The heads of state of the richest countries in the world met for the first time in person since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic at the recent G20 summit in Rome, Italy. The two-day meeting ended with a grand dinner at the Quirinale Palace, where the evening menu featuring dill salmon, pumpkin risotto, sea bass fillets, tomato and celery puff pastry, and for dessert, a “delicate” steamed tangerine cream. Guests sat around a large formal dining table in a high-ceilinged palatial hall with an impressive crystal chandelier and window treatments of red tasseled curtains.
Dinner was the modern equivalent of ‘let them eat cake’, the phrase (incorrectly) attributed to the epitome of frivolous luxury by the ruling class (and the last queen of France before the French Revolution), Marie-Antoinette. The leaders of the G20 countries, who had gathered under the banner of “People, Planet, Prosperity”, Appear to have focused disproportionately on the third tier of their agenda and limited its reach to the prosperity of elites like them. On the three critical issues of climate change, global corporate taxation and COVID-19 vaccines, the world’s richest countries have taken care of themselves at the expense of the rest of the world.
Unlike the United Nations General Assembly, which represents all the nations of the world, the G20 is a self-selected private club of the highest level of global wealth, only a notch below the even more exclusive club G7. Its members are mostly economic powers, with a few exceptions from developing countries such as India, China, South Africa, Mexico and Argentina.
The G20 sets the rules
Proudly proclaim that the G20 “represents more than 80% of world GDP” and “75% of world trade”, the club sets the rules of world finance. Summit host Mario Draghi, Prime Minister of Italy, said the 2021 meeting demonstrated that multilateral decision-making is possible again, to announce, “We have succeeded, in the sense of keeping our dreams alive”, without any mention of the real selfishness of the exclusive club.
Although the 26th meeting of the United Nations Conference of the Parties (COP) in Glasgow, Scotland is currently making the headlines more than this year’s G20 summit, rich countries have made many of their preliminary decisions on climate change at their club meeting prior to the Global Climate Gathering. While they agreed on a handful of problems, such as cutting funding for coal-fired power plants and achieving “net zero” emissions within decades, climate advocates have called the commitments “the bare minimum”. Draghi admitted, “It’s easy to suggest difficult things. It is very, very difficult to actually perform them.
Eric LeCompte, Managing Director of Jubilee USA Network, explained to me in a maintenance that developing countries are suffering from the fact that “their natural resources were taken during the period of industrialization that took place in Europe and the United States in the 1800s and 1900s, fueling the climate crisis”.
Most of these same countries have been excluded from recent climate talks by the G20 because they are too poor to be considered members of the exclusive club. It remains to be seen whether these countries will be able to secure greater commitments at COP26.
LeCompte reflected, “it seems right now that there is a lot of desperation among countries as to whether it will be possible to keep” commitments like a $ 100 billion funding pledge to help the poorest countries fight climate change. Indeed, UN Secretary-General António Guterres declared the Twitter at the end of the summit, “While I welcome the G20’s re-engagement for global solutions, I am leaving Rome with my hopes unfulfilled. “
In addition to their shamefully inadequate climate commitments, G20 leaders have welcomed tackling the issue of corporate tax avoidance. The great deal they reached was a minimum 15 percent tax rate for wealthy businesses. Hailed as a historic agreement, the aim was to ensure reliable tax revenues for large companies that hunt tax havens offering lucrative conditions. US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said the deal “would end the damaging race to the bottom in corporate taxation.”
LeCompte commented that the 15% minimum rate was “certainly progress but falls short of the Biden administration’s more ambitious calls earlier of 27-28%.” And, surprisingly, it exempts digital technology companies largely US-based, like Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Apple, to be subject to this rudimentary rate. The United States essentially lobbied the G20 on behalf of these big companies to close the loophole.
LeCompte explained that “this agreement only really supports and helps rich countries.” As the United States raises an additional sum 60 billion dollars If the deal is actually passed, developing countries would not see much increase in their incomes and are particularly affected by tax exemptions for digital technology companies. Even the the Wall Street newspaper admitted that the G20 tax agreement “makes rich countries big winners”.
G20 countries are also disproportionate beneficiaries of COVID-19 vaccine technology. Draghi opened the summit work in grateful that the richest countries in the world have vaccination rates of around 70 percent while only 3 percent of people in poor countries have been vaccinated. He called such a gap “morally unacceptable”.
Indeed, LeCompte said that “the crisis in many developing countries is really horrible” and that “most countries are suffering economic losses because they do not have access to vaccines”. Before the summit, he expected the G20 to come up with a concrete plan to finance and distribute vaccines to the world’s poorest countries. And yet, at the top, “they didn’t do that,” LeCompte said. Instead, he said “they came up with a process to do it.”
This process essentially consisted of creating a intervention force, which, according to a statement signed by G20 leaders, “aims to strengthen global dialogue and cooperation on issues related to pandemic prevention, preparedness and response.” An advocacy group, Global Citizen, rejected such lip service, saying, “This is no longer the time to make statements of intent. Now is the time for our leaders to act.
Among the only achievements related to the G20 pandemic was a deal the United States struck for the African Union buy 33 million doses of Moderna vaccine originally intended for sale in the United States – an embarrassing bar of success on vaccine fairness.
As G20 leaders and their spouses enjoyed their dining experience at the culmination of their two-day meeting, it became clear that the summit was little more than an exercise in the great pontifications multilateralism. Like the former upper echelons of pre-revolutionary French society, the rich nations of the world remain disconnected from reality. •
This article was produced by The economy for all, a project of the Independent Media Institute.