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Dialogue with the civil society: one of the fora prior to the G20 summit. Photo: Bundesregierung/Kugler

After G20: Debating the Format

10.07.2017 The summit of the 20 leading industrial states and emerging powers has ended with the joint adoption of the 'G20 Leaders' Declaration'. Important procedures relating to the topics of health, education, and industrial over-capacities have been agreed on. Now, the format ‘G20’ finally is subject to debate.


While the directors of the summit sought to maintain a picture of normality, the chaos on Hamburg’s streets successfully has distracted the public from the depths of the international situation; a situation on which the demonstrations and civil society actors actually wanted to focus the public attention.

The meeting, however, has produced results on several levels that could provide for a movement into the right direction. This applies in particular to the issues of health and sustainable energy.

The fact that all G20 health ministers were sitting at the table together with the WHO and started to develop strategies against antibiotics resistances and current epidemic threats draws relevant attention to this very important issue of global cooperation.

A G20 summit can also be good for other things: Angela Merkel voiced clear criticism on the dragging  OECD process regarding steel. Obviously, the summiteers of the OECD presented a concrete road map and are expecting a resolution to the problem until September. But do we really need G20 for that?

Regarding the key issue of the global financial architecture, the summit was conciliatory. Protectionism is doomed, and free market access is demanded. Free trade agreements (FTAs) should be compatible with WTO rules. Euphonious so far. But China, which again took up a classical American role by stridently calling for a free world trade (like it already did before at the Davos summit), just has punished its neighbor South Korea with import restrictions and a prohibition of touristic offerings relating to the potential deployment of the anti-missile system THAAD.

When looking back to this summit one day, its failures might be regarded as its actual achievements.

The Hamburg appeal on climate and energy, thematically surely a matter of heart of the German chancellor and the dialogue partner Think20, was marked by the warning sign of the US-American proclamation of withdrawal, which remained during the whole summit. The declaration could be saved through a device, with which the consensual principle could be maintained by addressing the divergent opinion in the final document. Politically more important was the fact that the coalition of the 19 held together. In this way, this signal of a majority (against one of the big players) enters the discourse and narrative of the climate debate.

This case reminds one to an occurrence taking place at the UN headquarters in New York this weekend, under the shadow of the G20 summit and without attracting much attention. There, 122 states—during the United Nations Conference to Negotiate a Legally Binding Instrument to Prohibit Nuclear Weapons—adopted a draft treaty on the prohibition of nuclear weapons. This treaty foresees a complete prohibition of the development and storage of nuclear weapons as well as the threat of their use. Among the signatories, the majority are smaller states and some important emerging powers like Brazil, Argentina, and Indonesia. Nuclear powers or those states on whose ground they are deployed, abstained from the negotiations at all.

From the perspective of global cooperation research it is interesting to ask which majorities are being perceived as inclusive in the global context.

A further question relates to the efficiency of the G20 format. Of course it belongs to the benefits of summits that they create occasions for diplomatic agreements, particularly to the crises of the world, and this indeed happened in Hamburg.

On the issue of 'Africa' there were impulses, like the e-skills-initiative for female entrepreneurs, but the format is not made for modelling structures and an intensive search for political solutions; and it would be wrongly staffed for that as well. The issue of Europe practically did not occur, although interest proposals are being debated.

Finally, the question remains if the G20 is still needed for global challenges like climate, energy, and health. It seems that is the music by now plays somewhere else. International expert networks, which play an indispensable role in overcoming these challenges, actively accompanied the dialogue processes of the civil society prior to the summit. At the summit itself, they didn’t play any role. It was a 'summit in the clouds', but the clouds move on. As a stocktaking of the current world society, this G20 summit seemed a little bit like a reminder of the analogue world.

G20 Leaders' Declaration
https://www.g20.org/Content/EN/_Anlagen/G20/G20-leaders-declaration.pdf?__blob=publicationFile&v=1

20 Solution Proposals for the G20 from the T20 Engagement Group
http://www.t20germany.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/20_Solutions_for-the_G20.pdf

UN: Treaty banning nuclear weapons approved
https://www.un.org/disarmament/ptnw/index.html

What we can expect from the Hamburg G20 Summit
by Claus Leggewie and Dirk Messner
T20 Germany - Blog, 5 July 2017
http://blog.t20germany.org/2017/07/05/what-we-can-expect-from-the-hamburg-g20-summit/

Martin Wolf
Head of Public Relations
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