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The EU in Sharm-El-Sheikh: Good cop at a bad COP?

24. November 2022 - 14:00

©UNFCCC on Flickr

Early in the morning of Saturday 19 November 2022, Frans Timmermanns, the EU’s climate chief, appeared in front of the press at COP27 in Sharm-El-Sheikh with the 13 EU ministers still present. He had a clear message to convey: “All ministers, as they have told me — like myself — are prepared to walk away if we do not have a result that does justice to what the world is waiting for.“

The EU collectively decided to make this unorthodox intervention after the Egyptian presidency presented a draft of the cover decision that, in the EU’s view, would have been tantamount to forfeiting the 1.5-degree objective of the Paris Agreement. Timmermanns also announced that the EU had one final offer to make: it was willing to support the creation of a „Loss and Damage Fund“ which it had previously rejected, if this fund was targeted at the most vulnerable countries and if the base of contributors was broadened to include today’s big emitters and major oil- and gas-exporting countries like China and Saudi Arabia. The EU also called for more ambition when it comes to reducing emissions (with a peak of emissions in 2025) and expected all countries to stand by their commitment to a 1.5-degree pathway as agreed upon in the Glasgow Climate Pact at the previous COP. Yet, no country of the G77 & China group of developing countries openly declared its support for the EU’s position. On early Sunday morning, when the final decision was accepted by all parties, it was clear that the EU had only been moderately successful – perhaps because few would have expected the EU to have actually walked away.

The EU can however claim an important role in breaking the deadlock regarding Loss and Damage (L&D), in no small part due to Germany’s persuasion on the matter. Indeed, the co-chairing of the negotiations on L&D by Jennifer Morgan, State Secretary and Special Envoy for International Climate Action in the German Federal Foreign Office and her counterpart, the Chilean environment minister María Heloísa Rojas Corradi, proved conducive to a constructive outcome on this highly controversial agenda item. Ultimately, the Sharm-El-Sheikh cover decision includes the establishment of a L&D fund and a process to develop commensurate funding arrangements for supporting the most vulnerable countries to address the costs of extreme weather events caused by climate change, with details to be agreed on at COP28. This is a substantive result that was far from certain during negotiations. It is in itself a major success for developing countries and only became possible once the EU reconsidered its initial, year-long resistance to any such fund.

The L&D breakthrough was also the reason the EU decided against walking away from an otherwise sobering and underwhelming outcome of COP27. Notably the EU’s efforts to include a mitigation work programme that would tighten climate targets by industrialised countries with annual reviews by high-level government officials were in vain. Timmermanns openly addressed his disappointment and the EU’s inability to achieve more: „The EU has come here to make sure we agree on strong statements and we are disappointed that we have not been able to do that“. Yet, he also indicated the moral dilemma the EU was facing in not signing an agreement that included the L&D fund breakthrough for vulnerable countries. In a way, the EU thus found tables turned from the Glasgow COP when climate vulnerable developing countries had only grudgingly accepted a cover decision that appeared ambitious on mitigation, but lukewarm on adaptation and, crucially, without progress on L&D.

Could the EU have done more?

So the question remains if the EU could have done more. Or could it have engaged differently to achieve a more ambitious result of COP27, in particular with regards to reducing emissions or international climate finance? During the first week of the COP, the EU’s climate diplomacy was remarkably silent and was not yet present at Sharm-El-Sheik with a strong negotiating mandate or bold announcements of new initiatives. As the EU’s main climate representative, Timmermans was instead preoccupied with internal EU climate action negotiations during the first COP week, during which the EU made progress in increasing emissions reduction targets for member states (effort sharing) and legislation on carbon sinks. This, in theory, would allow the EU to increase its Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) from a 55% to a 57% reduction by 2030 compared to 1990. Timmermans presented this option of an update of the European NDC at the COP, yet this change to the EU’s NDC still has to go through a formalised process where the Commission proposes it to the member states, who would then have to adopt this change with a qualified majority. With a decision on that still open, the EU was hampered from fully capitalizing on actually ‘walking the talk’ in its decision-making.

