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What More than COVID-19 to Jolt G20 into Collective Action?

Inge Kaul is Senior Fellow, Hertie School, Berlin and Non-Resident Senior Fellow, Center for Global Governance, Washington DC. She can be contacted at

BERLIN, Germany, Apr 3 2020 (IPS) - My recent study on “The G20@10: Time to shift gears” 1 shows that, during the past decade, the main joint, collective action of the G20 has been to issue communiqués and other types of statements.

As a group, G20 Leaders have expressed concern about all kinds of challenges, recommitted themselves to goals already agreed in other multilateral meetings or –even repeatedly – stated in earlier G20 communiqués.

They have also lauded other entities for actions they have taken or asked others, such as the IMF, OECD, the World Bank or other international agencies to consider taking one or the other policy measure.

They have even promised they will take action individually or seek to bolster their coordination – not necessarily among themselves but, for example, with the private sector.

Inge Kaul

During the virtual G20 Leaders’ Summit on 26 March 2020 they continued this behavioral pattern. Their joint statement opens with the words: “The unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic is a powerful reminder of our interconnectedness and vulnerabilities. The virus respects no borders…We are strongly committed to presenting a united front against this common threat.” However, what follows then? Words – promises on paper, no concrete, tangible action.

Again, leaders state: they “are deeply saddened by the tragic loss of life” and that they are “committed to do whatever it takes to overcome the pandemic”, including, among other things, to “support and commit to further strengthen WHO’s mandate”, undertake “immediate and vigorous measures to support our economies”, “mobilize development and humanitarian funding”.

But no mention of specific initiatives that some or all of them will jointly undertake, no figures and target dates specifying the amount of additional money they will put on the table.

Of course, I am not expecting the G20 suddenly, due to COVID-19 to take on an operational role. However, I would have expected that, this time, they would have acted differently: lived up to the exceptional scale and urgency of the crisis the world confronts.

For example, they could have decided to act as lead investors in a global mission-oriented project, perhaps executed, by the World Bank, in close collaboration with WHO and other multilateral development banks or other appropriate agencies, and aimed at establishing a sizeable special fund that could be used to bulk-purchase face masks (if and when available), security equipment and gowns for hospital staff, beds, medicines and, in due course, vaccines –in order to make these supplies available at affordable prices to poorer developing countries.

An action like this would, in my view, have added some credibility to the last sentence of the G20 Leaders’ communique of 26 March 2020, which says: “We will protect human life, restore global economic stability and lay out solid foundations for strong, sustainable, balanced and inclusive growth.”

Unfortunately, an important opportunity of building trust and offering hope to the world during these difficult times was missed.

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