G20 paralysis is bad news for tackling global food, health and climate crises
- In its early years, the G20 oversaw cooperation on issues ranging from financial stability to inclusive growth and climate change. Today, major players are blocking it from operating effectively
- Geopolitical tensions, war and new national security concerns mean the multilateral coordination of globalisation is now on life support
The G20 summit was created by US president George W. Bush (building on an existing regular summit for finance ministers and central bankers) to address the 2008 global financial crisis. In 2008 and 2009, world leaders came together and pledged more than US$1 trillion to stabilise the global economy, calm markets, and financially reinforce the International Monetary Fund and World Bank.
At that time, the new organisation was considered the world’s most capable, inclusive and dynamic venue for joint action and policy coordination. It proved quite effective in its early years, overseeing cooperation on issues ranging from financial stability and risk to inclusive growth and climate change. But, with major players now blocking it from operating effectively, the G20 cannot deliver the same public goods today.
The G20 process was first damaged by Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea, which effectively turned the group into the “G19+1”. And, although a US-China deal on climate change in 2016 reinvigorated the group, US president Donald Trump undermined it again by refusing to sign joint communiqués and rejecting US commitments to the rules-based international order.
The G20’s paralysis is bad news for inclusive diplomacy and many necessary reform efforts. Geopolitical tensions, war and new national security concerns mean that the multilateral coordination of globalisation that emerged in the 2000s is now on life support.
Only when the war in Ukraine has ended can diplomatic bridges and supply chains begin to be reconstructed. And, even then, the chances of a sudden rapprochement between the United States and China – let alone between the US and Russia – are exceedingly low.
This unpromising diplomatic posture bodes ill for coordinated global efforts, especially to address climate change. The race to lead in green industries will instead become part of the zero-sum US-China rivalry.
China’s advantage in the rare earth minerals that are essential for batteries and other green technologies is also causing American unease as it tightens supply.
The Biden administration likewise sees national investment in green tech through a geopolitical lens. While US Congress has failed to pass meaningful climate legislation, the administration has invoked the Defense Production Act to drive more domestic production of renewables. The race is on, and trade tensions will rise as the US and China seek to secure and maintain an edge over the other.
To be sure, this competition could have positive effects for the planet as each superpower uses various net-zero policies (say, on electric vehicles, infrastructure or the cost of carbon) for their own national green goals.
But the benefits are unlikely to outweigh the costs associated with rising geopolitical tensions and the weakening of common global climate targets and consistent, coordinated policy implementation.
History suggests that these urgent goals will languish as leading powers vie for short- and medium-term geopolitical advantage. The decline of the G20 is both a harbinger and a cause of the global turmoil that awaits.