticised the Trump administration’s protectionism, saying ‘globalisation is seen by the American administration more as a process that is not about a win-win situation but about winners and losers.’ There are few options but to make a success of globalisation, Merkel warned earlier in a report laying out the meeting’s priorities. ‘There can be no return to a pre-globalisation world.’
On climate change, Merkel has prepared the ground carefully, hosting in Berlin the two allies she needed — the Indian prime minister Narendra Modi, and the Chinese premier Li Keqiang. China remains the single largest emitter of carbon and India the third. Both countries have said they will not pull out of the Paris treaty, and will beat their commitments.
Merkel is also concerned about Africa and genuinely fears that long-term demographic trends mean 100 million Africans could come to Europe driven by climate change, poverty for which Europe is totally unprepared. Combating poverty upstream in Africa to curb the flow of mass migrants to Europe downstream is her guiding idea. Her specific initiative is to team up African nations which have committed to economic reforms with private investors who would then bring jobs and businesses.
Saturday’s agenda featured discussions on partnerships between G20 and Africa on migration and health. There was also a discussion on digitisation, empowering women and unemployment.
As hinted above, a key focus of this year’s summit has been how the member states position themselves on global trade and climate change. The host German chancellor Angela Merkel said after the first day of meetings that discussions on trade were very difficult and that differences on climate change were clear.
According to the latest reports in the news media, despite some objections from the United States, G20 has agreed on the fundamentals and that the just-released joint communique is a ‘G20 communique, not a G19 communique’. However, the tone of the communique shows clearly that the United States remained an outlier on the climate issue.
On climate issue, it states, ‘We take note of the decision of the United States of America to withdraw from the Paris Agreement. The United States of America announced it will immediately cease the implementation of its current nationally-determined contribution and affirms its strong commitment to an approach that lowers emissions while supporting economic growth and improving energy security needs. The United States of America states it will endeavour to work closely with other countries to help them access and use fossil fuels more cleanly and efficiently and help deploy renewable and other clean energy sources, given the importance of energy access and security in their nationally determined contributions.
‘The leaders of the other G20 members state that the Paris Agreement is irreversible. We reiterate the importance of fulfilling the UNFCCC commitment by developed countries in providing means of implementation including financial resources to assist developing countries with respect to both mitigation and adaptation actions in line with Paris outcomes and note the OECD’s report “Investing in Climate, Investing in Growth”. We reaffirm our strong commitment to the Paris Agreement, moving swiftly towards its full implementation in accordance with the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, in the light of different national circumstances and, to this end, we agree to the G20 Hamburg Climate and Energy Action Plan for Growth as set out in the Annex.’
As can be seen, the United States did successfully manage to insert text referencing fossil fuels. It will be the only country in the world not signed up to the landmark 2015 Paris Accord other than Nicaragua, which complained that it was not strong enough, and Syria, currently mired in a bloody civil war. Trump’s administration has sought to unravel domestic climate policies by dismantling the clean power plan, which would slash emissions from coal-fired power plants, halting new emissions standards for cars and trucks and opening up new areas of public lands and oceans to mining and drilling.
On women empowerment, the communique reads, ‘Enhanced equal access to the labour market, property, quality employment and financial services for women and men are fundamental for achieving gender equality and full realisation of their rights as well as a prerequisite for sustainable and inclusive growth. We are making progress in achieving our 2014 Brisbane commitment to reduce the gender gap in labour force participation by 25 per cent by 2025 but agree that more needs to be done. We also commit to take further action to improve the quality of female employment and eliminate employment discrimination, and reduce gender compensation gaps and provide women with protection from all forms of violence. We will improve women’s access to labour markets through provision of quality education and training, supporting infrastructure, public services and social protection policies and legal reforms, where appropriate.’
On food security, the communique reads, ‘Recognising the famine in some areas of South Sudan and risk of famine in Somalia, Yemen and North-Eastern Nigeria, we are more than ever committed to act with the required urgency, supporting UN agencies and other humanitarian and development organisations in a coordinated and comprehensive response to save lives and support conditions for sustainable development…
‘We will further strengthen our humanitarian engagement and reaffirm our commitment to addressing the underlying causes of recurrent and protracted crises.’
