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Paris attacks cast a shadow over 2015 G20 Summit

Paris attacks cast a shadow over 2015 G20 Summit
Published 17 Nov 2015 

By the Lowy Institute's G20 Fellow Tristram Sainsbury and Research Associate Hannah Wurf

The 2015 G20 Leaders' Summit will be remembered for taking place in the aftermath of the brutal attacks in Paris, as leaders scrabbled to show unity and collective action.

In coverage of the summit, every article, tweet, and interview makes some mention of terrorism. All the briefings about leaders' bilateral meetings refer to the security issues discussed. This is a strange situation for what is known as the world's 'premier forum for international economic cooperation'.

Of course it is understandable that leaders wanted to show decisive action after the attacks. President Barack Obama and President Vladimir Putin met on the side to discuss Syria within hours of arriving. Even China has come out strongly to condemn the attacks.

The G20 statement on terrorism reaffirming that it 'cannot and should not be associated with any religion, nationality, civilisation, or ethnic group' is a powerful message. It's a demonstration of the cooperation that underscores both why G20 leaders should continue to meet and the importance of their dialogue.

However, to no one's surprise, the 2015 communique contains no ambitious economic policy. The G20's feeble repetition of its commitment to 'strong, sustainable, and balanced growth' is at odds with economic reality where global growth has slowed to 3.1 per cent. [fold]

Before the summit, three issues were expected to dominate: the refugee crisis, growth, and climate change. Much of the attention on the refugee crisis has been redirected to the conflict in Syria and tackling terrorist financing, as well as supporting countries that are hosting large numbers of refugees (including Turkey). Some of the actions decided could be more concrete, and detail still needs to be fleshed out, but it's a start.

Efforts on growth, however, continue to disappoint.

Supposedly, the G20 has implemented half of the1000 plus commitments in the Brisbane Action Plan from 2014, and this has contributed a third to growth ambitions. Remember that these commitments were supposed to be adding a 2% increase to GDP across the G20. Although some 500 measures have been undertaken, the IMF World Economic Outlook has yet to recognise any effect from these measures.

As it stands, the IMF predictions are uncomfortably close to a global recession. If the G20 was genuinely contributing 0.7 per cent to growth by 2018 then the story would be how the G20 has helped avert a recession. This is not the case. Instead, the target looks superficial and shows the G20 to be misguided in thinking it could easily shift the dial on growth. Country actions on trade, competition, labour markets, and investment remain important, but we cannot know with precision how this will translate into growth numbers.

The negotiations on the paragraph on climate change, like last year, extended into the final day of the summit. The end result was mixed. It was always a given that the G20 would support the COP21 meetings, and the text encouraging G20 negotiators to 'engage constructively and flexibly' to limit warming to the agreed 2°C should add some momentum to Paris. The firm language is a welcome relief for those who saw earlier drafts with a much shorter and watered down version of this paragraph.

However, climate action advocates have reason to be disappointed with the conspicuous absence of reference to climate financing, and no mention of additional efforts above the already submitted Intended Nationally Determined Commitments (INDCs). The world is not pledging enough and G20 countries have once again not acknowledged that they are a key part of the problem. This does not bode well for Paris.

This G20 communique is long and dense, so no lesson has been learnt from Australia's tight drafting last year. There are acknowledgements of ongoing work on tax cooperation and banking regulation. The reference to the 'internet economy' seems an add-on that lacks substance, and the reference to the Milano Expo should not have made it to the final draft.

The Antalya Summit will be remembered for the advances on security cooperation and the one page statement on the fight against terrorism. President Obama ended the summit with a strong speech defending US strategy against terrorism after a single, brief mention of the economy.

As an aside, the Australian influence at this summit seemed muted. The Prime Minister left before the final communique was released, and took most of the Australian media with him. This seems an inglorious end to our role in the G20 hosting 'troika'. At least there was positive reference in the communique to the Global Infrastructure Hub in Sydney.

As the world recovers from the Paris attacks, leaders will need to wake up to their fragile economies. The only saving grace for the G20's role in strengthening the global economy is China's host year in 2016.

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