For G20 nations multilateralism must be front and centre

Published on 17 November 2022

Erin MacDermott

Communications Officer

As global leaders from the world’s highest income countries met for the G20 in Bali this week, they had a pressing agenda. Record breaking heatwaves across Europe, floods in Pakistan displacing 33 million, conflict in Ukraine and an escalating global hunger crisis are just a few of the catastrophic events seen since the last G20 in Italy 2021. These events come as manifestations of major intersecting crises of climate, the Covid-19 pandemic, economy, poverty,  and inequality, and their global repercussions show how connected and interdependent the world is.

Flagpoles bearing the flags of the G20 nations
Flagpoles bearing flags from the G20 nations. Credits: Paul Kagame via Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Despite this, within UK Government we are witnessing the waning of support for multilateral development, and Official Development Assistance (ODA) contributions are falling in many countries around the world. In the UK, more ODA is now being spent at home, and less given to global institutions. The Strategy for International Development, published this May, announced a reduction in funding for the World Bank and the UN, instead prioritising bilateral spending that will ‘focus funding on UK priorities.’

Research from IDS shows that today’s crises – conflict in Ukraine and Ethiopia, climate change induced floods and heatwaves, pandemics, and rising inequalities – are all interconnected. They require a rounded response, not bilateral funding tied to foreign policy agendas that handpick a few priorities or regions in isolation. The UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – recognised as an interconnected agenda, not just 17 separate goals, and agreed by all countries – provide the framework for addressing development challenges and should have been at the core of the G20 talks this week yet received little airtime. Here are some crucial areas of multilateral cooperation that slipped down the agenda this week in Bali.

Climate policy

The G20 summit this year coincides with the final week of COP27 in Egypt, where eyes are on climate policy makers to strengthen multilateral climate agreements. The G20 group hosts the world’s richest nations, collectively responsible for close to 80 per cent of global emissions. Delivery of a promised $100billion per year from rich nations to climate vulnerable states was missed in 2020 and 2021, and G7 leaders reneged again on this commitment in 2022. The G20 was a key forum for the richest nations globally to double down on their contributions going forward, whilst prioritising finance for climate adaptation and loss and damage programmes that are locally led, and equity focused.

Disproportionate climate impacts lie in economic and social injustices that are often racial, gendered, and class-based in origin. With climate change acknowledged as the greatest future global threat, a co-ordinated, holistic approach is needed, financed primarily by those responsible for the majority of global carbon emissions. Multilateral success in respect to meeting the needs of many of the poorest and most marginalised starts with a strategy for climate change and development that is linked to the achievement of the SDGs.

Global health security

News came this week that the UK Government will contribute £1bn over three years to the replenishment of the Global Fund, which works in over 100 countries to fight HIV, tuberculosis, and malaria. Though less than in previous financing rounds, the announcement is welcome after almost two months of uncertainty on whether the UK would contribute at all. The Global Fund, alongside institutions such as the World Health Organisation (WHO) brings together aggregate data, technology, and knowledge exchange in a way that bilateral health programmes are not able.

To help mitigate immediate and ongoing global health threats, strengthened global health governance is needed. This would encourage cooperation between all nations with the WHO and UN systems and constructively navigate a new era of pandemic preparedness and response. Plans for an international treaty on pandemic preparedness for 2024 are welcome, building on the existing International Health Regulations. Even if political challenges prevent all countries from signing, this will set the stage for an internationally-connected approach to this most global of challenges.

Alongside multilateral support, there must be a recognition of the need to engage in local and ‘bottom-up’ initiatives for epidemic preparedness and response, supported by context-specific research and evidence generated with participants from diverse communities. G20 countries can respond to both national and cross-border disease threats if they work more closely together to strengthen global health systems, improve capacities of national and regional networks,  draw upon expertise of local communities, and foster respectful dialogues and learning across scales and boundaries.

Cross-border knowledge exchange

Long-term development support for the most vulnerable and marginalised people, and for increasing opportunities for everyone, would be best channelled via pooling knowledge from diverse contexts. This should involve input from all disciplines – social sciences and humanities as well as natural sciences – to tackle global challenges and develop mutual knowledge exchanges between research networks in high, middle, and low-income countries. It is important that the leaders from the wealthiest counties globally prioritise working with multilateral institutions to support an open international knowledge order. This should also recognise the importance of research, data, and evidence for informing policies and practices for supporting open societies.

Institutional reform to focus on inequities

The Covid-19 pandemic has sharply highlighted existing (and sometimes deepening) inequalities, inequities and injustices. With much of the focus of this year’s G20 centred on geopolitics, rising inequities between rich and poor received little attention. The SDGs and other global frameworks have set out visions of achieving a more equitable and sustainable world where people everywhere can live their lives free from poverty and injustice. Yet cooperation within fora such as the G20 and the COP is often limited by bureaucracy, stalemate, and the uneven distribution of power within global governance mechanisms.

The WTO’s James Bacchus recently spoke at IDS on the need for reform of the WTO to prioritise inclusive trade policies for the most marginalised. Evidence from the IDS research partnership CORE on the impact of Covid-19 in low- and middle-income countries makes the case to the World Bank and IMF for internationally coordinated fiscal measures centred on inclusivity and targeting the most vulnerable. In the context of deepening global inequity, the time seems right for G20 leaders to push for a reform of multilateral institutions so that they are underpinned by the centrality of universality (development as progressive change for all), plurality, justice, equity and resilience.

Looking forward

The coming years are crucial for multilateral cooperation. We are fast approaching the 2030 target for the SDGs, yet the Sustainable Development Goals Report 2022 paints a bleak picture of progress in almost all areas. In the period to 2025, there are replenishments rounds scheduled for the Global Environment Fund, the African Development Fund, and the Green Climate Fund, mechanisms to which G20 nations are all key contributors.

As a group of nations with the most responsibility for the global challenges we face, as well as the most resources, it’s vital for G20 leaders to strengthen collective efforts towards confronting them and achieving the SDGs. To use words from UN Secretary general Antonio Guterres’ opening remarks at COP27 “A window of opportunity remains open, but only a narrow shaft of light remains.” There couldn’t be a worse time to turn our backs to that window.

This year’s series of Sussex Development Lectures focuses on ‘Global solidarities for development’, interrogating and questioning what appears to be a growing retreat from international cooperation, and exploring how emerging solidarities from social movements, collective action and networks locally, regionally and transnationally can help achieve sustainable development for the future.