First day of T20 summit focuses on reasons for optimism amid growing challenges to multilateralism

Optimism amid growing challenges to multilateralism

In the wake of the tense G7 Leaders Summit in Italy, it is clear that advocates for multilateralism, cross-border cooperation, and globalism in general, must redouble their efforts if they are to successfully counter growing populist support for inward-looking nationalism. In a refreshing reminder of the resolve of those committed to global cooperation, the 2017 Think20 Summit has successfully brought together several hundred policy experts, researchers, officials, and stakeholders with an interest in the G20, from across the world, in order to discuss, consolidate, and give one final push to the large body of policy work that the Think20 community has managed to produce over the last six months.

Considerably larger in scope and scale than the first T20 meeting under Mexico’s G20 presidency in 2012, the T20 Summit in 2017 looks to be a solid reminder that if and when political leaders and officials are able and willing to engage with their wider scientific, economic, and policy research communities, these same communities are in turn ready and able to do their part in promoting good, evidence-based, and empirically sound global public policy. This includes the work of the 12 T20 working groups across a variety of issues, that in turn have produced over 70 insight papers, all of which are available for download.

The opening remarks from the co-chairs of the T20 process under Germany’s G20 Presidency, Dirk Messner and Dennis Snower, Director of the German Development Institute / Deutsches Intitut für Entwicklungspolitik (DIE) and President of the Kiel Institute for World Economy (IfW) respectively, covered some of the many challenges that G20 leaders must address in one month’s time in Hamburg. Dirk Messner pointedly spoke of the difficult decisions that world leaders must confront on matters such as climate change, international trade, rapid technological change, and the need to think about responding to such phenomena in a highly interlinked way. The Director of DIE further observed that “at a time when some global leaders are creating their own facts and their own realities…”, knowledge sharing networks such as the T20 become very important “constellations” of cooperation and dialogue and must be prepared to assist leaders as they make decisions over the next decade that “will be decisive for the 21st Century as a whole”.

In a similar vein, Dennis Snower highlighted the growing danger of a ‘decoupling’ between economic progress and social progress, such that the experience of economic growth has becoming increasingly divergent and unsatisfying for large segments of the global population. Amid such social and economic fragmentation, exacerbated particularly in the period following the 2008 global financial crisis, the struggle to establish a common narrative around which societies can move towards greater global cooperation has become both an urgent necessity, and increasingly difficult. Reflecting on the scale of the challenge that lies before the G20 leaders – at least those who wish to avoid a breakdown in global systems of governance and cooperation – Snower also called on participants at the T20 to view the Global Solutions summit not just as a conference, but as part “of an ongoing mission and an ongoing dialogue”, whereby “think tanks, business leaders and civil society … combine our efforts in the service of the common good”.

We have the ideas – it’s time to implement them

Several participants in the panel sessions and workshop sessions throughout the day echoed or built upon the remarks made in the opening sessions. Gabriela Ramos, Chief of Staff and OECD Sherpa to the G20, referred to the OECD’s work on productivity stagnation and “the breakdown of the diffusion machine”, whereby the prevailing emphasis on pursuing economic growth over the late 20th and early 21st Century confused the idea of growth as being an end in itself, as opposed to being  a means for achieving social progress. The way forward, according to Ms Ramos, is to “get growth going through inclusivity” (emphasis hers), a view echoed by Ylva Johansson, Swedish Minister for Employment and Integration. Pointing to the Sustainable Development Goals and the 2030 Agenda, a holistic framework agreed to by all 193 members of the United Nations, Ms Ramos noted that countries have come up with an inclusive growth path for the future – the hard part now is to follow through.

This point was later repeated in a subsequent panel in which Lord Nicholas Stern and Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz launched a report from the high-level commission on carbon prices. Both Stern and Stiglitz referred to the Paris Climate Accords, Agenda 2030, and the Addis Ababa Financing Agenda as three key global agreements reached in 2015 that can serve as a coherent framework for global governance, inclusive growth, and sustainable development, over the next fifteen years. “This is the growth story”, noted Stern, adding that “we are in a real hurry, and there are real dangers of delay”. While both economists also acknowledged that the political difficulty of achieving such outcomes was sizable, the intervention via videolink from Nicolas Hulot, the new French Minister for Ecology, Sustainable Development and Energy, in which he gave his enthusiastic support to the carbon pricing research of the high-level commission, lent hope to the prospects that at least a majority of G20 countries are still committed to a climate friendly and inclusive growth agenda.

Throughout the day, participants also turned their minds to others issues as diverse as global migration, tax cooperation, crises of multilateralism, sustainable infrastructure and the challenges of building a circular economy. Yet despite the variety of complex problems brought up on the first day of the Think20 Summit, participants and discussants generally concluded on notes of optimism, pointing to either a stubborn determination to press on regardless of looming challenges to global cooperation, or at least a solid belief that so long as knowledge communities such as the T20 are continually prepared to voice their expertise and researched opinions, there is reason to believe that the threat of “alternative facts and realities” will soon be behind us.

The German Development Institute / Deutsches Institut für Entwicklungspolitik (DIE) and the Kiel Institute for World Economy are responsible for coordinating the T20 process during Germany’s G20 presidency.

Image: Hugh Jorgensen

Hugh Jorgensen works as a Policy Advisor in International Relations, G20 / T20

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