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G20 faces new challenges ten years after its birth

6 July 2017
Refugees, climate change, and security

What are the challenges facing the G20 Leaders’ Summit in Hamburg, Germany? University of Sydney academics assess.

Germany's Chancellor, Angela Merkel. Image: Wikimedia

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the G20 must demonstrate that it stands together. Image: Wikimedia Commons

The G20 meets in Hamburg 10 years after the global financial crisis that yielded its creation.

The group’s industrialised and emerging market economies face a series of problems as challenging as the Global Financial Crisis of a decade ago, as University of Sydney experts explain.

Addressing global economic inequality

Associate Professor Mark Melatos describes the German Presidency’s economic and financial priorities as laudable, albeit likely to be overshadowed by more pressing concerns over climate change and global security.

“Since the Global Financial Crisis, the burden of reigniting global economic growth has been carried mostly by central banks, not treasuries, and the recent trend away from global integration suggests that there is a lack of political will for further substantive economic and financial integration,” said Associate Professor Melatos.

“The G20 should be using its influence to champion policies that help to counter rising global inequality, which has become a drag on global growth and a source of political instability. The focus on greater international tax cooperation, therefore, is a welcome initiative.”

An international approach to refugees

Germany has at times been at the centre of debate about the challenges of a global refugee crisis. The German presidency of the G20 under Chancellor Angela Merkel has put migration and forced displacement on the Hamburg agenda, with an acknowledgment the crisis requires “internationally coordinated answers”.

Dr Anna Boucher, of the Sydney Asia Pacific Migration Centre, suggests international mechanisms for managing the movement of refugees may now be in need of reform.  

“The United Nation’s recent move towards a Global Compact on Refugees is a tacit acknowledgment that the 1951 Convention and its optional protocol do not cover the full story,” said Dr Boucher, a Senior Lecturer in Public Policy and Political Science, with research interests in immigration policy and politics.

“A new approach to refugees is needed because the current Convention is too narrow in its definition of ‘who is a refugee’, the collective-action problem of responsibility goes unaddressed and the global compact acknowledges the need for steps in this direction.

“It won’t be easy but the current system is clearly crumbling under the weight of growing flows and increasing crises.”

Food governance

Food security is another prominent agenda issue, owing to climate change’s increasing pressure on farming, in tandem with population growth, and growing water consumption.  

While the onus is on nations to take leadership, it is companies who wield much of the power, said Dr Alana Mann, Chair of the Department of Media and Communications.

“The democratic governance of food and agriculture policy is under threat as control of food security is often in the hands of profit-making companies,” said Dr Mann.

“A multi-year study involving 44 scientists from more than 60 countries found that poverty rates, levels of education, knowledge of nutrition, as well as war and conflict, marginalise those most vulnerable to hunger and malnutrition.

“Importantly, the resulting report emphasises that critical communities, by raising questions of ownership and control of technologies, play a vital role in food systems governance.”

Dr Mann added: “The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) is working to include the voices of small-scale food producers and those most affected by hunger in policy-making processes through the Civil Society Mechanism of the World Committee for Food Security. It is important that Australia, in partnership with our neighbours in the region, participates fully in these processes.”

Luke O'Neill

Media and Public Relations Adviser (Humanities and Social Sciences)