Time to translate G-20 commitments into action, results

    A view of the opening plenary session at the G-20 Leaders’ Summit in Brisbane, Australia. What went on during the gathering of the world’s top economies? Photo by: Andrew Taylor / G-20 Australia

    The G-20 Summit in Brisbane, Australia came to a “fruitful” conclusion this weekend with the world’s top economies agreeing to lay out their plans in charting out a path for a more prosperous and sustainable global economy.

    What are these plans and initiatives? How will these affect international development efforts? Will they be effective and efficient enough to ensure inclusivity and sustainability?

    In a communiqué released following the summit, G-20 leaders noted that while significant progress have been made economically and socially in the past couple of years, we need a renewed focus on sustainable growth, job creation, infrastructure investments, gender equality and women empowerment, aid for trade, health and energy.

    “Raising global growth to deliver better living standards and quality jobs for people across the world is our highest priority,” the G-20 leaders said in the communiqué. “We will monitor and hold each other to account for implementing our commitments and actual progress towards our growth ambition, informed from international organizations.”

    Time will tell, though, if these lofty statements will translate into actual actionable efforts and results that can make a true impact on the lives of the poor in developing countries.

    Some of the G-20’s broken promises, certain aid groups suggest, include pledges to eschew protectionism as discussed in a report released by Global Trade Alert in 2008 as well as the general concept of committing in principle (and failing to do so) to aid and help developing or “poor” economies to grow rapidly and sustainably.

    With this track record, the current scenario following the G-20 Summit in Brisbane may look like this: The words have been said and written, and now it’s time to translate these words into action and achieve results.

    Priorities and implications

    Most of the priorities from the Brisbane meeting have been a melting pot of old and new development issues facing the international community.

    Global growth and job creation have been perennial issues in pursuing sustainable and inclusive growth in Asia-Pacific and beyond. G-20 leaders agreed that while there are many ways to achieve these goals, infrastructure is the key.

    “We are determined to overcome these challenges and step up our efforts to achieve strong, sustainable and balanced growth and to create jobs,” the G-20 leaders said in the communiqué. “We are implementing structural reforms to lift growth and private sector activity, recognizing that well-functioning markets underpin prosperity.”

    Policymakers and development stakeholders have to make sure that educational and employment trends are aligned with each other. It is not enough to teach the youth basic lessons for the sake of providing an education. The goal is to inculcate a set of skills and knowledge that will prepare individuals for a competitive job in the market.

    A major pillar of the Australian presidency has been to establish a global infrastructure hub to address the massive infrastructure investment needs all around the world. The hub, which will be based in Sydney, hopes to help fill the global infrastructure investment gap and enjoys the full support of multilateral financial institutions like the World Bank.

    Whether or not this initiative will meet its goals remains to be seen, but experts believe it could set the tone in today’s rapidly changing development financing landscape. The establishment of the infrastructure hub may also justify Australia’s — and other countries’ — reluctance to join the controversial China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, a $100 billion institution set to start operating by 2015.

    Other G-20 priorities in Brisbane included an emphasis on aid for trade for “developing countries in need of assistance” — a strategy which Australia is pushing for in its foreign and development policy, as well as a focus on health — particularly following the Ebola outbreak in West Africa — and energy efficiency.

    Words into actions

    The ultimate challenge for the G-20 and their initiatives, however, lies in their ability to materialize all that they have said into action and results. As stated above, the annual summits have never been lacking in terms of pledges, promises and initiatives. What they lack is the follow-up.

    While these assumptions will require time to bear fruit (or not), some experts suggest that member states of the G-20 pool may have to do more than what they initially intend to do for their words to bear fruit than merely staging a global show of dialogue and discussion.

    For some development experts, what the G-20 lacks is legitimacy, effectiveness and, to a certain extent, inclusivity. Jan Rood, senior research fellow at the Hague-based Clingendael Institute, argued in a paper in July that the elite group doesn’t have legitimacy and effectiveness because it is “a self-appointed body without clear rules regarding its composition” and representation.

    “Some important economic powers are not represented, Europe is overrepresented, and Africa is clearly underrepresented,” he said, adding that the G-20’s impact is also affected because the leadership changes every year.

    While the G-20 tried to erase the “elite feeling” by expanding membership from the original G7 to the current G-20 a few years back as well as establishing various representative positions for Africa and Southeast Asia, many stakeholders still feel left out.

    Do you think the G-20 will now be able to make its commitments translate into measurable development impacts? Please let us know by sending an email to news@devex.com or leaving a comment below.

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    About the author

    • Lean Alfred Santos

      Lean Alfred Santos is a former Devex development reporter focusing on the development community in Asia-Pacific, including major players such as the Asian Development Bank and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. He previously covered Philippine and international business and economic news, sports and politics.