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What Is the Role of the G20?

Right Honourable Paul Martin, former prime minister of Canada
January 25 2023

Text of presentation to "What Is the Role of the G20?" at Senior College, moderated by Louis Pauly with John Kirton and Peter Hajnal, University of Toronto, Faculty Club, January 25, 2023

Thank you Peter,

And allow me to thank you also for letting me share the podium with you and John Kirton.
Let me thank Louis Pauly as well, for the focus and importance of his questions,

Questions which are:

What are the current prospects for the G20?

And how do I see the big picture moving forward, the big picture being society's capacity to handle attacks on humanity, such as climate change and contagious disease?

To begin, let me tell you how the G20 came into being.

In 1993 when I became Canada's finance minister, I automatically became a member of the G7 along with the Americans and other industrialized countries. Some time later, I participated in a G7 meeting focusing on the Asian Financial Crisis, which affected most of east and southwest Asia.

What happened was the G7 called an emergency meeting in which we discussed what the countries embroiled in the Asian crisis should do, and then we sent our advice on to them.

Shortly after that, we received a response from them saying: Who do you think you are, telling us what to do and `– even worse – talking about us at a meeting to which we were not invited?

Given this response, it was suggested by some of us, that perhaps we should form a larger forum with a broader perspective,

And we did.

That is how the G20 came into being.

Professor Pauly, you ask about the G20's prospects.

In my opinion, they are good. And they are improving, as nations learn from experience to find solutions nationally. That is to say in their own countries, which they can then apply globally when humanity is attacked.

In short, the real strength of the G20 comes from its ability to coordinate the efforts and expertise of national governments – expertise which governments gained as they faced a series of similar issues such as contagious disease and climate change which know no borders, or indeed the subsequent energy crisis in Europe now arising from the war in Ukraine.

In short, knowing "what to do" based on lived experience is where successful action comes from.

And this is why the results of the G20's Bali Summit last November, predict success for the Delhi Summit in September this year.

For the Bali Summit set the stage where climate change ministers, health ministers, agriculture ministers as well as tech ministers met to discuss common issues, as they did at the Rome Summit a year earlier, where they furthered our capacity for action.

These ministerial meetings last year provided a firm foundation for the G20 leaders to act, despite the previous deadlock due to Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

What this means is that the G20 will continue to grow, as long as it recognizes, that when global issues are priorities in individual countries, the expertise of the national ministers dealing with those issues, must be invited to the G20 table because we have to work together.

And that precedent should be expanded.

In short, clearly setting the stage for well-developed thinking and creating experienced players at the national level, is the key to making globalization work.

And quite simply, the most important role the G20 can play is to awaken national action, and to coordinate it as countries respond to the attacks on humanity, from infectious diseases to global warming, to the tragedy of the Ukraine invasion, which cannot be ignored.

These are massive threats that no nation can deal with alone.

That is why the G20 is so important.

Clearly, it was one of the reasons why Bali was so widely applauded. And it certainly is a reason why we are looking forward to John Kirton's report, who attended Bali just a short time ago.

Last point, looking ahead, as we know, India has the presidency this year.

We expect it will focus on continuity with the agenda and ambition of previous G20 meetings, and whatever new issues, nature throws at us.

For instance, India has improved its climate change credentials by targeting renewable energy,

And based on the great success of Bali, I know we will all work hand in hand with India, to turn hope into reality.

Thus, Professor Pauly, the prospects looking ahead are positive. Given the discussions both in Rome and Bali and what they have produced, the upcoming year should be historic!

This is a very different world now. One we should have caught up with years ago. Historically many of the world's major problems have been differences between countries. This will continue and we will have to deal with them.

However, as we know, many new issues have been attacks on humanity. Such as climate change and pandemics for instance, and they must be dealt with by every country, without exception, if humanity is to win out.

What this means is that solutions found as national ministers work together will be reported to their governments, but must be reported to the G20 as well, which reports to us all.

Which is why the new world will not be fixed by communiqués, but by action – supported by all of us. I know I don't have to elaborate on the challenge this poses.

Professor Pauly, you ask how I see the G20 moving forward.

To start, I believe we should build on the Bali Summit and put everything into making India's Delhi Summit another great success. This is the new world and we must establish the markers to success!

With that, over to you, Peter!

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