The 2021 G20 summit is scheduled to be held in Rome on October 30-31. Italy holds the current chair of the group and would like to hold a ‘physical’ summit unlike the 2020 virtual summit which Saudi Arabia was compelled to hold last year in November on account of Covid. This will not be the first ‘physical’ multilateral summit because the G7 leaders met in Britain in June. Prime minister Narendra Modi was a special invitee but could only attend the meeting virtually because of the Covid situation in India. Clearly, the message the G7 leaders sent out through their ‘physical’ meeting is that the pandemic is being sufficiently controlled. Also, that the major powers are committed to do all they can to eliminate it, mitigate its economic consequences and move to a post-Covid world.
Italy is already conducting some ‘physical’ preparatory meetings for the summit; G20 foreign ministers met first by themselves and then along with the development ministers of the member-countries on June 29. External affairs minister S Jaishankar represented India. Hence, it can be expected that unless the international Covid situation turns globally alarming there will be a ‘physical’ summit in October though it can be that leaders of some member-states may not be able to participate if their countries are, at that stage, undergoing another and bad Covid wave. Prior to the G20 summit in Italy the annual High-Level segment of the United Nations General Assembly will convene in New York in September. It was held virtually last year. It remains to be seen if world leaders will gather for in New York this year for it.
The G20 consists of 19 countries---Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Germany, France, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, Turkey, the UK and the US as the EU. Together they account for 80% of the global GDP and 75% of world trade and 60% of the global population. It has therefore become the world’s premier group for immediate as well as long-term consideration of global economic problems. Its first summit was convened by the US in the wake of the 2008 global financial crisis which threatened the world with the greatest depression it had confronted after that which began in 1929. In 2008 the G20 leaders wisely decided to eschew protectionism. They chose to go in for financial stimuli. That had its own adverse midterm consequences but helped prevent a global economic meltdown.
The G20 also decided that it would take long term measures to bring in greater prosperity for all countries and a more equitable and stable economic power order as well as confront the major issues of our age such as climate change. In these endeavours it has met with limited success despite all the annual summits that have been held after the first one. Now, again with the pandemic, the G20 is reiterating its promises for collective endeavours to usher in a more just world. In a media release the Italian hosts of the G20 foreign ministers meeting declared “The Ministers underlined the need to avoid the “nationalisation” of interventions and to develop co-ordinated responses to major global challenges, such as post pandemic recovery, international trade, climate change, as well as the ecological and digital transitions”. At their joint meeting the foreign and development ministers adopted the “Matera Declaration” which the hosts stated “calls upon the international community to build inclusive and resilient food chains and ensure adequate nutrition for all…”.
These are all fine words and great commitments but should they be taken seriously? Is it really possible to avoid “the “nationalisation” of interventions”? Does the history of how the advanced countries have reneged on all their solemn commitments on handling climate change show that the Covid pandemic will bring about a fundamental change in thinking on how to address the problems confronting humanity as a whole? Perhaps it would be best to pose this question to the people of Jacobabad in Pakistan? Jacobabad in the Sindh province is known for its very hot summers. In some instances, over the past few decades temperatures have risen, although for brief periods, to over 52 degrees Celsius. Such high temperatures are considered life threatening; the situation is made worse if they are accompanied with high humidity. Now, some British researchers are predicting that temperatures are “likely to rise even further in the near future”. This is because of climate change. Will Jacobabad remain habitable for a human population after a few years?
While a reference to Jacobabad is relevant for South Asians because of its location climate change is leading to the warming of the planet and a greater frequency of extreme weather events including heat waves and cloud bursts and severe winters. Despite the evidence of climate change all around us there is an absence of political consensus on its nature and the urgency of mitigation and adaptation efforts that are required to be made worldwide. This has led to erratic policies as witnessed in the United States, the world’s pre-eminent power. This writer has emphasised on earlier occasions in these columns that there cannot be great optimism in the international community addressing pressing global issues because of global power politics.
The currency of power is the basic fact of international life; power is the prism through which the major countries take positions on all issues. This is the fundamental truth and all else is window-dressing. Hence, it is all very well for the G20 foreign ministers to desire to avoid “nationalisation” of interventions in a post Covid world and in addressing global issues but realism points in the opposite direction.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.