Climate change and Ukraine dominate G20 summit

Head in the sand: Australian protesters are unimpressed with their PM’s climate change views © PA

The world’s most powerful leaders gathered in Australia last weekend for the annual G20 summit. Yet with so much disagreement on important issues, are these meetings becoming pointless?

‘It has been a weekend of achievement,’ declared the Australian Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, at the G20 summit in Brisbane on Saturday. ‘Our focus has been the economy, and how we can achieve inclusive growth and jobs.’ Yet the focus of the summit ended up about more than just money.

The G20 is made up of 19 countries and the European Union, roughly representing the world’s biggest economies. Two thirds of the global population live in a G20 country and the G20 economies account for 80% of the world’s trade. The summit’s main concern is global economic reform, yet it is also a chance for world leaders to discuss other pressing issues.

Although the leaders set the ambitious goal of boosting their economies by at least 2.1% by 2018, most of Sunday’s headlines focused on the Russian president Vladimir Putin’s defiance over Ukraine — and his swift departure from the summit.

Despite cuddling koalas for the cameras along with other leaders, Putin had a frosty reception. He was fiercely criticised for supporting Ukrainian separatists and threatened with further sanctions. He left early, citing the long flight back to Moscow and his need to sleep.

There was also successful pressure placed on Tony Abbott to keep climate change on the agenda. The G20 includes the world’s biggest climate change polluters — China for total pollution and Australia in terms of pollution per head of its population. President Obama used his G20 address to argue that ‘every nation has a responsibility’ to tackle climate change, and spoke wistfully about his desire to visit Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.

Yet Australia has a long history of opposition to tackling climate change. In the past, Abbott has called the science behind it ‘highly contentious’ and said that coal is still the ‘foundation of prosperity’ for the world.

However, hundreds of Australian protesters used the G20 to show Abbott what they thought of his views — by sticking their heads into the sands of Bondi Beach.

Just hot air?

This G20 shows that there is genuine purpose to international summits. A united front between leaders can put pressure on countries, as the hostile reception to Putin, and the insistence on keeping climate change on the agenda, shows. As the world becomes more interconnected, the more vital international cooperation becomes.

But fighting talk is no replacement for action, others reply, and the purpose of G20 is increasingly in question. No leaders are willing to confront Putin militarily over Ukraine, and in comparison to a momentous agreement by China and the US to tackle greenhouse gas emissions last Wednesday, this summit seems ineffective. The G20 leaders often talk tough, but little gets done.

You Decide

  1. Is the G20 a waste of time and money?
  2. Will there ever be a government that governs the world? Should there be?


  1. Science fiction novels often talk about a future world government. In groups, outline your plans for one — what issues it would tackle, where it would meet and who would be in charge.
  2. Choose an international group or alliance, such as the IMF, EU, UN or Commonwealth, or NATO, and write a brief report on its structure and purpose, its key successes and most notable failures.

Some People Say...

“Actions speak louder than words.”

What do you think?

Q & A

I’m not a world leader — this doesn’t concern me.
That’s not true. The G20 looks at global problems that affect us all, like the economy, the environment, war and disease, and is a good way of seeing where our world leaders stand on these issues. In fact, as Obama made clear in his speech on climate change, young people are particularly important because ‘those of us who start getting grey hair are a little set in their ways.’
But what can I do?
Well, as the protesters at Bondi Beach showed the world, imagination is everything. Once you know what the issues are and what position your government takes, you can take action by protesting, voting, signing petitions and simply being better informed about the issues affecting the planet and discussing them with others.

Word Watch

The membership itself is a point of debate. Europe’s fourth largest economy, Spain, is only a member via the European Union, yet its GDP is greater than Argentina’s.
World leaders and their spouses were given koalas to hold at the summit. The animals are native to Australia and are often given to foreign zoos as gifts.
Fiercely criticised
Canada’s prime minister told Putin: ‘I guess I’ll shake your hand, but I’ll only have one thing to say to you – get out of Ukraine.’
G20 address
Obama announced in his speech that the US will contribute $3 billion to the Green Climate Fund that aims to help developing nations cope with the effects of global warming.
Great barrier reef
The world’s largest coral reef system, just off Australia’s north east coast, can be seen from space. Yet pollution from mining and industrialisation threatens its survival.
Momentous agreement
An agreement was reached last week during a visit by the US President to Beijing, including a new goal of reducing US CO2 emissions by 26% by 2025. China said its emissions would peak by 2030.

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