While countries around the world grapple with a surge in Covid-19 infections, leaders of major economies yesterday pledged to step up efforts to safeguard lives, jobs and to widen social safety nets.
Many stressed the need to ensure that the global recovery is inclusive and sustainable, and to combat climate change, as the two-day Group of 20 Riyadh summit, held virtually, came to a close.
The leaders, whose economies account for about 80 per cent of the world's output and two-thirds of its population, vowed to "spare no effort" in ensuring the equitable distribution of vaccines globally and reaffirmed support for debt-laden poor countries, in a joint statement.
They also committed to support a multilateral system, saying it "is now as important as ever". Their statement said: "We strive to realise the goal of a free, fair, inclusive, non-discriminatory, transparent, predictable, and stable trade and investment environment, and to keep our markets open."
The G-20 has brought together the leaders of 19 countries and the European Union since they convened to coordinate a response to the 2008 global financial crisis, and the current crisis is the first major recession confronting it since then.
Singapore was invited as a guest this year by host Saudi Arabia.
The weekend's discussions focused on the battle against the coronavirus - which has infected over 55 million and killed 1.3 million - cooperation on vaccines and reviving the global economy, as well as safeguarding the planet.
Chinese President Xi Jinping and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga both vowed to do more to cut their countries' emissions.
But United States President Donald Trump defended his withdrawal from the Paris climate pact, calling it unfair and one-sided, even as his successor Joe Biden said the US would rejoin it when he takes office.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who spoke, said that even as the world grapples with Covid-19, an eye must be kept on the future.
He suggested two areas of focus.
One, strengthen social resilience.
Many countries were facing severe stresses before Covid-19, with nativist and protectionist sentiments growing, fuelled by rising inequality and technological disruption, he noted. "Left on their own, these fault lines will only widen. To remedy this, we need to retain and create good jobs for our people."
More investment must also be made in merit goods such as education, public housing and public health, as well as in strengthening social safety nets, he added. "These measures will give the less privileged a larger share of the fruits of progress, and a stronger stake in society," he said, citing Singapore's investments on wages and reskilling as well as in pre-school education, public hospitals and care facilities.
Two, the economic disruption should be an opportunity to redouble efforts for a sustainable future.
Mr Lee said Singapore is committed to addressing climate change with other countries. It is pursuing a green recovery and transitioning to a low-carbon economy, promoting clean technology, low emission solutions and green finance, and working with partners on carbon markets and clean energy import.
"But as a small country, Singapore will not be able to stop climate change on our own. We need to work together with others," he said.
"We hope all countries, big and small, will do their part, to participate in the Paris Agreement and fulfil their commitments under it," he added, expressing the hope that the G-20 will lead by example.