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Our Past, Present, and Future: Recap of the 2021 G20 Summit

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Two long years and counting of facing the “invisible enemy” – SARS COV2 and its variants – culminated into an inevitably high stakes conference between our world’s leaders on threats that face our world community. The G20 summit is an annual meeting between 19 nations and the European Union that aims to discuss and promote global financial stability. This year’s summit took place in Rome and was the first time the G20 nations have met in person since the beginning of the pandemic, except for China’s Xi Jinping and Russia’s Vladimir Putin who both chose to join via video link. On the top of the list of action items was COVID and climate change, but there was also a significant advancement in unified global corporate tax regulation and discussion of nuclear unrest.

A historic tax deal was agreed upon when leaders of the world’s 20 major economies approved a global agreement to tax profits of large businesses at least 15%. The tax deal was proposed by the US in an effort to combat multinational companies re-routing their profits through low tax jurisdictions. The deal was officially adopted last Sunday, and will be enforced in 2023. 

According to BBC, US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen described the historic agreement as a “critical moment” for the global economy and will “end the damaging race to the bottom on corporate taxation.” She also shared on twitter that even though many US-based mega-companies would have to pay more tax, US businesses and workers would benefit from the deal. President Biden also took to Twitter, where he wrote, “Here at the G20, leaders representing 80% of the world’s GDP – allies and competitors alike – made clear their support for a strong global minimum tax. This is more than just a tax deal – it’s diplomacy reshaping our global economy and delivering for our people.

Evident by the rise in public demonstrations calling for action against climate change and the increasingly alarming warnings from climate experts to cut carbon emissions, the climate crisis is an extremely important global issue that the G20 leaders have no option but to address as quickly and efficiently as possible. The G20 summit came just before the highly-anticipated COP26 summit on climate change in Glasgow, which is currently in progress until November 12th. 

In a quote to BBC,  UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson definitively stated that climate change is “the biggest threat to humanity” and a “risk to civilization basically going backwards.” However, Johnson still maintains a realistic view that although the G20 meeting and COP26 cannot single-handedly halt global warming, they can implement global measures to “restrict the growth in the temperature of the planet.” This year, according to Reuters news agency, the G20 nations promised to work together towards limiting the global rise in temperatures to 1.5 ºC (2.7 ºF) in a draft communiqué from the summit. The draft also outlines a plan for “developed countries to mobilize $100 billion annually from public and private sources through to 2025 to address the needs of developing countries” so they can tackle climate change. As of today, China still remains the global leader in carbon emissions, accounting for 30% of the world’s carbon emissions, which is about double how much the United States produces. However, this does not change the fact that the entire world will reap the consequences. Italy’s Prime Minister Mario Draghi emphasized this point when he called on the G20 world leaders for unification against the climate crisis, saying, “going it alone is simply not an option. We must do all we can to overcome our differences.”

Yet again, the threat of nuclear conflict arose at the Summit. Leaders from the United States, Germany, France and the UK met to discuss growing concern over Iran’s nuclear activities. Iran is not one of the G20 nations. According to BBC, the nations put out a joint statement that if Iran continued its nuclear advancements, the nation would jeopardize its possibly of returning to the 2015 nuclear deal with the US and economic sanctions being lifted. Former President Donald Trump had abandoned the deal in 2018 and reinstated harsh sanctions against Iran. Since then, Iran has increased its nuclear activities, violated much of the multi-national pact. In a quote from various media outlets, the US, UK, Germany and France also put out a statement urging Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi to “change course…to avoid a dangerous escalation”.

An important point that arose from this year’s summit was the competition between many countries looking to take the number one seat at the world table, a seat held by the United States, and how this competition can be counterproductive. The Italian PM Mario Draghi stated that if G20 leaders want to curb global warming, end vaccine inequity and initiate an economic recovery plan, they have to start thinking and acting more multilaterally. Competition in things like vaccine production, trade tariffs and economic growth have resulted in nations placing their interests over the imperatives of the global community. Although this may be favorable to voters at face value, there are many issues we encounter as a nation – climate change, health inequity, public education, illegal immigration, etc. – that have implications beyond our borders and it would not hurt to take a multi-national approach in combatting them. 

Just as, if not more, powerful as a national or multi-national approach to social crises are the actions we make on a smaller scale as individuals, families, schools, workplaces and communities. When we listen to the news and hear about problems like climate change or the growing number of unhoused individuals, it may seem like the decisions of one person are too insignificant to impact such large-scale phenomena. However, the past couple of years have shown us how each and every individual in a community has a part to play when it comes to our collective ability to advance through tough situations. Scientists developed a vaccine in record time; volunteers delivered countless meals and supplies to our most vulnerable populations; medical professionals dealt with an unending flow of patients, saving innumerable lives; teachers adjusted course to help students with school and the mental health struggles they faced in isolation; service workers delivered food and restocked shelves so we would never run out of toilet paper or snacks. The pandemic reminded us all of how interconnected we are as a people and the remarkable capability of humankind when it shares a joint mission. 

Be it biking to school to reduce your carbon emissions, asking someone how they are feeling, volunteering at a food bank, you – yes, you – have the power to improve the world around you.