Fundamental change or more of the same?

A review of G20 progress towards UK civil society recommendations

22 April 2010 | Briefings

G20progressreview_cover The full report – published by Bond, Bretton Woods Project, new economics foundation, Stop Climate Chaos, and the TUC – is available as a PDF.

Over the last year, the G20 have established themselves as the pre-eminent forum of international leaders taking decisions on the global economy. The 2009 G20 leaders’ summits in London and in Pittsburgh aimed to establish global recovery plans in the face of the international financial and economic crisis.

In 2009, the Put People First platform, an unprecedented collaboration of a wide spectrum of UK civil society organisations, laid out in 12 recommendations what changes were required to reform the global economy in order to put people first. Put People First called for an overhaul of the global economy to deliver jobs, justice, and a safer climate. It sought explicit recognition that this is not just a banking or a regulation crisis, but a structural crisis of the entire economic model.

In 2010, many governments would no doubt like to believe that their actions have resolved the financial and economic crises and after a period of recovery they can go back to business as usual. However there are key lessons that still need to be learned from the last two years if the impact of the banking collapse is to leave a positive legacy of reform. The international community needs to continue to focus on sustainable and equitable policy, as this review shows, by going far further than has so far been contemplated.

The international role the G20 has assumed, and in particular the accountability of this forum, are questionable. It remains a self-selected body and has no mandate other than its own regarding the global economy—or indeed any other issue. G20 leaders have failed to drive the fundamental change the world needs. Though the global crisis has demonstrated beyond any doubt that economic policies need to be rethought, the G20 have clung to old models and focussed on cosmetic changes.

Throughout this review, several common principles underpin the reforms – be they regarding jobs, justice or climate – that have been called for by UK civil society. The poorest countries need to be included in reform processes; the necessary overhaul of the global economy requires an inclusive international process, with a reformed UN playing a key role. To achieve the broader goal of democratic governance, a global leaders’ forum must include the effective participation of low-income countries. Particular attention also needs to be paid to gender differentials and the particular experience of women in poverty alleviation policies and programmes. The evolution from G8 to G20 processes does not meet the need to be representative in their composition. The institutions charged with delivering reform need to be transparent and accountable to all those impacted by their decisions. Inclusion of civil society is a practical and necessary component for the accountability of decision-making to be legitimate.

Despite its revealed flaws, the economic model that led to the crisis has been assiduously pursued by governments in developed nations, not least in the UK, and uncritically promoted to developing countries by international financial institutions. Nevertheless G20 leaders have so far strengthened the existing institutions that were responsible for overseeing failed policies without accompanying and equivalent reforms to their operation.

In this review, we assess the progress of the G20, and particularly of the UK government, towards the 12 policy recommendations as set out by the Put People First platform in March 2009 and identify areas where further progress should be pursued in 2010.