It also didn’t help that the EU had no ‚fresh money‘ to offer with regards to climate finance, as a request by the European Parliament to dedicate 10% of the EU’s Emission Trading to international climate finance was rejected by the Council. The EU thus remained largely inward-looking and ‚reactive‘ at COP27, without strong ideas of how to globally become more ambitious with regards to limiting global greenhouse gas emissions and to living up to its self-proclaimed leadership aspirations on global climate governance. While India’s push to call for a „phase-out“ of all fossil fuels and not just coal in the cover decision failed to attract sufficient support, many observers did not perceive the EU as a leading voice among the 80 countries that supported building on the ambitions agreed in Glasgow.

Yet, it is also questionable how credible the EU can currently ‚sell‘ such a phase-out, in view of some member states’ ‚dash-for-gas‘ in other parts of the world, including Africa. European leaders portray energy diversification as an intermediate step to become less dependent on Russia while intensifying investments into renewable energies. Others blame the EU for double standards and hypocrisy given its push at COP26 to phase out fossil fuel-oriented external investment (including in Africa) while continuing to allow such investment within its own borders and for adopting a ‘taxonomy’ that risks facilitating greenwashing. On balance, the EU’s international credibility and role as a leader on climate has seen tremendous damage, when trust and credibility are key ingredients to forging alliances and mobilising support for positions.

Lessons for COP28 in Dubai – act first and demonstrate resolve to rebuild trust

Key lessons for the EU as it prepares for the next rounds of global climate negotiations, including COP28 in Dubai, is to act decisively in the months ahead, to enter the negotiations in good time and to demonstrate resolve on key issues, now including L&D. This requires the EU to dedicate more time and energy into its climate diplomacy and to live up to its announcements and pledges with commensurate resources politically, technically and, indeed, financially.

One can hardly accuse Timmermans for lack of passion and conviction. Yet, his portfolio in managing the European Green Deal’s implementation domestically while also representing the EU in global climate diplomacy may be too demanding a combination. German foreign minister Baerbock‘s decision to appoint a dedicated, high-profile State Secretary for climate diplomacy certainly helped in Germany’s global climate representation and visibility. Much the same could be said of John Kerry’s role as Special Presidential Envoy for Climate of the US State Department. The EU could consider a similar approach and nominate a senior political representative with the role of EU global climate envoy, who would still work under the leadership of Timmermanns but could dedicate more time and capacity into global climate diplomacy than Timmermanns actually can in his dual role. This mandate for EU climate diplomacy should include both the global representation of the EU and the ‘internal’ negotiations with the EU’s 27 member states to bolster the EU’s position and engagement in multilateral climate politics.

Either way, the EU with its forthcoming stance on the establishment of a dedicated L&D Fund has positioned itself to rebuild trust among developing countries. It will now need to follow up on this move with credible action and contributions to prepare and launch the process that settles the details of the prospective L&D fund and corresponding funding arrangements. Sustaining that momentum will require to swiftly operationalise the fund, ensure it has a broad financing base, and a significant financing volume to boot.

Moreover, and especially in the light of COP27’s blatant failure to deliver on an ambitious mitigation work package, new and additional alliances with countries willing ‚to do more‘ are also urgently needed. Just Energy Transition Partnerships, like the one recently agreed on with Indonesia, can be promising stepping stones, especially in the context of the G20. Broader alliances seem also feasible and could help to build international momentum for a phase-out of all fossil fuels, for instance in the context of the Climate Club initiative of the German G7 Presidency or a reinvigorated High Ambition Coalition among progressive Parties to the UNFCCC. Being seen to walk the talk with ambitious domestic reforms and the implementation of its European Green Deal should enable the EU to resume a leading role in such alliances and, indeed, global climate governance.

Der Beitrag The EU in Sharm-El-Sheikh: Good cop at a bad COP? erschien zuerst auf International Development Blog.

Zeitenwende – Investing in competencies for transnational cooperation

16. November 2022 - 14:00

Russia’s attack on Ukraine has put into sometimes sharp relief the different perspectives of inter- and transnational cooperation. The violation of the rules-based order after WWII caused shockwaves, specifically in Europe. Experiences of partners in, say, Africa or Asia with this international order historically differ from the European ones; consequently, even if we might share values, perspectives differ. While inter- and transnational cooperation is more needed than ever, cooperation takes place across deepened ideological rifts and conflicting material interests. This is a politically more complex world.

We thus need better structures for transnational knowledge cooperation and individuals who have the skills to navigate unchartered and sometimes choppy waters and address tensions in these difficult times. Training of actors is thus crucial, as a “Zeitenwende” is characterised by the absence of “business as usual”. Consequently, building and strengthening competencies of staff (and partners) to enable them to (re)act to and shape new and challenging situations matters largely for transnational cooperation.

