G-20 countries pledge to work towards inclusive and sustainable recovery from Covid-19 as annual summit ends

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the virtual G-20 Riyadh Summit on Nov 21, 2020.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the virtual G-20 Riyadh Summit on Nov 21, 2020.PHOTO: MINISTRY OF COMMUNICATIONS AND INFORMATION

SINGAPORE - As countries around the world grappled with a surge in Covid-19 infections, leaders of major economies on Sunday (Nov 22) pledged to step up efforts to safeguard lives, jobs and to widen social safety nets.

Many stressed the need to also ensure that the global recovery is inclusive and sustainable, and to combat climate change, as the two-day Group of 20 (G-20) Riyadh summit, held virtually, came to a close.

The leaders, whose economies account for about 90 per cent of the world's output and two-thirds of its population, also 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 at the end of the summit.

They also committed to support a multilateral system, saying it "is now as important as ever". Their leaders' declaration 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 global response to the 2008 global financial crisis, and the current crisis is the first major recession confronting it since then.

Singapore is 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, reviving a global economy hit hard by travel restrictions and lockdowns, as well as safeguarding the planet.

Chinese President Xi Jinping and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga both vowed to do more to cut their emissions. But outgoing 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 the deal when he takes office.

Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who spoke, said that even as the world grapples with the crisis, Covid-19 will be over one day and 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 together 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 parts, 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 and set the right tone for a successful United Nations Climate Change Conference or COP26 next year.

At the end of the summit, Saudi Arabia handed over the presidency of the G-20 to Italy.

The leaders also looked forward to meeting in Indonesia in 2022, India in 2023 and Brazil in 2024, as these countries assume the rotating chairmanship of the group in these years.