When will the G20 lead?

I have just reread an article I wrote for Ekklesia from last year’s G20 in Cannes, and while I sit here in the evening sun in Los Cabos with world leaders just a few miles away tucking into their Summit working dinner, I feel angry.

It would be wrong to say that so little has changed in the seven months since France held the Presidency of the Group, and since I wrote that blog - because I think it’s actually got worse.

And I don’t mean just the economic crisis. What has got worse is that last time round the change in focus of the planned agenda was a novelty and it felt as though everyone was kicking against it to some extent. The media was coming to NGOs and asking what they thought about the G20 being taken over by the Greek crisis, and asking where their issues sat in the maelstrom of what felt like an emergency meeting of heads of state rather than an annual and carefully planned summit.

This year in Los Cabos there is the heavy atmosphere of inevitability about the focus on the Eurozone; almost every journalist I’ve spoken to has apologised for there being little-to-no space in the news agenda for development issues, and interviews that are being done with NGOs are often being cut from the final edit. I’m not blaming the journalists – they’re covering the priorities and messages of world leaders in a finite news coverage context.

What makes me angry is how quickly we can forget the people who need help most; how rapidly the long-term is eclipsed by the short-term fire-fighting efforts of some of the world’s most able politicians; that multi-tasking can so easily go out of the window; that the richest nations can batten down the hatches and turn their face from the ugly, damaging realities of their own global systems and desire for growth at almost any cost.

The decisions and recommendations made by the G20 matter, not only at the mega-level of economic revival in percentage points and in global markets, but at the micro-level of a woman in a field in a developing country trying to make enough money to feed and educate her children. No G20 leader should carry that responsibility lightly, and every single one should be making the best decisions for all people and passing those on to the next head of state of their country of whatever political hue.

Last year in my Cannes blog article I highlighted some of the deeply concerning issues that were being ignored due to the urgency of the Eurozone discussions. They are worth mentioning again because they are still true and they are still being ignored:

? Almost one person in five – 1.2 billion men, women and children – are currently living in a situation of extreme poverty, surviving on the equivalent of less than one dollar a day; half the people in the world are trying to manage below the poverty level of two dollars a day;

? About 824 million people go hungry or have a precarious food supply; 500 million of them suffer from chronic malnutrition;

? Throughout the world, 170 million children suffer from malnutrition, more than 100 million never attend school, 230 million have no access to secondary education, and almost 250 million work to pay for their own needs and those of their families;

? More than 840 million adults in the world are illiterate – 65 per cent of them are women;

? 800 million people have no access to health care.

The G20 gathered in Los Cabos should be the world's most powerful guardians, representing all the interests of all the people who live in it. Right now, they look like 20 men and women interested only in their own electoral prospects, with no claim to represent anyone but themselves.

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

Ekklesia is carrying regular on-the-spot updates from CAFOD during the course of the G20 Summit.

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