Oxfam’s full post mortem on the G20 summit

April 3, 2009

     By Duncan Green     

OK, this is the last post on the G20 for a few days. This is Oxfam’s more considered analysis of the communiques and accompanying intelligence gleaned over the course of the last few days. Hope it makes sense.

Summary (for full paper click here): G20 leaders met for the second time in London on 2 April, as the global economic crisis began to crash across the borders of poor countries with ever-greater severity. Oxfam’s research shows rising human impacts in the shape of job losses, falling remittances to the families of migrant workers and a particularly severe impact on women workers in global supply chains. Based on the latest forecasts, published on the eve of the summit, Oxfam estimates that the crisis could push 100 million people into poverty in 2009 alone.

Against this backdrop, how did the G20 leaders perform? After a summit, leaders invariably claim success, seeking to extract the maximum political mileage from their efforts. This paper provides an independent assessment of the G20 process and the three documents3 released on the day of the summit. It should be noted, however, that the true significance of many of the agreements signed on 2 April will only emerge over the coming months and years.

Our overall analysis is that the Summit itself could prove an historic moment in a critical year for the twin crises of climate change and economic meltdown. It could mark a global power shift towards the large developing countries such as China, India and Brazil, and the partial eclipse of the old G8 club. The decisions and declarations were, as with any such event, a mixed bag.

The G20 ended on a note of high optimism that the rich countries were prepared to dig deep to find a significant fiscal stimulus to help poor people and countries, and that the ‘casino capitalism’ of the last 35 years was to be reined in, and the vital role of states in promoting equity and economic justice be fully acknowledged.

Alas, bitter experience tells us that the euphoria at such events too often sours, as big numbers magically melt away or prove less generous under scrutiny, and as the long slog of implementation proves much harder than ringing declarations by sleep-deprived politicians. Moreover, in the middle of the worst economic crisis in 60 years, politicians need to be held to more demanding standards of leadership than during ‘peacetime’. While those present may have breathed a sigh of relief that the summit achieved more than the low initial expectations, the truth is that real results are likely to fall far short of the hopes of transformational change that were widespread at the end of 2008. The true test of the London Summit lies in what happens next, particularly in the crucial rounds of global diplomacy during the rest of 2009.