On the Saturday before the G20 summit, an estimated 35,000 people marched through London to voice their demands to world leaders. I joined in and participated in the ecumenical service that preceded the march.
But it was a confusing experience. What exactly was I demanding?
The march was organized by a diverse coalition of organizations including trade unions, environmentalists, development agencies and faith groups under the well-meaning but fairly meaningless slogan of “Put People First.” It was about “Jobs, Justice and Climate,” an agenda broad enough to embrace the views of all participants. And as I looked at the range of banners and placards being carried, we seemed to be asking for everything and nothing.
Of course, it is right that voices are heard, and as Christians there were messages we wanted to communicate. But the march summed up the mixed and confusing demands being placed upon the G20. Here were expectations that could not possibly be met, and dreams that could never be realized. Politics has to reckon with what is possible – and perhaps campaigning groups need to do the same.
So what could we expect of the G20 summit? What were the priorities? How do the outcomes match up?
First, one thing we did not get – any real progress in dealing with climate change. Aside from a few general platitudes about building a “green” recovery and “reaching agreement” at the U.N. Climate Change conference in Copenhagen in December, there was nothing of substance. Nor was there ever likely to be. This summit was always about the financial crisis first and last, and the long hard road toward a deal that will genuinely address climate change has to wait for another day.
Second, two things we did get – more money for the developing world and strengthened financial regulation. Figures can deceive, and the large sums mentioned were not all new money. But for those of us who saw commitment to the world’s poor as a key measure of the summit’s success, there was some encouragement. The availability of $250 billion of trade credit should make the most difference, enabling goods from the poorest countries to move once again. Part of the new money available to the International Monetary Fund is earmarked for those most in need.
In a pre-summit submission to the government from the U.K. churches – including the Baptist Union of Great Britain – attention was drawn to the moral failure at the center of the financial crisis and the need to rebuild systems based on ethical principles such as social justice, equality and transparency. Again, there are encouraging signs. Serious steps were taken to begin to tackle tax evasion, together with broader attempts to bring a new integrity into the regulation of the financial systems.
There is one other outcome that might turn out to be more important than anything else. This was a G20 summit. Twenty countries sitting down together and reaching agreement. Not eight but 20. What is more, the presence of Ethiopia (representing Africa) and Thailand (representing Southeast Asia) at the top table indicated a willingness to listen to the voices of the poor who have so often gone unheard. That represents a significant change to the way the world does business.
Now what is needed is for that unity and that listening to the voices of the poor to be carried over into the search for progress on climate change. That must become our focus. And instead of a disparate set of demands, there needs to be a united voice from the faith communities and other nongovernmental organizations, determined that the care of creation is our urgent priority.
The Rev. Graham Sparkes is head of the Baptist Union of Great Britain’s Faith and Unity Department. His column appeared in Britain’s Baptist Times and is posted here with permission.