What would you tell the G20?

As world leaders prepare to thrash out global issues in Toronto this weekend, a roundtable of experts and commentators explain what they believe should top the agenda.

More entries will be added to chinadialogue’s G20 roundtable during the course of the week. Leave your thoughts on what the priorities should be for world leaders – and get involved in the discussion.

We need a global green new deal, now

We need to combine our efforts to address the financial crisis, climate change and global inequality. In a report entitled “World Economic and Social Survey 2009: Promoting Development, Saving the Planet”, the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN-DESA) put forward such an integrated approach, which has been presented under names like “a global green new deal” or “new Marshall plan”.

Calling for US$500 billion (3.4 trillion yuan) per year, or 1% of global output, the report proposes a host of possible multilateral measures including: the creation of a global clean-energy fund, a global feed-in tariff regime in support of renewable-energy sources, a climate-technology programme and a more balanced intellectual-property regime for aiding the transfer of clean-energy technology. The idea is to mobilise substantial public resources to tackle energy poverty while, over the space of 10 to15 years, driving the price of renewable energy down to levels where it can compete with fossil fuels and be affordable for the global poor.

Some doubts have been cast on the sincerity of some world leaders to deal with the climate-change emergency, given facts like the paltry pledges on emission reduction by developed countries and the promised fast-track climate finance being largely “fast-gone” money where existing commitments are re-labelled. If there can be serious discussion about the proposal of a global green new deal during the G20 summit, it will be an opportunity for world leaders to match their words with deeds.

Dale Jiajun Wen works for the International Forum on Globalization

Pay attention to geophysical changes

There are three major changes going on in the world today. The first two are well known and will be discussed in Toronto at the G20 meetings. They are: geopolitical changes (as demonstrated, for example, by the G8 becoming the G20) and geoeconomic changes (as demonstrated by the global financial crisis).

The third change is getting very little attention at the G20, even though, if not addressed, it has the potential to undermine any progress made in the other two areas. The third global change is geophysical. Not only climate change, but also fresh-water depletion, soil degradation, desertification and more.

By ignoring the geophysical, G20 leaders risk creating structures that will only make things worse as the environment changes. For example, countries may engage in detailed negotiations about agricultural subsidies for specific crops, only to find that the domestic markets they are protecting can no longer grow those crops because of changes in rainfall patterns. The problem of crop failures will then be compounded by subsidies structures that make it difficult to switch to other, more appropriate, crops – or to import.

I would urge G20 leaders to assess not only the impact of their decision-making on the environment, but a changing environment’s impact on their domestic stability and security. Domestic environmental-change assessment should be made and counter measures incorporated into policy before putting in place new international agreements that may enshrine behaviours that could turn a bad situation into a catastrophe.

Cleo Paskal is an associate fellow at Chatham House and author of Global Warring: How Environmental, Economic, and Political Crises Will Redraw the World Map

Put food security first for sustainable development

Last year in L’Aquila, Italy, G8 leaders made a US$20 billion (136.6 billion yuan) pledge to help vulnerable countries address the challenge of food security. This pledge was one of many initiatives to emerge in the aftermath of a global surge in food prices in mid-2008 – a period which saw the governments of Haiti and Madagascar overthrown and the number of the world’s hungry pass one billion.

The proliferation of aligned, but ultimately separate, food-security initiatives over the past two years suggests a number of roles for the G8 and G20 to play, as core funders of international development.

Farming First, a sustainable-development coalition, believes that G8 and G20 leaders should help proactively guide policymakers to coordinate their efforts to prevent overlapping, competing or disjointed activities in agriculture. Our 129 supporter organisations have compiled a comprehensive “Guide to Food Security Initiatives” ahead of this year’s G8 and G20 summits.

In these times of austerity we urge world leaders to demand greater transparency on the delivery of these billions and on the impact they are having. Lastly, we urge their governments to engage with all relevant stakeholders, notably farmers, scientists, engineers and industry, on turning enlightened food-security policies into effective and sustainable action on the world’s farms.

Howard Minigh is spokesperson for Farming First and president and chief executive of CropLife International.

