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Proposals for G20 Summit Action on March 26, 2020

John Kirton, Director, G20 Research Group
March 25, 2020

As G20 leaders and sherpas make their final preparations for their historic emergency virtual summit on March 26, they would do well to adopt the following measures to control the current COVID-19-created health, economic, financial and social crises their citizens and the global community currently face.

The list begins by putting health first, in the following ways.

  1. Fund the World Health Organization (WHO), by expanding its permanent base budget that it can count on to control this crisis and help prevent those crises sure to come. New ad hoc funds raised in response to the current crisis should be largely channelled through, or at  least co-ordinated by, the WHO, in order to minimize the transaction costs, gaps and competitive publicity seeking and political support that special funds can bring.
  2. Mandate medical assistance across borders, so that spare capacity on one side of the line can be immediately used by those in desperate need on the other side. This should start immediately, led by those G20 members that share the longest land borders.
  3. Relieve debt for health in heavily indebted and newly stressed countries, only if their governments agreed to use the freed-up funds directly for health. An admirable precedent was set by the G8 Gleneagles Summit in 2005 and the International Monetary Fund's (IMF's) subsequent Multilateral Debt Relief Initiative.
  4. Give universal health coverage to all now, as the United Nations' 2030 Agenda and its Sustainable Development Goal 3 has promised to do by 2030.
  5. Develop vaccines on a common and coordinated G20-wide basis.
  6. Open up free trade in health goods and services, by removing all import and export tariffs and bans.
  7. Suspend G20 members' sanctions to Venezuela, Iran, North Korea and Russia for as long as the COVID-19 pandemic lasts. The outbreaks that erupt in these impoverished places will kill their innocent people first, and their innocent next-door neighbours soon.
  8. Assist Africa with a special emergency program, before its impoverished countries with limited health capacity and many civil wars make it the next COVID-19 epicentre of the COVID-19 pandemic and the next one on a continent wide scale.
  9. Care for refugees and migrants wherever they are, lest they become de facto death camps and intense transmission to the many countries and regions next door.
  10. Make the WHO's director general a permanent member of the G20, in the same way that the head of the IMF and World Bank have been from the start. As no G20 leader has relevant expertise as a medical doctor, nurse or public health professional, or has served as a national minister of health faced with such a crisis, this would fill the G20's critical highest-level knowledge gap.
  11. Mandate G20 health ministers to meet weekly by videoconference or teleconference to implement and oversee compliance with these and other health commitments made by their leaders, and report back — free of peer protection — to the subsequent virtual summits their leaders should now hold monthly, before their culminating summit in Riyadh in November. Ministerial meetings held during a presidency are a powerful predictor of compliance with the leaders' commitments made on that portfolio's subject at the summit during that presidency, in this case health.
  12. Forge the link between health and the environment, by recalling that the G20 summit began its global health governance, at the Brisbane Summit in 2014, in response to another outbreak of a deadly infectious disease — Ebola — that humans acquired from animals whose natural ecosystems were under stress. Animals and ecosystems are similarly implicated in the G20's more recent focus on antimicrobial resistance. G20 leaders should strongly endorse the One Health Approach, and support UN Biodiversity in its critical anniversary work this year.

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John KirtonJohn Kirton is director of the G20 Research Group, G7 Research Group and Global Health Diplomacy Program and co-director of the BRICS Research Group, all based at Trinity College at the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Polic at the University of Toronto. A professor of political science, he teaches global governance and international relations and Canadian foreign policy. His most recent books include Accountability for Effectiveness in Global Governance, co-edited with Marina Larionova (Routledge 2018), China's G20 Leadership (Routledge, 2016), G20 Governance for a Globalized World (Ashgate, 2012) and (with Ella Kokotsis), The Global Governance of Climate Change: G7, G20 and UN Leadership (Ashgate, 2015), as well as The G8-G20 Relationship in Global Governance, co-edited with Marina Larionova (Ashgate, 2015), and Moving Health Sovereignty in Africa: Disease, Govenance, Climate Change, co-edted with Andrew F. Cooper, Franklyn Lisk and Hany Besada (Ashgate, 2014). Kirton is also co-editor with Madeline Koch of several publications on the G7/8, the G20 and the BRICS, including G20 Japan: The 2019 Osaka Summit and G7 France: The 2019 Biarritz Summit, published by GT Media and the Global Governance Project, as well as Health Is a Political Choice, a special publication produced with the support of the World Health Organization.

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