G20 needs to focus on the bigger picture

By Pascale Palmer
June 18, 2012

I am sitting in the press pit at the G20 in Mexico and as the Eurozone and the election in Greece threaten to wipe development off the agenda here yet again, CAFOD’s economics analyst Tina Weller has quite a lot to say. So I am handing over to her for a few words:

Are there enough puns on Greece to sustain press journalists at the G20 for a second year in a row?

The timing of the Greek political crises could not be better (or worse) planned for G20 summits. Last year in Cannes, Papandreou took a bow and the G20 summit became act one in a Greek tragedy set to play its second part this week in Los Cabos as the Greeks go to the polls to decide on a new President and the fate of the Eurozone. (OK there was one pun left in the bag.)

There are some signs that the Mexican government has learnt from the mistakes of the French and are not about to let their aspirations for the Summit be totally eclipsed by Europe’s troubles. Financial regulation, food security and green growth all look set to get at least some airtime during this Summit.

And the Mexicans are right that the G20 needs to become more than a crisis self-help group and get a longer-term perspective to ensure future crisis prevention and achievement of some of the G20’s broader aims to achieve shared, sustainable and balanced and growth. A lot of things on the G20 agenda are critical to stop us being in the same place again in a year’s time for that final act.

The first and most obvious item is tackling the problems of the financial system. The G20’s main business is to build a stronger financial system to “support sustainable global growth and serve the needs of business and citizens”.

Mexico has made this a priority of its Presidency, yet the obvious need to tax the financial sector more effectively to tackle excessive, short-term speculation, to increase its social contribution and to finance pressing development and environmental needs won’t make it into the final Declaration. Efforts to tackle commodity speculation impacts on food security are inadequate and will not prevent the next price spike or protect the poorest from hunger.

A second is helping all countries to put in place adequate social protection floors so that those most in need who are affected by the crisis don’t need to sacrifice spending on health, education or even food.

The G20 has set itself some ambitious goals – to achieve stable, inclusive and sustainable growth and some good objectives on the road to achieving those, for example to end fossil fuel subsidies, which would free up cash for tackling climate change and a key step in greening the global economy.

However, it lacks the tools it needs to support it in achieving those aims. The G20 needs to be more transparent on progress on commitments by country, it needs to be measured against objectives to achieve sustainability, inclusivity and well-being, not just aggregate growth. This would incentivise political will and change.

Finally, it needs to improve its development coherence. In order to achieve this, an easy first step would be to improve its consultation processes. Whilst financial lobbies are stalling reforms, consultation with civil society groups and developing country governments who could help drive a greener and more development-friendly agenda is irregular, unequal and left to the discretion of each Presidency.

Without these changes, the G20 will still be subject to short-termism of immediate crises and domestic political interests. The G20 needs to see the bigger picture and the right tools to make it fit for purpose.


(c) Pascale Palmer is Senior Press Officer (Policy & Campaigns) for the official Catholic aid agency CAFOD - www.cafod.org.uk

Keywords:rio 20 | Mexico | g20 summit | g20
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