On November 15, the world will record a new milestone. Human population on planet earth will touch 8 billion. It bears note that by 2050 the global population will touch 9.7 billion. The rising numbers bring in its wake the challenges of scale and complexity.
November 15 will also witness world leaders congregating at the G20 Heads of State and Government Summit in Bali in Indonesia. The milestone and the event arrive at a crucial inflection point as the world confronts competing crises and conflicting compulsions. It is faced with daunting challenges – food shortage, climate change, potential of pandemics, deglobalisation, the spectre of wars and a breakdown in the world order, as we have known.
The construct of the G20 was ambitious. It was formulated in the aftermath of the Asian contagion in 1999, and its potential rests in its economic heft and the geographic footprint of nations. The group of nations constituting G 20 accounts for 80 per cent of world output, 70 per cent of global trade, two-thirds of the global population and 60 per cent of the world’s geographic area.
Alas, the G20 platform has scarcely leveraged the potential for the transformation awaited by billions – often it is mocked as a mute subsidiary of G7. Lacking ambition, it has languished in a valley of vapid verbiage. This week’s theme song in Bali is wrapped in the pious banner ‘recovering together, recovering stronger’. The focus areas -- Global Healthcare Architecture, Sustainable Energy Transition and Digital Transformation – are useful, but the promise is haunted by systemic global faultlines.
This December, India will assume the presidency of the G20. India has the opportunity – as the world’s fifth largest economy hosting nearly a sixth of humanity – to reset the focus of G20, and induct an agenda that prepares the world for the future. Here are five points for systemic reforms, to ensure G20 matters in the real world.
Reform of UN and Multilateral Institutions: The credibility of any international order rests on the efficacy of its dispute redressal systems. Can the affairs of the world be managed by an archaic system dictated by veto power wielded by just five nations? It is not only the UN Security Council. The array of multilateral institutions like the WTO, the WHO, the IMF and the World Bank regularly fail the test of representation and suffer from a lack of accountability. The systemic affliction has diluted trust and detained change.
Open Technology Transfer for Climate Change: Mitigation is detained by anodyne debates. Transitioning to greener practices requires funding – $1.6 trillion to $3.8 trillion as per IPCC estimates -- and access to technology. On the ground, the 2009 promise of the “$ 100 billion per year climate finance fund” is stranded, the compensatory “loss and damage fund” is trapped in rhetoric and private investment is corralled by contentious ESG norms. The planet cannot wait interminably. To start with, it is time developed countries make available technology on an open platform -- even if as part payment of obligations.
Immigration and Labour Mobility: The data on changing demographics shows that the working-age population in the developed world is shrinking. This is visible across the west – the struggle to fill posts in health care, in essential services and even in national security. Services account for two-thirds of global GDP. The politics of immigration may be seductive, but human interface is necessary to power economies. For two decades, attempts to clean the quagmire of labour mobility have been thwarted at the WTO and in FTA negotiations. There is a need to design a system to accelerate legal mobility of labour.
Need to Redesign Sanctions: The efficacy of sanctions has been tested for decades. It has not deterred regimes – be it North Korea, Iran, Syria and recently Russia – and has traumatised the people. The sanctions on Russia have hurt every economy, and Russia has weathered it. The impact on China if and when it moves on Taiwan is debatable. Efficacy calls for legitimacy. The idea of unilateral / bloc-wise sanctions is troublesome. There is a need for multilateral consultation on the redesign of sanctions and consensus on imposition.
Coordination on Systemic Shocks: The confluence of crises impacting the world has unravelled the absence of a global mechanism for managing systemic shocks such as the pandemic, the war, the food and energy crisis and fears of recession fuelled by inflation. The race of competitive rate hikes worldwide – following post-pandemic excesses and the war – has grave implications for deficits and debt in developing economies. There is the question of the efficacy of rate hikes, and there is the issue of coordination. If the world could coordinate rate cuts during the global financial crisis, there is reason to believe this is doable for rate hikes too. Just-in-time economics may be good in good times, but the recurrence of global supply shocks underlines the need for just-in-case policies and global coordination.
The abiding challenge across the ages for human society has been to design and sustain order for peace and progress. The community of nations cannot afford to neglect systemic issues, bookending them between pros and cons in endless debates. The threat to world order is a clear and present danger. It is time to set an agenda for outcomes.
The Third Eye
Author of 'The Gated Republic, Aadhaar:A Biometric History of India’s 12 Digit Revolution', and 'Accidental India'