On displacement and migration issue, the communique reads, ‘The world is experiencing historic levels of migration and forced displacement. While migration is influenced by many political, social and economic developments, the main drivers of forced displacement include conflicts, natural disasters as well as human rights violations and abuses. Migration and forced displacement trends are of major relevance for countries of origin, transit and destination…
‘We seek to address the root causes of displacement. We call for concerted global efforts and coordinated and shared actions, in particular with respect to countries and communities that are under high social, political and financial pressure, and for combining both an emergency approach and a long-term one. To this end, we acknowledge the importance of establishing partnerships with countries of origin and transit. We will promote sustainable economic development in those countries. We commit to addressing the distinct needs of refugees and migrants, in particular close to their region of origin and, when applicable, to enable them to return home safely. At the same time, we place special emphasis on vulnerable groups, including women at risk and children, particularly those unaccompanied, and to protecting the human rights of all persons regardless of their status.’
One of the major highlights of this year’s G20 summit was the first face-to-face meeting between Trump and Russia’s Putin. In the run-up to the summit the two men staked out opposing views on major international issues. On Thursday, Trump used a speech in the Polish capital Warsaw to call on Russia to stop ‘destabilising’ Ukraine and other countries and ‘join the community of responsible nations.’ Setting out his own G20 agenda in German financial newspaper Handelsblatt, Putin called for US-led sanctions on his country, imposed in response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 (by the Obama administration) to be lifted. Putin also argued strongly in favour of the Paris climate agreement, saying it was a ‘secure basis for long-term climate regulation’ and Russia wanted to make a ‘comprehensive contribution to its implementation’ while Trump has taken the United States out of the Paris agreement.
They met behind closed doors for nearly two hours discussing a plethora of issues, including Ukraine, Syria and other problems, and some bilateral issues. They were unable to agree on the exact outcome of talks over the Russian hacking allegations. No one knows what would be the ultimate outcome of the meeting except that both the parties have agreed to declare a ceasefire in south-west Syria from Sunday.
G20 summits are greeted with fierce anti-globalisation protests, and this weekend’s summit in Hamburg in Germany was no exception.
Climate change has been one of the rousing causes for G20 protesters who have clashed with police in Hamburg, resulting in more than 100 arrests. On Friday, Greenpeace erected a giant effigy of Trump, dressed in a diaper and soiling himself with oil on the globe, on the river Elbe. Other environmental groups, per the Guardian, UK, were more optimistic, noting that almost all the world’s major powers were broadly behind the transition to low-carbon energy and ameliorating the impacts of climate change. Andrew Steer, president of the World Resources Institute, opined that it was a landslide victory for countries voicing support for global climate action. ‘Chancellor Merkel demonstrated deft leadership in rallying 19 of the world’s largest economies to deliver an unmistakable message behind climate action… The question remains how quickly the world will surge forward and how far behind the Trump administration will let the United States fall.’
Angela Merkel closed the G20 summit in Hamburg with a rebuke to president Trump’s stance on climate change. ‘Unfortunately — and I deplore this — the United States of America left the climate agreement, or rather announced their intention of doing this’, Merkel said.
Officials had been at an impasse over an increasingly isolationist United States and Trump’s climate change and trade policies for most of the summit, and Merkel made it clear the United States had made talks difficult.
Nearly 54 years ago, on June 26, 1963, US president John F Kennedy famously said, ‘Ich bin ein Berliner’ (I am a Berliner) in a ground-breaking speech in Berlin. A crowd of 120,000 Berliners had gathered that day in front of the Schoneberg Rathaus (City Hall) where he offered American solidarity to the citizens of West Germany.
This time, obviously, no one expected the POTUS to say ‘I am a Hamburger’, which would have music to the ears of its native host, chancellor Merkel, who was born 63 years ago in this very city. Worse still, the First Lady Melania Trump could not even walk outside her hotel room and attend G20 spouse events because of security concerns and protests. Donald Trump is also unwelcome in London! He is increasingly becoming a joke around the globe, seen more as a divider and not a unifier, an impulsive man and not a serious leader who demands respect.
The theme of this year’s G20 summit was ‘Shaping an Interconnected World’. That encompasses three aims — strengthening economic resilience, improving sustainability and assuming responsibilities. The success or failure of this year’s G20 meeting will ultimately be judged on if the leaders delivered on that theme safeguarding a peaceful world.
In a declaration issued at the end of the G20 summit, the group announced that Saudi Arabia will host the conference in 2020. Argentina will host the 2018 G20 and Japan the 2019 event.
Dr Habib Siddiqui is a peace and rights activist.
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