The G20 Summit in Antalya and opportunities to use the SDGs to make the world a safer place for all
When the gods wish to punish us they answer our prayers, once wrote Oscar Wilde. I should have remembered these words as I wished to find a good angle to write about the coming G20 Summit in Antalya starting today. Inspiration has most sadly come from the terrible events occurring in Paris last night (Friday 13th of November), when several terrorist attacks killed at least 128 people.
No doubt that, following Paris’ events, the issue of global terrorism will monopolise the G20 meeting’s discussion. This may come at the expenses of other topics on the agenda, such as sustainable growth and the implementation of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) recently adopted by the United Nations. And yet, the 17 Goals would give a pretty good idea to government’s leaders on where to start to make the world a safer place. To name only a few, eradicate poverty, promote decent employment for all, reduce inequality, make production and consumption patterns more sustainable, take urgent action against climate change. Just these would go a long way in eliminating the deep causes of the world’s increasing insecurity, such as widespread youth unemployment, increasing environmental disasters and forced migration.
Take the first SDG, ending poverty in all its forms everywhere. We start to have a pretty good idea of the things which need to be done to achieve it. As argued in the Third Chronic Poverty Report, four areas of interventions are fundamental, to start with: social assistance, education, health and pro-poorest economic growth. Social assistance brings the poorest people closer to a decent standard of living, provides a safety net in tough times and encourages them to make the investments and take the risks that could propel and keep them out of poverty. Education, especially education beyond a few years of primary school, enables escapes from poverty and sustains the climb away from it; it also has the advantage of being a ‘portable asset’ that is resilient to crises. Universal health coverage protects people from the main sources of impoverishment shocks, that is episodes of ill-health. Pro-poor(est) economic growth ensures the benefits of increasing national prosperity reach the very poorest people, granting additional and stable sources of income to all.
If we know what is needed, what stands in the way of implementing these interventions? Most of all, some financial constraints, lack of political commitment and poor global coordination. Social assistance, education and health are mostly a matter of domestic policy-making, but global governance could include mechanisms to ensure that no country falls short of minimum spending for these areas, for instance through the institution of global funds (as prefigured in Financing for Development conference in Addis Ababa). Pro-poor(est) economic growth would instead require a more incisive international cooperation on economic and financial issues, for instance through investment in critical infrastructure for the poor and more stringent regulation on decent employment. The G20 could make a difference providing a platform for countries to discuss coordinated solutions to these problems. In this sense, it is a good sign that the priorities for 2015 established by the Turkish G20 Presidency are inclusiveness, implementation and investment.
However, doubts remain on whether this will be enough to bring issues such as funding for education and social assistance, or promotion of decent employment through international investment on the agenda, if the countries for which these issues matter the most are not part of the discussion. While the G20 has made space at the table for some emerging economies, some of the countries with very high numbers of poor people (to name three, Nigeria, Bangladesh and the Philippines) are still excluded.
Poor people and poor countries should be given power to influence both the topics of the discussion on global fora, as well as its outcomes. Without willingness to share these powers from the richer countries, it would be difficult to gain enough traction for cooperation on the issues to be addressed to achieve a more equitable and sustainable pattern of development and greater global security in a divided world.
 The members of the G20 are Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Republic of Korea, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Turkey, the United Kingdom, the United States and the European Union. This year’s guest countries are Azerbaijan, Spain, Malaysia, Senegal, Singapore, and Zimbabwe.