he G20 was formed, in 1999, as a grouping of finance ministers coming together in the aftermath of the Asian financial crisis. In 2009  – this time in the midst of the global financial crisis – the G20 was elevated to a leader-level grouping, and there has been a leader’s summit every year since.

The role of successive crises in creating and forging the G20 as the world’s premier forum for international economic cooperation is more than just an interesting historical note. Today, as we grapple with the impact of a global pandemic that has shut the world down for the best part of 18 months, and as we face up to the reality of interlinked climate and biodiversity crises, the case for multilateral action has never been stronger.

The G20 was formed in 1999

For the UK, therefore, a key priority for 2021 has been – working with the Italian Presidency – to focus the G20 on supporting the global recovery from the pandemic (and increasing our resilience to future pandemics). As with so many issues, a big part of this is money. Equitable access to vaccines requires richer countries to support those less able to procure the doses they need, and that is why the UK is continuing to push for greater financial support to the COVAX and ACT-A initiatives launched last year.

At the same time, as the incoming President of COP26, we cannot fail to recognise that the Rome Summit will bring together leaders of the countries responsible for over 75% of global carbon emissions. While the G20 cannot – and should not – be seen as a preparatory event for the COP World Leaders’s Summit, the simple fact is that a lot of political momentum – positive or negative – will be carried across from Rome to Glasgow as leaders go straight from one to the other. So maintaining ambition on climate change is another key priority for the UK in the G20, recognising the legitimate claims of those countries which are yet to fully industrialise that advanced economies have to step up and help to foot the bill.

Both issues – climate and health – represent potentially existential threats to the way we have organised ourselves as productive societies and economies. And we know that the only way we can credibly respond to these threats is as part of a collective. But the strength of multilateralism is also its greatest challenge. The G20 operates via consensus, and with 20 countries around the table – plus invited guests and international organisations – it can be hard to reach a common view. Even counting on the best endeavours of all parties, the diversity of the G20’s membership and their interests, can make this even more difficult.

The prize is worth the effort, though. The London Summit of 2009 – which cemented the pre eminence of the G20 with a far sighted package of coordinated fiscal support, new global institutions, and a common determination to work together – showed what we can achieve through collective action. Rome 2021 provides us with a similar opportunity. The UK is doing all it can to work with the Italian Presidency and all G20 partners to seize that opportunity.

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