Photo: The G20 summit kicked off with the traditional family photo. Credit: Bundesregierung/Güngör - Photo: 2017

G20 Summit Unlikely to Change the World for the Better

By Samantha Sen

HAMBURG (IDN) – The moment said almost all at the G20 summit in Hamburg July 7-8. The heads of government were gathered in a hall, they were requested to turn around towards a presentation. All looked in the direction required – except for U.S. President Donald Trump. And so everyone was looking one way, the U.S. President another. He turned around after a nudge.

Which is where the ‘almost’ comes in. Momentary symbolism on offer like this has to stop somewhere. Trump was given that nudge by British Prime Minister Teresa May. It isn’t May trying to turn Trump towards a consensus with other leaders; she’s looking her own other way herself. And she refused to raise climate change with Trump in the course of a 50-minute bilateral meeting; she only raised it informally after that meeting had ended.

No one did, or could, nudge Trumps to look the same way, never mind follow the same path, as the rest on what really mattered at G20 – concerns over climate change, and over world trade terms as Trump sucks the U.S. back into new protectionism. This has aptly been named he G19 Plus One. Or, maybe the G20 minus One, the biggest one.

Trump had already pulled the U.S. out of the Paris agreement on reducing greenhouse gas emissions that had come to express a degree of consensus after years of tortuous negotiations. The Paris agreement comes into force in 2020, and mandates signatories to plan to reduce their emissions and report on their progress.

In Hamburg the U.S. refused to sign the communiqué pledging to implement the Paris accord on climate change. U.S. officials did the next best they could. They introduced language into the communiqué that the U.S. would work towards clean energy, and also support other countries to energise themselves cleanly, from outside of the Paris agreement, and outside of any G20 consensus.

Never mind G20, Trump was not representing any consensus within the U.S. Several of the states in the United States have been going the green way independent of the direction Trump has taken, opposite to that even, with increasing dependence on renewable energy – the states of the United States are functioning independently of the President on energy, more in harmony with the ways of the world than with those of their own president.

U.S. companies are doing business independently of the path Trump has set the country upon. Several U.S. companies have made strong strides in use of renewable energy, a step that is at the heart of limiting climate change. According to the Rocky Mountain Institute, a U.S. non-profit organization, 24 large U.S. companies bought 3.6 gigawatts of power from renewable sources in 2015. That number is expected to rise to about 5 gigawatts this year. General Motors now produces half its trucks with renewable energy. Lockheed Martin, Amazon, Google, Walmart are among other giants relying every more substantially on green energy. Which is the America Trump leads?

Taking the U.S. along a contrary path over climate change, Trump appeared set at the G20 summit to lead his country into new trade wars. Steel emerged as a new test case, and not just for protectionism by the U.S. Trump has threatened to impose heavy tariffs on import of steel into the U.S. That would mean imports from both the European Union and China.

The EU has had its own concerns over imports from China. The EU has taken measures already against some Chinese steel products, on the grounds that the Chinese are providing unfair subsidies to manufacturers and distorting the market. China produces around half the world’s steel supply.

The EU does not want the U.S. to place it in the same slot as China over steel tariffs. Here at least G20 bought some time, allowing multilateralism a chance before bilateral steel wars fought with tariffs could kick in. EU counter-threats t the U.S. appear to have helped. The EU threatened high tariffs for products ranging from Kentucky bourbon to orange juice and dairy products.

Trump looked an isolated man in Hamburg. But lost as he looked, the excitement was all about Trump and his historic meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin through the course of which no one knows quite what happened. No U.S. complaints over Putin followed, suggesting that Putin prevailed. But this was almost a hangover issue about a U.S. election that meant little of interest to the rest of the world, and particularly to the developing world. Little emerged at the G20 of any commitment to the developing world.

“When looking at the outcomes of the Hamburg summit, we have to ask: ‘what did the G20 do to help the world’s poorest people?, said Steve Price-Thomas, Oxfam’s director of advocacy and campaigns. “Sadly, the answer is ‘not much.’

The G20 could only muster a “tepid set of policies” to tackle poverty and inequality, he said. “For example- for the G20 to support a ‘blacklist’ of tax havens that lists just one country is breathtaking, and shows just how low the bar is for them to claim success. Corporate tax dodging siphons billions from government coffers and leaves health and education budgets dry.”

The leaders, he said, discussed the ‘Compact with Africa,’ an initiative which rests on “the dangerously naive assumption that boosting private investment will automatically help the poorest in the continent.” He warned that if left unchecked, “the Compact might simply line the pockets of wealthy foreign investors.”

The G20 is not likely to change the world for the better through its communiqué. But few are still challenging the existence of the G20, or even its legitimacy. There never is a summit after which you might say, ‘and so the whole world is now agreed to implement this and that…” It’s inviting to punch cynical holes through a communiqué. But would it be better to not have summits such as this? At the very least the G20 brought awareness among national leadership of views among other leaders on matters that affect all commonly if not in the same way. 

It did present an opportunity and a platform that will be re-erected to build multilateral consensus rather than slip back into bargaining among nations, or even trade blocs. Not least, the peaceful protestors made a forceful point, again and again, of the force of people power knocking on leaders doors behind their walls of security.

The finance ministers and central bank governors began meeting in 1999, at the suggestion of the G7 finance ministers in response to the global financial crisis of 1997-99. Since then, there has been a finance ministerial meeting every fall.

The G20 (Group of Twenty) is an informal group of 20 major economies of the world with representatives of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. Currently, these are Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, Turkey, United Kingdom, United States, and the European Union.

Set up in 1999, the G20 aims to discuss policy issues pertaining to the promotion of international financial The G20 heads of government or heads of state have periodically conferred at summits since their initial meeting in 2008, and the group also hosts separate meetings of finance ministers and foreign ministers due to the expansion of its agenda in recent years. [IDN-InDepthNews – 11 July 2017]

Photo: The G20 summit kicked off with the traditional family photo. Credit: Bundesregierung/Güngör

IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate. –

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