Global challenges require global and transnational perspectives

Cooperation across borders is a precondition and basis for shaping solutions. Working on, say, climate change needs to combine knowledge (in the widest sense) from Europe, North America, China, India or Brazil as well as the participation of partners from most affected regions – Africa, South and Southeast Asia, the Pacific and the Arctic. The same logic applies for other crucial elements for societies’ progress, if not survival: international knowledge cooperation is needed in order to understand, analyse, research global challenges systemically and from different perspectives.

Cooperation takes place in a context. In order to be effective and policy-relevant, research will have to include actors beyond academia and think tanks – and engage in transdisciplinary work, co-shaping research agendas. At the same time, work on global solutions directed towards the global common good needs to be based on evidence rather than self-interest and ideology. We thus have to consider power asymmetries, globally and nationally.

Globally, agenda-setting powers differ – and are undergoing changes. Traditionally grants mostly were funded “from the North”, coming with its own challenges, as this was (and still is) substantially impacting on research agendas in regions in need of funding. The North-South divide is an almost tangible narrative. At the same time, Europe is no longer the only show in town: the attraction of alternative actors increases, and their abilities have substantially increased over the last years, too. A decoupling into groups or friends and foes is certainly not a desirable scenario. We cannot simply accept the establishment of “political camps”, but need exchanges across North-South divides, as we need to cooperate for shared understandings and contribute to the global common good. As an illustration: the like-minded G7 needs to build bridges to other actors, not least so in the context of a more “southernized” G20.

Furthermore, national power settings matter for cooperation. Think tanks in authoritarian settings have limited range of manoeuvre. While they do play an important role in providing technical expertise and helping to explain “the outside world’s discussions” to decision-makers, experts might not be able to express their points publicly or outright. Their tasks also include the “projection of the official (inside) view” to the outside. Consequently, cooperation, as much as it is needed, is thus not without tensions, both institutionally and from an individual’s perspective.  Bridges into difficult contexts are needed, and not least think tanks enable bridge-building, through dialogue and training activities.

Different sets of skills and competencies are required to navigate the more complex, multipolar world.

Training competencies for global cooperation – shifting emphasis

Training for professionals in global cooperation has to prepare early career participants for not only operating under these tensions, but to actively contribute to reducing them. First and foremost, tackling situations of high complexity and uncertainty under conditions of fragmentation demands a cooperative approach.

Training programmes need to go far beyond simply teaching “known facts” (and the question, what constitutes facts is an additional dimension for exchanges, anyhow). Knowledge is certainly necessary, i.e. the cognitive dimension of having information about facts, theories, procedures and being able to analyse and apply this information. Yet, competencies are much more. Based on knowledge, they include skills and attitudes. Skills are the ability to do something in practice such as applying a certain technique and using the appropriate tools in a given situation. And attitudes mean feelings and belief systems: in which way do we approach situations? Are we open-minded, risk-averse or experimental?

Cooperation competency is essential for overcoming fragmentation. It is required in order to reach a deeper understanding of different perspectives, thereby laying the ground for a joint analysis of problems and the creation of sustainable solutions. Key elements that nurture cooperation include skills such as active listening or being able to express own ideas and opinions in a clear and non-offensive way. Furthermore, communication competency is based on attitudes such as a learner’s mindset, believing that every perspective is important. In order to address and potentially overcome tensions, conflict management competencies are required, meaning a mix of self-awareness of own emotions (and what triggers them), the ability to manage emotional responses and to change perspectives by listening to differing opinions. Reflexivity is closely connected and refers to the ability to reflect on behaviour and values as well as the readiness to deconstruct established patterns of thinking and acting.

Exploring joint solutions in a more polarised, more uncertain world, however, also requires normative competencies in cooperative actors. Values are the ground we stand on in our positioning. Actors need to be aware of own values, to be able to express them and to identify and honestly discuss inconsistencies and tensions, be it within own value systems or with regards to partners’ values.  Particularly in difficult times and in spaces where actors from different contexts with potentially contentious perspectives interact, it is important to be able to engage in an open dialogue with each other. In the very least, lines of cooperation need to be maintained.

