T20 Saudi Arabia: In times of crisis, research-based policy recommendations are needed most

by Agnes Michalik, Director, and Dr. Hannah Petersen, Research and Program Officer, of the Global Solutions Initiative

On 31 October and 1 November 2020, the annual T20 Summit took place. For the first time, this gathering of the world’s most renowned think tanks and research institutions consulting the G20 was held online, due to the Covid-10 pandemic. This article highlights some essential recommendations from this year’s Think20 engagement group under the Saudi Arabian presidency.

Initiated in 2012, the T20 engagement group is independent from national governments and comprised of prestigious think tanks and academia from the international community that come together to generate high-level policy proposals. These proposals provide an analytical depth to G20 discussions and assist G20 leaders in developing concrete and sustainable policy measures centered around G20 priorities.

Each year, under a new G20 Presidency, the T20 creates Task Forces to structure their proposals around the most critical issues, driving policy innovation. In the challenging year 2020, the T20 focused on 10 core priorities as well as one overarching task force that provided recommendations for the post-pandemic world.

With most of the year of Saudi-Arabia’s presidency overshadowed by Covid-19, the pandemic has been viewed as a strong example reinforcing the need for multilateralism to address the many shared global challenges. These include repairing pre-existing deficiencies and inequalities in social, health, and economic systems as well as combating climate change and achieving sustainability, all of which require cooperation and structural reform across countries. The 2020 T20 recommends urgent reforms to improve the legitimacy, inclusiveness and sustainability of the rules-based multilateral order, including a redesign of the global financial system to focus on supporting the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 2030.

Among the concrete proposals by the outgoing T20 presidency is the suggestion to “adopt and promote the use of measurement tools that provide a new theoretical and empirical basis for assessing well-being beyond GDP and other economic indicators”, recognizing that classical macroeconomic measurements are insufficient to predict human-wellbeing. Instead, new measures are needed as a basis for policymaking “ to promote a recoupling of economic and social prosperity.” This proposal is based on a policy brief by Dennis J. Snower (President of the Global Solutions Initiative and member of the T20’s Advisory board) and Katharina Lima de Miranda (postdoctoral researcher at the Kiel Institute for the World Economy and member of the T20 Task Force 2020 on “Social Cohesion and the State”) that presents the Recoupling Dashboard.

Directly related to the pandemic, the T20 Communiqué proposes viewing health as a global public good (with a concrete impact on the economy) and therefore to label health funding as investment rather than spending and cooperate globally on building resilience, to “embrace comprehensive and universal healthcare coverage” (SDG 3) as well as strengthen diagnostic efforts and economic and fiscal safety nets, including the to meet future health crises head-on. Furthermore, there is a call for increased funding for innovation in educational solutions and widening educational opportunities under the light of remote or socially distanced learning dictated by this or future pandemics, potentially involving AI teaching technologies, to help build or increase skills and increase equity and equality in learning.

Covid-19 should not be allowed to hinder efforts to build a more sustainable future but should instead be taken as an opportunity to renew our relations with the now for many ubiquitous digital world as well as with the natural world. The T20 calls for norms and standards in cyberspace similar to the UN Charter, including safeguarding, cyber diplomacy, and skill-building for all and especially for disadvantaged groups to ensure more equality and accountability in the digital world, but also for a new regulatory system that allows business as well as states to reap the benefits of digital trade. Regarding the natural world, the G20 is urged to strengthen cooperation on climate action and support climate resilient growth and sustainable recovery, including a circular carbon economy approach, resilient energy systems, environment on the educational curriculum and increased protection of biodiversity, with the end goal of making sustainability and environmentally informed policy action the norm.

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