Grip the biodiversity crisis

Biodiversity is at the heart of commercial interaction between the major countries of the world. Studies have already shown that almost half of global GDP depends somehow on living goods, such as agricultural crops, animal protein and fibres. Unfortunately, we do not often realise how much value is generated by ecosystems. A strong argument is arising in my country, Brazil, for example that the rains generated by the Amazon rainforest are crucial to the production of agricultural goods in other regions.

Eight years ago, signatory countries to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) pledged to “significantly reduce the loss of biodiversity by 2010”. Although one might say that the target was pretty vague, we know that things have only got worse since 2002. The new Global Biodiversity Outlook (GBO 3) has all the scary data to prove this. So this year is the chance to start changing the process for real. Countries will meet in Japan in October to decide new targets and the commitment and ambitions of the 20 leading economies will be essential.

Stopping the depletion of marine life and halting tropical deforestation are the priorities. New, intelligent and fair policies are urgently needed. Hopefully leadership will not be missing.

Gustavo Faleiros is Brazilian journalist and editor of O Eco

Lay the groundwork for Cancún

At the China Youth Climate Action Network, we always follow the progress of the G20 summits with great interest. The G20 member nations are not only the most important global players economically and politically, but their actions to deal with climate change also play a crucial role. These nations are responsible for more than 90% of the world’s carbon-dioxide emissions and without their vigorous participation, a global agreement on emissions reduction will be very difficult to achieve.

The coming together of the G20 heads of state presents an excellent opportunity for furthering international cooperation on climate change. We sincerely hope that in the near future – at the meetings in Toronto and the summit in Seoul later in the year – the leaders of each country will move forward in responding to the threat of climate change, advancing the development of clean energy and establishing a low-carbon economy. This will help to lay the foundations for the UN-led climate-change conference at Cancún in November.

At last September’s G20 summit, there was discussion about how each country should phase out fossil-fuel subsidies in order to speed up development of clean energy sources, lessen our dependence on emissions-intensive fuels like oil and stimulate activity in the fields of science and technology and environmental protection. But the summit still failed to produce a detailed plan for achieving this. Hopefully, this year’s G20 meetings will have more success in advancing discussion and collaboration on these topics.

Yupu Zhao is international coordinator of China Youth Climate Action Network. The China Youth Climate Action Network (CYCAN) comprises seven Chinese youth environmental organisations.

Build real shared awareness

Globalisation is in the midst of a “long crisis”. Problems like financial volatility, oil and resource scarcity, economic imbalances, risks to trade and climate change are increasingly interlinked with one another – and getting harder to deal with all the time.

In the face of these challenges, the G20 needs to let go of its over-choreographed summits and the myopic focus of its sherpa network (the diplomats who prepare the groundwork for the summits) on what language to release to the world’s press. Instead, it must build real shared awareness – and action – between leaders. To do this, it should:

• Resist the temptation to limit itself just to financial and economic issues, but instead take on the broad challenge of building a more resilient globalisation;

• Start having less structured discussions, at both sherpa and heads level – returning to the G7’s original 1975 focus on conversations as the necessary precursor to consensus;

• Move from rotating chairs to a “troika” of the previous, current and next chairs, to allow for better continuity and follow-up;

• Increase the “bandwidth” of the sherpa mechanism by co-locating sherpas for more of the time – and enhance analytical capacity by giving international organisations a clearer supporting role; and

• Move from communiqués to action plans that detail agreed next steps and designate specific senior officials for implementation.

Alex Evans is a non-resident fellow at New York University and joint editor of Global Dashboard.

Redefine poverty

The US$1-a-day poverty line, and therefore the Millennium Development Goal based on it, are meaningless.

The poverty line is arbitrary, and does not by any standards provide an adequate level of income. Typically between one-in-twelve and one-in-six children at this level of income die before their fifth birthdays. In the latest update of its poverty data, the World Bank lowered the poverty line by 14% in real terms; but its estimate of the number or people below this lower line was 32% greater than at the higher line before the update. Even if we meet the Millenium Development Goal, the proportion of the population of the developing world below the original poverty line may be little lower than we thought it was to start with – 24.5% compared with 28%. This is a nonsense.