Zeitenwende: transformative competencies needed

And yet, in times of multiple fundamental crises and high urgency – a Zeitenwende – cooperation has to reach a different level altogether. It has to leave behind the policy paradigm of incremental adjustments in and optimisation of globalisation; cooperation needs to reach transformative quality. This is obviously also posing particular challenges to training.

We need to nurture creativity, an openness and willingness to explore new fields and to identify new ways of doing things in order to overcome business as usual. Actors need to sharpen their ability to take into account the interlinkages, side- and ripple effects of actions, drawing upon evidence. In brief: they need to analyse complex systems in a holistic way.  Closely connected to this, training programmes need to strengthen anticipatory thinking as the capacity to create visions of a desired future, as well as the ability to strategically develop pathways of change towards this desired future by seizing windows of opportunity, designing interventions, building alliances for change.

In a nutshell: We cannot assume that “we are all in the same boat”, even though we are all facing the same storm. Yet, in order to weather the storm, we need to strengthen our innovative and creative abilities – jointly, wherever possible.

Der Beitrag Zeitenwende – Investing in competencies for transnational cooperation erschien zuerst auf International Development Blog.

The 2030 Agenda: It’s Governance

9. November 2022 - 14:00

© SDG Action Campaign on Flickr

In the last couple of years, the reassessment of the Sustainable Development Agenda has become more relevant. As the world enters a new phase of the COVID-19 pandemic, characterised by lower numbers of infections and deaths, the apparition of new variants of the virus, and considerable economic and social challenges, several issues have become more urgent. These include the adaptation capabilities and resilience that are required of societies in the face of social isolation and economic conversion policies; the realisation that mental health is as important as physical health; the wider inequalities affecting the young and women regarding poverty, lack of decent work, and the burden of childcare; the difficulties of ensuring access to technology; and the impact of these matters in our (changed) expectations on the State. These factors have emphasised that the Sustainable Development Agenda is ultimately a governance agenda, in the sense that they overcome the usual governability concerns with a focus that identifies interdependencies with non-governmental actors.

The post pandemic evaluation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) has produced a continuum of positions, ranging from the reiteration of the Goals as the blueprint and “compass” for “building forward better” , to the call for their substitution by a “post 2030 utopia”. As it is always the case with complex problems, the solution lies somewhere in the middle, developing sophisticated approaches that allow making the necessary adjustments without compromising the improvements already made.

Between two harmful extremes

The “middle approach” is typical of governance dynamics. By this I do not mean that SDGs are a good governance agenda – that is, one that focuses on voice and accountability, political stability and absence of violence, governmental effectiveness, regulatory quality, rule of law, and the control of corruption, as the World Bank Worldwide Governance Indicators propose. Rather governance in the sense that Sustainable Development requires the cooperation of governments, civil society, and private companies to deal with complex or wicked problems. In its most fundamental, governance is formed by the co-definition of shared goals and the inter-organisational and inter-sectoral processes to achieve them. It requires effective governments, but it goes beyond them, incorporating non-governmental actors that behave as stakeholders in the solution of common problems. It usually implies flexible arrangements, typically networks; but includes wider socio-political, institutional, and civic-culture frameworks that enable a common understanding of the problem, processes of co-construction of solutions, and rules of the game that maintain conflict at manageable levels.

Governance theories have been criticised for not being consolidated enough to offer effective analytical tools to actually solve problems; being one of the most important how to ensure cooperation among actors and coherence among objectives. The do-it-by-yourself definition of the national indicators for SDGs assumes, too easily, that all the actions conducted by public, social, and private actors will virtuously contribute to the solution of the problems behind the indicators.  Advancement in one SDG, however, does not necessarily ensure advancement in the rest of them, despite the argument posed by the United Nations regarding “the interlinkages and integrated nature of the Sustainable Development Goals”.Governance is not only “technical”; it requires a new style of leadership that recognises the political dimension of cooperation and policy coherence. The tensions between traditional rule of law solutions (mostly hierarchical, based on the implementation of conventionality control measures), on the one hand, and the more selective approach of SDGs (mostly horizontal, based on inter-organisational cooperation), on the other, offer a good example of the political nature of governance. Generating a more or less common approach to Sustainable Development requires a combination of traditional and new solutions, in a mix that varies according to context.

