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The G-20 is a temporary sticking plaster, not a full organ transplant

Written by Simon Maxwell


The G-20 is a welcome advance on the closed, rich-country club of the G-8, but curing the malady of weak global governance will require stronger medicine. If the G-20 is to provide a template for a more democratic future, we must ensure it advances the principles that should underpin a reboot of the global system and open up routes for new forms of multilateral cooperation. 

In three separate reports published in the past week, I have helped make the case for redesigning the architecture and governance of international institutions so that they genuinely reflect and represent regional, cultural and income diversities. The G-20 is a good starting point, but far more needs to be done.

The G-20 is an improvement on the G-8, and the London Summit needs to succeed. But one elite must not replace another. The solutions to the financial crisis and to climate change need all voices to be heard, and all decisions to be accountable. The G-20 is a temporary sticking plaster. Leaders meeting in London should launch a full-scale review of global institutions, focused on making the UN work better. At the end of the Second World War, a conference in San Francisco led to the creation of the United Nations. It’s now time for San Francisco II.

ODI’s own ‘Development Charter for the G-20’, launched last week, welcomes the London Summit. It notes that member countries represent two thirds of the world’s population, as well as about 90% of global GNP and 80% of world trade. However, the G-20 suffers from the same lack of democratic accountability as the G-8. South Africa is in, but Switzerland, Swaziland and Singapore are not – along with 169 other countries left outside the door. The world needs global governance which is universal in membership, democratic, accountable and effective. There is no substitute for a reformed UN – and the G-20 should lead in making this happen.

The Africa Progress Panel, chaired by Kofi Annan, has also issued a call for ‘New Multilateralism’, in a pamphlet published to coincide with the G-20. Introducing its work, Kofi Annan says that “Africa cannot afford to watch from the sidelines as the global crisis unfolds . . . Backroom deals should give way to transparency and full representation . . .the bigger message is that until all parts of the world are included in critical deliberations, including on trade and climate change, these institutions lack the reach and legitimacy. . . to provide truly global answers to today’s challenges, and the inclusiveness to make the most of tomorrow’s opportunities. The real challenge”, he says, “will be to ensure that legitimacy can be combined with purposeful capacity and effective decision-making”. This means that we need to create more than another talking shop for developing nations, but rather an authoritative international body capable of taking collective action for sustainable development and finding solutions to global problems.

A third report in which this argument is made, is authored by a multinational group of researchers and published by the German Development Institute in Bonn. It will appear in the German newspaper Handelsblatt today. The report is a call to reinvent globalisation for peace and prosperity. The report says the post-World War II order “has been lifted off its hinges”. In the long term, “democratic global governance will depend on a profound reform of the United Nations, the only body which is universal, legitimate and accountable to the people of the world”. The World Bank, the IMF and the trade system also need urgent reform. The job of the G-20 is to launch this process.