G20 Brisbane: some good progress and some serious gaps

Steve Price-Thomas, G20 Summit Team Lead

It’s been hot in Brisbane today, with temperatures of up to 40 degrees Celsius and the day has felt heavy with a sense of anticipation: how much, if any, progress would world leaders make here in Brisbane?

Hundreds of thousands of people have called for action from this summit on issues including inequality, tax, ebola and climate change. And leaders have certainly heard the calls on them to act, but only some of the calls have been properly heeded.

The final proof of progress won’t come until the dollars have been committed and targets achieved but, at first reading, the best thing to come out of this meeting of some of the world’s most powerful countries is the commitment on reducing the gender gap in workforce participation – that’s the difference between the amount of men and women that are working in paid jobs – by 25% over the next 10 years. While we also need progress on the significant gap in pay between men and women, this is an important step. If achieved, it will have significant beneficial impacts for women and for societies and economies more broadly.

We, along with many of you, have been calling on the G20 leaders to step up and address inequality as part of their meeting. The Australian hosts have been incredibly reluctant to do this, to even use the word ‘inequality’ in the lead up. The Summit communiqué today mentioned inequality not once, but twice. This may not seem like much but it represents a significant shift – for which we can all claim some credit.

The Australian hosts have been incredibly reluctant to even use the word ‘inequality’ in the lead up. The Summit communiqué today mentioned inequality not once, but twice.

In terms of tangible steps towards tackling that inequality, we have seen some progress from the G20 group on tax: increases in transparency in how and where companies report their profits and steps to close loopholes that enable corporations to dodge hundreds of millions of dollars in tax. However, and critically, the countries that are most affected in the tax game have been shut out of the decision making in this area.

On climate change also we saw progress. Perhaps most significantly from the Australian hosts. The current Australian Government is a significant climate blocker and had been strenuously against inclusion of the issue at the meeting. However, in the end it had to give in to pressure from other nations, perhaps particularly in the United States and China. There wasn’t a revolution on climate change, but we have seen some solid language in the final communiqué.

Now to the area where the leaders failed. And failed badly. The Summit was a key opportunity to world leaders to act together on Ebola. To coordinate their efforts and ensure that the commitments of funds, resources and people required to contain the outbreak are met. Despite lots of warm words, there were no specifics. The deadline that UN set for those commitments to be made draws ever closer and the G20 leaders have given us nothing but a lacklustre response.

We must continue to push on this issue.

So, some good progress and some serious gaps. As I said, the final assessment of the effectiveness of this summit will not be made for some time. But I know that our collective voice on these issues has been essential to delivering the progress that was made here in Brisbane, and for that, I thank you.