In a study I recently undertook of the G20 (2019), I showed that during the past decade, the main joint, collective action of that body had been to issue communiqués and other types of statements.
As a group, G20 Leaders have expressed concern about all kinds of challenges, recommitted themselves to goals already agreed in other multilateral meetings or, even repeatedly, stated in earlier communiqués.
They have also lauded other entities for actions they have taken or asked others (IMF, OECD, World Bank – others) to consider taking one policy measure or another.
They have even promised they will take action individually or seek to bolster their coordination – not necessarily among themselves but, for example, with the private sector.
So, what has the Group achieved with regard to the global pandemic of 2020?
In a phrase, not much.
During their virtual Summit (26 March), G20 leaders continued with this kind of behavioural pattern. Their joint statement opens with the words:
“The unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic is a powerful reminder of our interconnectedness and vulnerabilities. The virus respects no borders…We are strongly committed to presenting a united front against this common threat.”
What follows then? Words – promises on paper. No concrete, tangible action.
Again, leaders state:
- they “are deeply saddened by the tragic loss of life”;
- they are “committed to do whatever it takes to overcome the pandemic”.
This includes, they note, a readiness to:
- ‘support and commit to further strengthen WHO’s mandate’;
- undertake ‘immediate and vigorous measures to support our economies’;
- ‘mobilize development and humanitarian funding’.
No mention, however, of:
- specific initiatives that some or all of them will jointly undertake, or
- figures, with target dates, specifying the amount of additional money they will put on the table.
I am not expecting the G20 suddenly, due to COVID-19, to take on an operational role.
But I would have expected that, this time, they would have acted differently: and lived up to the exceptional scale and urgency of the crisis the world confronts.
They could, for example, have decided to act as lead investors in a global mission-oriented project, perhaps executed, by the World Bank, in close collaboration with WHO and other multilateral development banks or other appropriate agencies.
This could have been aimed at establishing a sizeable special fund that could be used to bulk-purchase face masks (if and when available), security equipment and gowns for hospital staff, beds, medicines and, in due course, vaccines – in order to make these supplies available at affordable prices to poorer developing countries.
An action like this would, I suggest, have added credibility to the last sentence of the Leaders’ communiqué:
“We will protect human life, restore global economic stability and lay out solid foundations for strong, sustainable, balanced and inclusive growth.”
An important opportunity of building trust and offering hope to the world, during these difficult times, was missed by the G20.
Inge Kaul is Senior Fellow at Hertie School (Berlin), Non-Resident Senior Fellow at Center for Global Governance (Washington DC), and a member of the NZCGS Advisory Panel. This column is adapted from her article of 3 April in the IPS News Agency.