Italy’s turn at the G20 presidency could not be more momentous. It comes as the world is facing a second wave of infections of the novel coronavirus, and as new partial or full lockdowns worsen the economic situation in most countries. In this context, the choice of priorities of the Italian government for next year’s G20 – the “three Ps” – sounds increasingly effective, as G20 leaders are called to safeguard “People, Planet, and Prosperity”. It will be a litmus test for multilateralism, as the world faces the risk of less healthy and less prosperous citizens, living in a less sustainable planet, while tensions continue to run high at the international level.
There will be balances and compromises to strike. With almost 1.4 million deaths worldwide, the novel coronavirus is hitting our societies hard. In order to limit its spread, lockdowns and other containment measures have set the world on a path towards the biggest recession in over a century, much sharper than the 2009 Great recession (-4.4% this year, compared to -0.1% eleven years ago). By some estimates, the global economic stimulus that has been launched by countries worldwide has passed $12 trillion, more than double the levels reached in 2009-2010. But the current stimulus has been much less coordinated, and it is going to worsen the trajectory of global public debt levels that were already high and rising. In a nutshell, G20 countries enter 2021 with as big a challenge to face as in 2020, but with much more limited fiscal and financial tools.
To make matters worse, the pandemic is taking a heavier toll on those groups that were already at a disadvantage before the global health emergency struck: the poor, women, the young, and minorities. In October, the World Bank estimated that the number of people living in extreme poverty will grow for the first time in three decades, adding 80 to 150 million new persons to an already large pool of around 700 million.
Meanwhile, digitalization is making big strides, as schools close and pupils resort to remote learning, and as a larger share of the workforce is making better use of the possibilities of remote and smart working. This holds both new challenges and opportunities to a world that has the imperative of finding solutions to rising inequalities.
When putting the spotlight on the planet, recent research shows that the pandemic has had a peculiar effect on global emissions. In April, at the height of national lockdowns, global carbon emissions declined by a whopping 17%. But by September they appeared to have recovered to pre-pandemic levels.
In the face of all these challenges, what the world needs is cooperation and dialogue, especially among the countries that are the biggest contributors to the world’s GDP, greenhouse gas emissions, development aid, infrastructural spending, and defence expenditures. Yet, until today, tensions have run high. In Europe, negotiations to kickstart the recovery (Next Generation EU) have been hampered by disagreements between “frugal” and indebted countries, and now by a clash at the government level on how to better defend the rule of law. At the global level, the US and China have been locked in a trade war that promises not to go away even with the election of a new American President, while countries that rely on fossil fuels appear wary to foster a transition towards a greener, more sustainable future.
This was the reality that the Saudi presidency of the G20 had to face in 2020. And this will also be the reality that Italy will likely face during its own presidency, while we wait for signs of hope from a vaccine and from a revived multilateral engagement of world leaders to safeguard “people, planet, and prosperity”.
This text is an abstract of an article that will be published by the Global Solutions Journal