Towards the post-2030 Agenda

The governance approach to Sustainable Development recognises that, in spite of the possible measures and indicators that can be reached and adjusted with time, it remains a horizon that can never be completely fulfilled. In that sense, at least in a very fundamental dimension, SDGs will remain a project of multi-level governance with different co-existing conditions and speeds. By implication, Sustainable Development as governance entails the acknowledgement of the partial usefulness of governance literature to deal with complex problems, addressing the challenges of steering, the re-definition of new priorities among the SDGs in the post-pandemic world, the assignation of funds to those new priorities, and the discussion – again – on how to adjust the right indicators to empower public, social, and private actors as the different SDGs develop in space and time.

The future of a post-pandemic 2030 Agenda might require a reclassification of priorities, the effective increase in coordination capabilities, and fostering cooperation in the lines described here. This, in turn, calls for the rethinking of the integrated nature of SDGs that assumes that the 17 Goals are equally important, in all places, all the time.

Der Beitrag The 2030 Agenda: It’s Governance erschien zuerst auf International Development Blog.

Just Energy Transition Partnerships: Boosting international climate cooperation?

21. September 2022 - 12:25

Photo by Hans on Pixabay

In the wake of the 2021 UN climate change conference in Glasgow (COP 26), things looked quite promising for international climate cooperation. The summit had yielded a flurry of new commitments and initiatives. Importantly, an ambitious plurilateral partnership with South Africa, a major emerging economy, was heralded as a new approach in results-oriented climate diplomacy. Germany, France, the United Kingdom, the United States, and the European Union pledged to support South Africa in its just transition, i.e. in weaning itself off of its coal-fuelled energy production in a manner that affords social protection to those affected by structural change in the economy. More Just Energy Transition Partnerships (JETPs) like the one with South Africa could follow in the future and, their proponents hope, accelerate implementation of the Paris Agreement and reinvigorate global climate action. The G7, under German presidency, has certainly catered to that notion.

Less talk, more action?

However, not all is rosy in international climate cooperation, far from it. Pledges and policies for decarbonisation are nowhere near sufficient to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement. Longstanding issues are causing growing frustration among developing countries. In particular, financial support from industrialised countries is neither as high as promised, nor does it meet the needs. Discussions about climate-related loss and damage and commensurate support for climate-vulnerable poor countries are proving a veritable challenge, as the intersessional climate negotiations in June have shown. To make matters worse, geopolitical concerns about energy security, strained public budgets grappling with the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, and a surge in inflation are shifting short-term priorities in many developed countries. These factors have severely hampered the momentum and relative optimism for ambitious climate action in the run up to COP 27, which is set to convene in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, from 6 to 18 November 2022. Can the envisioned ‘JETPs’ be a much-needed shot in the arm in this context?

UN climate negotiations are slow and cumbersome affairs. Bi- and minilateral Just Energy Transition Partnerships, then, do seem like a promising and politically relatively inexpensive option to get things moving while cushioning transition pains – without requiring the consensus of 198 parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Realising this potential, however, may prove difficult if the JETPs are not seen to deliver. The perceived hypocrisy of the West’s energy policy has already put a strain on international climate cooperation. At the same time, the momentum brought on by the Paris Agreement is getting lost and trust in the multilateral process among the most affected – least developed countries and small-island states – is low.

Credibility requires coherence

With its reliance on gas and even resorting to coal in the current energy crisis, Germany, in particular, sees its credibility under scrutiny. Fossil fuel subsidies as a means to combat price surges for gas and oil do not go unnoticed abroad. Germany risks being accused of double standards and backsliding if it does not at least communicate its long-term intentions more effectively. Its pandering towards Senegal for a gas-fuelled JETP does not bode well in this regard. Moreover, emerging economies that are less dependent on coal than, say, Indonesia or South Africa will wonder what they can get instead of a JETP. The impression that exploiting coal and gas resources is the ticket to financially strong partnership agreements may alienate lower and middle-income countries that also seek support in dealing with climate change. But the engagement of all of these countries is required to bend the curve of global greenhouse gas emissions.

With regard to implementation, and despite unprecedented efforts to establish a common strategy to climate policy as a united Team Germany, tensions between the mandates and priorities of various ministries with regard to JETPs remain. Moreover, just transitions are difficult to realise even if the aforementioned challenges can be overcome. Transitions are never without friction. Circumstances on the ground – such as the structure of economy or the technical and legal particularities of any given energy system – invariably pose significant challenges. Additionally, they vary considerably across prospective partner countries. There can, therefore, be no common blueprint for expedient JETPs. Country ownership is key to be able to appropriately take national and local contexts into account.

What’s next?

These are challenging times for multilateral climate cooperation. Adding and owing to the withering trust and changing priorities described above, there has been a shift away from multilateral climate negotiations towards alternative forms of cooperation. Some even wonder if the large annual climate summits are still fit for purpose. A proliferation of JETPs could, despite good intentions, end up contributing to this shifting of the centre of gravity away from multilateral fora. This could prove detrimental in view of a global challenge that needs all hands on deck. To avoid further erosion of multilateral climate governance, any meaningful partnerships with individual countries should go hand in hand with a systematic strengthening of the climate summits’ governance functions to hone their relevance for implementation across countries and pertinent sectors, e.g. by shifting from negotiation only to tangible guidance for action.

The envisaged JETPs will best serve this purpose if they can clearly demonstrate that engagement and resolve, underpinned by commensurate resources, will actually yield ambitious results for global climate governance and national development. The currently ongoing New York Climate Week, deliberately coinciding with the UN General Assembly, and the UNFCCC’s COP 27 in November can serve as crucial stepping stones to that end. To be able to rise to the occasion, prospective sponsors like Germany and the EU will need to coherently realign their domestic climate policy with credible international commitments.

Der Beitrag Just Energy Transition Partnerships: Boosting international climate cooperation? erschien zuerst auf International Development Blog.

A new era for the G20? Insights from the T20 Summit 2022 in Indonesia

14. September 2022 - 14:00

By Hellosumanjaya – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=110382121

“Recover Together – Stronger Together” is the slogan of the G20 presidency of Indonesia 2022. Formulated in 2021, it was meant as a signal to focus on economic recovery and the global health architecture after the Covid-19 pandemic, combined with sustainable energy transition. In 2022, geopolitical tensions amongst G20 member states and a series of yet more global challenges, including a severe food and energy crisis, place a bold question mark behind literally all components of the slogan. Economies and societies do not ‘recover’ at the aspired pace. The recent drop of the global Human Development Index erases gains of the last five years. The G20 is not ‘together’ and most of the world’s economies cannot be considered ‘stronger’. In sum, global governance is anything but fit to address the “interwoven sustainability emergencies” with a climate crisis at its core. Still, there is hope that the Indonesian presidency marks the beginning of a new era for the G20, and, thus, for the global cooperation system as a whole.

The new era arguably has already begun, even if keeping the G20 alive may turn out to be the Indonesian presidency’s main success under challenging circumstances. We will see a set of four G20 presidencies with a markedly “Global South” identity in a row: India (2023), Brazil (2024), and South Africa (2025) are to follow Indonesia. This comes with great potential in the mid-term for closer cooperation, more continuity in the G20 agenda and a stronger focus on development that works for the South.

The hope for more cooperation and a shift of focus towards development within the boundaries of the earth system crystallised during the recent summit of the Think 20 (T20) in Indonesia. The T20 is an official G20 engagement group that brings together leading think tanks and research institutions to provide research-based policy recommendations. In its final message to the G20 leaders, condensed from more than 130 policy briefs produced in 9 Task Forces and launched during the Summit, the community highlighted five core areas on how to:

  1. foster recovery and resilience,
  2. accelerate the process toward net zero emissions and combat climate change,
  3. govern transformation to the digital society,
  4. make the economy more inclusive and people-centred, and
  5. revive global governance.

Beyond these core points, discussions during the Summit revolved around the role of the T20 and the science and think tank community for international cooperation. In this way, the T20 tried to deliver on the thematic priorities of the Indonesian G20 presidency, while recognising at the same time that at the moment food and energy security are more immediate concerns than green and digital transformations.

A divided G20 faces interwoven crises

In 2022, cooperation in the G20 is both more difficult and more needed than ever. The core challenge of climate change becomes ever more pressing with numerous direct and indirect effects on societies, economies and ecosystems. Other, new challenges have been added, not least manifold implications of the Covid-19 pandemic. Despite the Covax initiative and related efforts, worldwide access to affordable vaccines remains a key challenge. Economic recovery is hampered by geopolitical tensions that come with a substantial food and energy crisis, a slowdown of growth for major world economies, a looming ‘stagflation’ period and an excess debt crisis. All of these effects hit less resilient economies hardest and it happens at a time when production and demand were still suffering from the disruption of supply chains during the pandemic. People mobility was reduced because of Covid-19-related restrictions and today harms both economic re-opening and the transnational cooperation between countries in more general terms. To illustrate, the already complex exchange with China has become even more difficult in the face of China’s strict public health measures due to its zero-Covid approach. Within societies worldwide, the pandemic widened the gender gap regarding income and socio-economic security; women were the first to lose their jobs and are the last to return to the labour market. Young generations suffer from “lost years” of education, the real consequences of which are likely to unfold in the next years only. The high share of young people in developing and emerging countries implies strongest effects here. The boost of digitalisation fuelled by the pandemic – occasionally perceived as a modernisation of services – results in more automation, adding an additional disruptive element to the labour market with a likely increase of existing inequalities.

The complexity and urgency of these interwoven challenges call for globally coordinated action. The G20 might be a forum for that, but political disagreement hampers comprehensive cooperation and, thus, increases the risk that the major challenges of our time remain unaddressed. G20 members are divided over their positions on Russia’s war against Ukraine, while its repercussions – including rising energy and food prices – put an additional burden on economic recovery. Additional political and economic uncertainty comes with strong disputes between the US and China regarding Taiwan. Under the Indonesian presidency, the G20 disguises these developments under the notion of ‘geopolitical tensions’ without addressing the elephants in the room openly. However, the absence of trust between various actors constitutes a key obstacle to the formulation of joint positions, and it is not unlikely that President Joko Widodo will have to close the Summit on 16th November without a joint communiqué.

A new era of cooperation in a ‘Southernised’ G20?

Despite these risks, there is hope that the sequence of chairing countries in the coming years bears the potential to initiate a ‘Southernisation’ of the G20 after a period of agenda setting by developed countries with positive effects. The incoming presidencies share similar development challenges and economic and political roles in their respective regions. This background can make it easier for them to arrive at common understandings of global problems – the precondition for joint and, thus, effective solutions. These countries also share the ambition to co-shape world affairs based on a better recognition of global power shifts towards the South. Three of them are members of BRICS, which can contribute to the synchronisation of initiatives. In this way, the sequence of presidencies can bring a stronger development focus and more continuity to the agenda, the lack of which remains a key obstacle to effective cooperation structures. The already established troika system, meant to synchronise the efforts of three consecutive G20 presidencies, could be made to work into the same direction. Initiatives like the T20 Research Forum, established during the T20 summit, may help develop joint understandings and continuous agenda setting, too. Beyond the set of chairing G20 countries, attempts to better integrate G20 views in the G7 process under the German G7 presidency 2022 shows potential for a parallel ‘G20-fication’ of the G7, with prospects for improved cooperation between the two country clubs. Crucially, together, the trends of 2022 – Southernisation of G20, and G20-ification of G7 – may also mark the beginning of a new era of global cooperation, in which Southern leaderships shift the focus to the Global South.

Indonesia is well positioned to keep the G20 alive. Its geopolitical position between major blocks, diverse international economic connections, its strong role in ASEAN and membership in APEC, the approval of the UN resolution ES-11/1 to deplore Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in combination with a non-alignment with ‘Western’ sanctions against Russia, and an overall careful diplomatic approach can help keep the show going when leaders meet for a showdown on Bali in November. However, as agreement on a comprehensive common approach to key crises remains unlikely, regional and thematic country clubs, which share higher ambitions in selected areas, could be a pragmatic means to create dots – within and outside the G20 – that can be connected at a later stage. The four presidencies of emerging powers in the G20 should work together to materialise the potential of a better-harmonised and more continuous agenda until 2025, with shared development and climate questions at the centre.

Here, the role of a cooperative and effective T20 as a “bank of ideas” underpinned by sound scientific evidence is crucial. It can help in setting and maintaining a multiannual agenda, building necessary transboundary bridges and finding common solutions. It remains to be seen in how far the strong T20 efforts under Indonesian guidance can contribute to a successful G20. Arguably, the T20 process can be most important when successful cooperation amongst G20 members is most difficult. While Indonesia’s presidency might not be able to fully live up to the ambition of its motto to have the G20 recover together and stronger in 2022, its legacy could be the preparation of a new phase of togetherness, which allows for better cooperation in the future.

Der Beitrag A new era for the G20? Insights from the T20 Summit 2022 in Indonesia erschien zuerst auf International Development Blog.