Ukraine makes for unpredictable G20 summit

Ukraine makes for unpredictable G20 summit

Ukraine makes for unpredictable G20 summit
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World leaders are making their final preparations for what could be a blockbuster G20 summit next month, which has the potential to be the most unpredictable multilateral meetings of recent years.

This is not least because of the Ukraine conflict, now in its ninth month, which has shaken up the international landscape. Tensions over Moscow’s invasion already caused diplomatic fireworks in the G20 this year. The group’s foreign ministers clashed during their meeting in Bali over the summer, with Russia’s Sergey Lavrov walking out of meetings at least twice.

With Ukraine proving so divisive, there are potentially huge barriers to any constructive discussion taking place. For instance, Western leaders fear Russia is likely to try to use a possible extension of the UN-brokered Black Sea grain-export deal as a way to gain leverage in other discussions.

Ahead of the expiry on Nov. 19 of the existing agreement, which kick-started Ukrainian grain exports in recent weeks, Moscow has repeatedly stated there are serious problems with it. So a potential extension of the deal could prove to be a centerpiece of the summit, with Russia holding court on the issue.

Western leaders, who will be gathering for the first time since the G7 and NATO meetings over the summer in Europe, will use the summit to renew their Ukraine strategy. They will also welcome new UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak into their midst and discuss wider challenges, including those originating from China.

In this context of uncertainty, Indonesian President Joko Widodo is determined to try to make his mark as host of the event, even though his nation is one of the group’s less-prominent states. He might be helped in this by supportive noises from Chinese President Xi Jinping, who said recently that he and US President Joe Biden, who will attend in the aftermath of the US midterm elections, must find ways to get along better following a longstanding cooling of bilateral ties.

According to Widodo, while Putin might not attend the summit in person, other heads of state will, including those from China, Germany, India, Japan, Australia, Brazil, the UK, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Turkey, France, Italy, Germany, Canada, South Korea, Argentina, Mexico, the EU and the US. Collectively, these powers account for about 90 percent of global gross domestic product, 80 percent of world trade, and 66 percent of the global population.

One high priority for the event is the outlook for the global economy amid growing concerns that key nations, including much of the West, are in or heading for recession. Indonesia’s G20 presidency has formulated six priority agendas that include support for the economy through the difficult period that lies ahead, including dealing with the continuing pandemic and securing future growth in the digital age.

One of the related economic issues that will be discussed is surging energy prices. Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, energy security has become as important as net-zero emissions for some governments, not least in Europe, and this might be the case not just this year and next but also into the medium term.

This pressing matter, which will also be a key topic for discussion during the world leaders’ gathering at COP27 in Egypt on November 7-8, was highlighted in a major report published on Thursday by the UN, which asserted that there is currently no credible way for the world to deliver on the central goal of Paris: Namely, to limit the average increase in global temperatures to no more than 1.5 C above preindustrial levels.

Hence the compelling need for strong leadership from G20 leaders and bolder statements of intent because, in the words of UN climate change chief Simon Stiell: “We are still nowhere near the scale and pace of emission reductions required to put us on track toward a 1.5 degrees Celsius world. To keep this goal alive, national governments need to strengthen their climate action plans now and implement them in the next eight years.”

Broader global economic-development issues will also be a key feature of the summit, reflecting Indonesia’s status as a key emerging market with the ambition of spurring a more-inclusive global economic order. This will include discussions on sustainability finance, financial inclusion through digital financial inclusion and the development of micro, small and medium enterprises.

All of this highlights why this year’s G20 summit could be one of the most unpredictable. While it could collapse into rancor, there is an outside chance significant agreements could be reached, including for Black Sea grain exports.

Widodo is well aware that in the past decade and a half, while the G20 is widely considered to have seized the mantle from the G7 as the premier forum for international economic cooperation and global governance, it has failed so far to realize the full scale of the ambitions some have thrust upon it.

In part, this is because it has no formal mechanisms to ensure enforcement of agreements by world leaders.

However, the Indonesian presidency will still try to exceed the expectations of what the summit will deliver. Whether it manages to do this will depend significantly on whether Ukraine-driven global divisions ameliorate or grow in the days ahead.

  • Andrew Hammond is an associate at LSE IDEAS at the London School of Economics
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