We need to reconnect our definition of poverty with the reasons why we want to reduce it – the ill-effects of poverty on people’s health, education, nutrition, survival and standard of living. The “dollar-a-day” approach cannot do this, and sets totally different standards in different countries. We need to move to a rights-based poverty line, setting the line in each country according to a common international standard of what we mean by the right to child survival, the right to health, the right to education and so on, at the level of income at which people actually reach these standards in that country.

The poverty lines will be different in dollar terms; but, much more importantly, they will correspond with the same standard of living, and they will be consistent with our moral judgements of what constitutes an adequate and acceptable standard of living.

David Woodward is a Cambodia-based fellow at the new economics foundation

Find a fresh approach to economic governance

The G20 nations can be – are – proud that they cooperated in the heart of the economic downturn. As a result, world growth appears to have resumed. Now, with summits due in Toronto this month and in Seoul in November, come two even tougher challenges.

First, there is the question how the global economy can be better governed and regulated, to minimise the risks and impacts of future bouts of irrational exuberance? In the United Kingdom, for example, the Bank of England has been charged by the new chancellor with the task of “turning down the music when the dancing gets too wild”. Regional versions of this approach should be on future G20 agendas.

Second, there is the nexus of climate change, water scarcity, access to energy, food security, poverty and loss of biodiversity. When business and political leaders use words like “sustainability” or “sustainable economic growth”, they often mean a return to business – and economic growth – as usual. This is likely to aggravate most of the issues listed above. With the twentieth anniversary of the 1992 Rio Conference on Environment and Development due in 2012, the G20 must make sustainability – in the true sense – a central plank of all future summits and programmes.

John Elkington is co-founder of Volans and of SustainAbility

Adopt a sophisticated approach to compensation

There has been much talk about proposed compensation that the rich world should pay poor countries for not plundering the environment – particularly rainforest.

The argument goes like this: poor countries like Indonesia should be compensated for lost revenues if they decide to protect the environment instead of cutting down their trees at dizzying rate. But should countries with distinct political and social systems, like Brazil and Indonesia, be compensated equally?

Brazil has proven its ability to dramatically reduce poverty in a matter of a few years. Legal logging (unfortunately there is still illegal logging, too) is taxed and much of the money is used for the good of the nation.

Indonesia is still a feudal country, where much of the population is poor and cannot count on the government or private sector for any serious help. Logging is either illegal or controlled by the army, thugs or people well connected with the present administration or all the above categories combined. Even if all forests disappear, the vast majority of the country will get nothing. Nor will they be compensated if logging stops. Should Brazil and Indonesia really receive the same level of compensation?

Andre Vltchek is a novelist, journalist and filmmaker based in Asia and Africa. His latest book is Oceania

Budget for biodiversity

Governments continue to take biodiversity for granted. Its value is not adequately factored into public budgets, and as a result, biodiversity continues to be lost at an alarming rate, with significant losses to local and national economies over the long term. Losses from deforestation and forest degradation alone are estimated at between US$2 trillion (13.6 trillion yuan) and US$4.5 trillion (30.6 trillion yuan) per annum.

Proper valuation of biodiversity should be mainstreamed into all G20 finance, economic, trade, business and labour ministries. We need economic policies that internalise the risks of environmental damage in decision making; that leverage the positive links between biodiversity, job creation and poverty reduction; and that stimulate investment in biodiversity to build resilience in the face of environmental change.

The Green Economy Coalition calls upon the G20 to:

(1) Integrate the value of biodiversity into your national accounts, and to encourage the disclosure of environmental and social impact through environmental, social and governance reporting systems.

(2) Reform all subsidies which encourage overproduction or wasteful consumption of resources. Given the G20 commitment to phase out fossil fuel subsidies, we urge you to report on your transition strategies and to announce when and how you intend to phase these subsidies out.

(3) Spare no effort to move the G20 group forwards to support a post-2012 global climate policy framework which is ambitious, fair and legally binding.

The Green Economy Coalition is an alliance of international business, trade unions, research and environmental organisations, hosted by the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED). This is an exert from its open letter to the G20.

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