Multilateral cooperation was being put to the test by growing divisions and confrontation well before the Covid-19 crisis. With the pandemic taking a heavy toll on human life, triggering a deep world recession and accelerating global trends, redoubling multilateral efforts is even more crucial today, in many fields: from global health to climate change, from SDGs to digital transformation. The G20 is the most important multilateral forum and its action needs to be given new life to provide effective responses.
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”.
In 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic has brought to the fore an urgent need that first emerged in 2018, at the beginning of the trade war between the United States and China: the need to reform the organisation of the WTO. Unfortunately, it has also complicated the choice of possible alternatives. The G20, which has incorporated a Trade and Investment Working Group since 2016, is now urgently examining the implications of the pandemic for international trade and investment.
The G20, whose 2021 Summit will be held in Italy as part of the Italian G20 Presidency, was established in 1999 as a consultation forum for the finance ministers and central bank governors of the world’s leading economies, largely in response to the Asian financial crisis that began two years earlier. For the subsequent ten years, the G20 did not actually set itself the goal of policy coordination.
The Covid-19 pandemic has led to the emergence of two realities that seriously threaten multilateralism: firstly the problems encountered by national governments in coordinating their responses, and secondly the growing allure of “my country first” policies. The crisis in multilateralism has been transformed from a purely latent matter into an undeniable problem. Many young people and a growing slice of public opinion no longer see in the multilateral approach an effective tool for tackling global challenges.
World leaders (virtually) convened at the Saudi G20 summit in a time when the Covid-19 emergency has compounded longstanding global challenges for the multilateral system. From climate change to digital transformation, from global health to growth and social cohesion, these are testing times for multilateralism.
COVID-19 has turned everything upside down. The global lockdowns, the stresses on weak health systems, the absence of fiscal space and social safety nets, the downturn in the world economy, have wiped out years of progress in development across the developing world.
Infrastructure investment has been a recurrent issue within the G20 agenda in the past decade as one element of the structural reforms to support growth. It has also been in the scope of the T20 since its foundation in 2012. In 2020, the work of the T20 Saudi Arabia on infrastructure was set to focus on investment and financing, in continuity with the Economic Effects of Infrastructure Investment and its Financing taskforce of the T20 Japan altho
In many respects, the COVID pandemic has been a huge litmus test: from our capacity to devise rapid responses at the medical level to the sustainability of our transition to a low-carbon future, to how society acts and reacts in the face of a deadly virus. International affairs have not been spared.
Global overheating and its devastating impacts will be the main concern around the world when this Covid-19 pandemic subsides during 2021. Cutting emission of methane, carbon dioxide, and other greenhouse gases needs speeding up. So does adaptation to the inevitable consequences of what some – euphemistically – still call "climate change". The urgency of action will be underlined again, like every summer in the Northern hemisphere, by the inescapable effects of rising heat, rising seas, and ferocious weather systems inflicting damage.