After the G20 summit in India, as well as the United Nations General Assembly this month, world leaders will attend the International Monetary Fund and World Bank meetings in Marrakesh, before traveling to Dubai for the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28).
However, there is no optimism that these various summits will produce significant progress in addressing our greatest challenges, not for lack of will, but because the global framework we have been applying since the end of World War II simply no longer fits.
The growing fragmentation of the world was confirmed at the G20 summit. Although this event marked the rise of India as a great power, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s moment of glory was short-lived. Indeed, this summit produced almost nothing to prevent the 2020s from almost certainly becoming a decade of low growth.
Despite the admission of the African Union as a full member of the G20, there has been almost no relief from the crushing debts of the countries in the south. Likewise, while G20 members are responsible for 75% of global carbon emissions, the summit failed to grasp the extent of the climate funding shortfall. Based on a review of the G20’s capital adequacy framework, the Biden administration committed to providing an additional $25 billion in World Bank financing—a far cry from the $260 billion annually recommended by former US Treasury Secretary Lawrence H. Summers in Singh – Summer Report to the G20 this year.
Instead, the summit caps a year in which China and the West have erected new “Iron Curtains” of technology, trade, investment and data – portending a “one world, two systems” future. This new protectionism was accompanied by a downgrade of the G20. While former US President Barack Obama considered the G20 the greatest forum for global economic cooperation, current US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan now calls the G7 (Europe, North America and Japan) the “Governing Board of the Free World”.
This falling out of the G20 is one of the consequences of the transition from a unipolar world to a multipolar world, from a hyperglobalized economy to what we might call “easy” globalization, and from neoliberalism to neomercantilism. For the past 30 years, economics has determined political decisions. Now it is politics – mostly nationalist – that guides the development of politics. Today, zero-sum politics triumphs over win-win economics.
In 1999, when I attended the first G20 (then composed only of finance ministers), American hegemony was at its height, and the US Federal Reserve and the United States Treasury were delighted to be called “the saviors of the world”.
When the global economy collapsed in 2008, the UK and several others invited the heads of government of the G20 countries to meet for the first time. At the G20 in London in 2009, we wanted China to join the West in boosting the global economy by providing $1 trillion in support. We have already noticed that the world is moving in a more polar direction.
The London summit also tasked then Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh with overseeing a review of the prevailing international architecture. Then, at the Pittsburgh summit in the fall of 2009, the G20 agreed on a global pact for growth, led by the IMF, which consists of publishing annual assessments to identify risks to the global economy and opportunities for coordinated action.
However, as the West retreated into austerity policies and adopted new forms of protectionism, these initiatives were abandoned. Under President Donald Trump, the United States broke with its tradition of (mostly) multilateralism and opted for unilateralism even as a multipolar world took shape.
However, climate change, the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the energy and food crisis of 2022 confirm that the problems we face today are truly global in nature and require global solutions. Progress cannot be achieved only through bilateral and regional interventions; require globally coordinated action.
If we continue to favor the G7 over the G20, we have to ask ourselves what will happen the next time there is a global financial crisis and we are unable to bring all the major players to the table. . What will be our chances of making progress in reducing global emissions and preventing some from playing “free riders” in an “every man for himself” world? What will be our chances of correcting global inequalities if states see the world only in terms of “us versus the rest”, without the possibility of forums where common ground can be found?
American President Joe Biden certainly recognizes the need for global cooperation and stands out as the most internationalist American president in recent history. However, while her own G20 agenda includes brainpower, she does not put enough heart into the work, preferring bilateral alliances to globally coordinated action. Likewise, China presents itself as a defender of the rules-based global order and is committed to upholding the United Nations Charter; However, its top leader Xi Jinping did not even attend the G20 or this month’s UN General Assembly.
It is in these rare moments, when preparation meets opportunity, that we must act together. The nuclear test ban agreement of US President John F. Kennedy, the reduction of the number of nuclear weapons by Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, or the historic agreement on the preservation of the ozone layer in 1987, are all events that show that strong leaders can make significant changes in direction. Today’s leaders must not wait until disaster strikes to act.
By Gordon Brown
Former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom