Five things we learnt at the G20 summit

Climate change gained last minute status as a major global concern - but Ebola was off the table.

Climate change gained last minute status as a major global concern – but Ebola was off the table

This weekend saw G20 leaders meet in Brisbane for their annual summit. Predictably, the shadow of the Ukraine conflict fell over negotiations, but there were also some surprising moments. Here are five things we learnt.

1. Cameron’s fears for the economy are strategically voiced

Issuing an explicit deterrent to any voters considering handing over the economy to Labour, David Cameron warned that the UK recovery is still at great risk.

Writing in the Guardian at the close of the summit, the prime minister said that ‘red warning lights are once again flashing on the dashboard of the global economy’. Citing the Ebola outbreak and the conflicts in Ukraine and the Middle East as factors in global instability, Cameron repeatedly urged sticking to the current plan:

”In six months’ time, Britain will face a choice: the long-term plan that has seen it prosper, or the easy answers that would surely have seen it fail.”

Interestingly, Cameron did not mention any of the things at home that have contributed to the slow recovery, choosing instead to stick with the current mood and place much of the blame on Russia and the eurozone.

2. Putin doesn’t care what you think

Russian President Vladimir Putin made it clearer than ever that he was not out to make friends when he left the summit early, saying he needed to sleep before returning to work on Monday.

The departure was interpreted by many as a snub (presumably most of the other leaders also had long flights) after a weekend of heavy criticism for Putin. Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper was reported to have been heard saying ‘get out of Ukraine’ as he shook hands with the Russian leader, and Cameron accused Russia of ‘bullying a smaller state’.

Putin appeared unfazed by his frosty reception, and chose to criticise the west for the economic sanctions they have imposed over the Ukraine issue. He said of the sanctions:

‘They run counter to the very principle of G20 activities, and not only the activities of the G20 and its principles, they run counter to international law, because sanctions may be introduced only through the United Nations and its Security Council.’

He also refused to acknowledge the hostility towards him, describing his talks with European leaders as ‘very frank, very substantive and, I think, helpful’. But walking out before the end of a meeting where all eyes were on him hardly signals a serious willingness to cooperate.

3. Climate change is no longer a sideline issue

Although Australian prime minister Tony Abbott had previously resisted calls to make climate discussions a main part of the G20 agenda, President Obama brought it to the forefront in a dramatic speech on Saturday. Perhaps encouraged by his historic climate change deal with Beijing last Wednesday, the President spoke of Australia’s great natural beauty and said that he wanted people to be able to experience it with their children in 50 years’ time.

Today, in what is being called a ‘last minute’ addition, a commitment to addressing climate change has been included in the communiqué. The Green Climate Fund, designed to help developing countries reduce carbon emissions, received a £1.9 billion pledge from Obama on Saturday. Cameron has pledged £650 million, saying that ‘Britain will play its part and will play a very positive part’ in reducing global warming.

When questioned about Australia’s actions on climate change, Cameron said that ‘everyone has to bring something to Paris’, referring to the 2015 UN conference on the matter. He stated that he believed China and America, as the biggest carbon emitters, bear the biggest responsibility to make changes.

4. TTIP is ready to go

David Cameron said that US and EU partners had met and were ready to put ‘rocket boosters’ behind the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. TTIP would allow for a reduction of regulatory barriers for big businesses, and has been widely criticised as undemocratic. Cameron denied that the deal was risky, saying it would create jobs and boost growth.

A particular concern of opponents is the future of the NHS under the deal; the worry is that opening Europe’s public health service to American companies could lead to privatisation. Union leader Len McCluskey has demanded that the NHS be exempt from the deal and accused Cameron of ‘riding roughshod’ over opposition and ‘trying to brush the threat of TTIP under the carpet’.

Fittingly, Cameron dismissed the claims as ‘nonsense’.

5. Ebola and IS were off the agenda

Since last year’s summit, two issues have grown to dominate western consciousness – Ebola and Islamic State, both nascent problems a year ago, have become enormous threats to global security. However, neither issue was on the agenda at Brisbane, despite both being areas that concern huge amounts of government funds.

The threat of IS polarises G20 members, with Turkey and Russia in particular taking controversial stances on military intervention in Syria, which will inevitably lead some to view the Brisbane summit as a missed opportunity for dialogue.

Meanwhile, the WHO has made it clear that everybody has a role to play in the battle against Ebola, which it called the ‘most severe acute health emergency in modern times’. Ebola’s omission from G20 conversation will be disheartening for those who insist that the world is not acting quickly enough.

Ruby Stockham is a staff writer at Left Foot Forward. Follow her on Twitter

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