One common element
G20 Summit

One common element

The one thing every global issue has in common is cost. But success doesn’t come for free, and the cost of a successful economy, a healthy population and a healthy environment is much less than the cost of delay

What did you learn in chairing the first G20 finance ministers’ meetings?

I learned why the G20 can play such an important role. It is a well-situated forum capable of enabling countries to handle globalisation because it is built on the premise that no country, no matter how powerful, can handle the issues borne of globalisation alone. But when national and global responses are put together, they are unstoppable. 

This means that the direct involvement of experienced national ministers in their specific fields must be integral to the global role embodied by the G20. It is a role that is crucial if globalisation is to benefit everyone. In short, this is the reason why the G20 leaders must invite to the table the ministers who have dealt or are dealing with difficult issues at home and who can develop global answers to similar issues internationally when the need arises. 

Hopefully this is what we will see come out of Bali.

What are the issues the G20 should address?

They are issues that are beyond the capacity of any one country to resolve on its own – such as climate change. There we need G20 meetings with the responsible ministers. With the massive shifts in climate resulting in floods, fires and droughts all over, and faced with the countervailing pressure of energy supply constraints and the immediate need to rely on fossil fuels while maintaining our collective commitment to a clean energy transition, if the people making the decisions globally are not the ones dealing with these issues at home, then the only thing we will get internationally will be communiqués, and not real action. 

We need the same process for health, because the next pandemic – which none of us can predict but all of us must expect – will be resolved only by drawing on what we have learned in dealing with Covid-19. The next pandemic will contain surprises, but if the people who respond to them draw on the successes and recognise the mistakes of the last decade, we will overcome.

One lesson we have all learned is that there can be no successful economy without a healthy population and a healthy environment. Success doesn’t come for free. It costs money, but it’s much less than the cost of delay. This is a global lesson from Africa’s Covid-19 vaccination difficulties, which never should have happened, and must not be allowed to happen again. 

Why is the involvement of finance ministers particularly important?

The one element common to every global issue is cost. How do we pay for it? Finance ministers are always involved in costing so they have a unique and far-reaching understanding of what is, surprisingly, not always well understood. They need to be there as decisions are being taken. This is true for domestic issues of course, but even more so internationally, because perpetual hesitation over cost must not be allowed to prevent a global response to a global attack on society such as a pandemic or indeed climate change and the energy transition. 

Why is the G20 suited to this kind of collaboration?

The origins of the G20 are a clear example of effective collaboration. It was created because the G7 finance ministers needed to draw on a wider range of countries’ experience to deal with certain international issues. When we were responding to the Asian financial crisis that began in 1997, we were told quickly that the challenge was beyond our borders and beyond our capacity. This led the G7 finance ministers to create the finance ministers’ G20, and I can tell you the quality of global debate and approach improved substantially with that response. That process could have taken far longer, but the finance ministers were able to act on their own and they acted quickly. 

That collaboration is what we need at the leaders’ level, to be sure – but also with ministers who deal with climate change and ministers who deal with pandemics, and in all cases with the pertinent global institutions. There is huge expertise in individual countries that needs to be made available to the world, but the way to do it is to start with the G20 finance ministers as facilitators.

What about Ukraine?

Unfortunately, it may not be the G20 that stops the war in Ukraine, but it must play a strong role when the time comes to rebuild the Ukrainian economy. Here the G20 cannot ignore its responsibility. It has to be a major player in Ukraine’s economic rehabilitation. 

What does all this mean?

It means that lasting international success will begin with the utilisation of national expertise. It is the global coordination of national capacity by countries that is the G20’s greatest asset. 

We are many countries, but one world. We spend a lot of effort building international bodies for global success, and so we should. But remember, the more we share our expertise and experience with others, the more successful our global institutions will be – and vice versa.

It’s about helping many countries to begin with. But, ultimately, it’s about building a better world.