G20 2021: FROM THE DARKEST HOUR INTO A HISTORICAL OPPORTUNITY

The summit of change.

The authors of the VISION paper are Maria Costanza Cau, Marina Obba and Francesco Grillo.

Street

The 2020 will be most likely remembered as the year in which an unprecedented health crisis was able to take globalization to a sudden transformation.

This is especially true if we consider globalization not only as global trade that was severely affected, but also as a virtual connection which mushroomed. If globalization is travelling, visiting new countries, studying abroad, physically sharing lives, this will not be just an annus horribilis, but a major discontinuity which will impact the very way we conceive the world.

Out of the darkest hour of globalization, it might still be possible to turn the crisis into a historical moment of renewal.

After all the birth of the League of Nations, in 1919, represented the very first attempt to write a formula for international governance. The international organization’s appearance was, in truth, the result of the massive tolls of a deadly First World War. In a similar nature, but with greater success, its predecessor, the United Nations, today’s embodiment of international peace and security standards, was also the result of a Second World War, which pushed the leading powers to get to work.

Yet, we tend to forget that the great international bodies safeguarding our wellbeing today, were only born after global clashes. This year, the 30th and 31st October, in the midst of global distress and confusion, once again, there will be an opportunity to make history, and Italy will chair it.

Founded in 1999, the G20 was an alternative to its preceding G7 which had gradually been set aside by the decline of the seven oldest industrialising nations. Today, the G20 gathers the twenty world’s largest economies, which account for almost two thirds of the global population and more than the 80% of the annual global wealth. This summit is progressively becoming the place to address the unfolding problems of an ungoverned globalization. And this, is the very year in which these problems have become even more urgent, and closer to people’s everyday life. Figure 1 says how deep and diverse has the impact of the crisis been on the twenty G20 economies.

Figure 1 - Estimated Impact of the Pandemic on the GDP of the G20 in the 2020-2021 (in%, difference between estimations of growth between October 2019 and October 2020).

Grafico Paesi

 Source: Vision on IMF data

Initially devoted to issues of financial stability to be discussed by Ministers of Finance and heads of central banks, the G20 gradually expanded its scope to involve heads of state and government.

This year’s summit identifies three priorities: the people, divided by nonsensical inequalities and a pandemic having notable varied effects across the globe; the Earth, which is to be saved by man’s very activities and finally; prosperity understood as confidence that future generations will enjoy their right to pursue of happiness.

From the general priorities emerge, nonetheless, three concrete problems on which we are most likely gambling our very survival.

THREE KEY PROBLEMS

First of all, the question of vaccinesOn May 21, in Rome, there will be a specific forum on the global challenges to health which will spell out the following steps to protect universal human rights in this new century. There is an emergency to be addressed, and it is crucial that the distribution of vaccines does not leave countries behind, given that this may pitylessly backfire. And yet there are more structural problems on how to prevent and react to other possible shocks such as those we have just experienced. The World Health Organization cannot continue to sustain high expectations with a minimum budget. And what’s more, it cannot do so without having the power not even to ask other states for data which are sufficiently reliable and consistent with each other in order to develop relevant analyses and draft efficient policies.

Second, climate change which could bring us with a catastrophe even worse that the pandemic one. The Paris Agreements’ target on containing the global rise in temperatures to less than 1.5 degrees above last century’s average is so far away - despite the courageous and unilateral initiatives of the European Union - that, even if levels of industrial production would stay to the unrepeatable levels of 2020, we still wouldn’t be able to fulfil this goal. Current production and consumer models are in need of a sweeping change, which can also be a great opportunity for “creative destruction” and for the emergence of entire new industries.

Finally, global digital platformsInformation is power, as Francis Bacon noted from the beginning of the Renaissance. The emergence of the strong concentrations of data control is shifting away political and economic power, with very much discussed effects on democracy. This enormous concentration of information is also having a less debated and yet not less significant impact on competition and, ultimately, innovation itself, since innovation literally depends on the protection of the ownership of ideas. This is a hard ground, but a convergent attitude towards the Internet giants, both in the case of the new American administration, the European Commission’s, or the Chinese themselves – here, very interesting the Alibaba case - may open up previously unthinkable spaces for what could be one key collaboration. For these matters, the G20 work agenda which, began in December, may be extremely important. However, the G20 needs to reconsider its present shape. Therefore, a pragmatic and visionary discussion on reorganization must be promoted and the summit in Rome could be the starting point.

REORGANIZING THE GOVERNANCE OF GLOBALIZATION

The reorganization of the G20 may be drafted considering four basic principles.

First, we see important to start the explicit transformation of the G20 from a summit to the embryo of a proper international organization. This would mean to provide G20 with a permanent secretariat, a host city and the budget to finance the possibility to operate as least as a “think and do tank” with the strategic capability to analyse and propose solutions to a group which is, virtually, one of the most powerful global constituencies. G20 must also seek to deliver more often proper deliberations and issue opinions that may progressively become relevant to national and international decision making.

Second, representativeness and efficiency. We believe that twenty is the maximum number of formal parties to have proper problem solving. However, the criticism for a low degree of representativeness must be considered too. For instance, with its mammoth potential and its enormous sufferings; Africa, remains poorly represented.

We believe that moving from a representation by States to one by macro-regions must be brought to the discussion table. The European Union, for instance, may absorb the seats of France, Germany and Italy, so that countries like Nigeria, Bangladesh or Pakistan can become members. In time, the African Union or the Arab League may be considered as permanent members to replace State based ones.

Third, we must avoid the enduring syndrome of international organizations of wanting to do everything. Instead, it will be key to focus on few topics to be discussed.

Fourth, mechanisms must be implemented so that the G20 becomes more a meeting of policy-makers studying global dossiers together and one less entrusted to officials (the Sherpas) who, however capable they might be, are technically not the ones to make choices that can bind.

Such an agenda may sound very ambitious. However, this is the time for courage and imagination. For the leaders of the G20, this could be an unexpected but key opportunity to really sow the seeds of what may become the new world order that the next generation so badly needs. In this way, globalization and technologies could go back to their original function: being functional to people, ensuring prosperity and the conservation of the Earth.

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