The G20 are driving the world’s problems – people are crying out for fundamental change

Friday, 30 November, 2018
  • May risks giving support to repressive regimes in desperation for trade deals

  • Climate change, arms sales and financial instability driven by G20 countries

The most powerful countries in the world are driving climate change, violent conflict and a deeply unequal global economy, campaigners claimed today, as the leaders of those countries meet in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Global Justice Now told G20 leaders today that their polices were causing catastrophic damage for the environment and countries around the world, and that far from providing global solutions, these countries need to start by stopping the incredible harm they’re wreaking on the world.


75% of the more than $30billion global arms sales in the world last year were accounted for by just 5 countries, all G20 members (1). The largest importer of arms was another G20 member, Saudi Arabia, which is being backed by the US and UK to wage a devastating war in Yemen. Others, including Russia, Turkey and Saudi, have driven grotesque levels of human rights abuses in Syria

Climate change

Well over 50% of fossil fuel C02 emissions are accounted for by five countries, all of them in the G20 (2). With the exception of Iran, the G20 are the world’s biggest emitters, with the inequality looming even worse when we take historical emissions into account. What’s more, with the latest UN summit on climate change due to meet next week, none of the G20 countries are on track to meet their commitments with 82% of those countries’ energy supplies coming from fossil fuels. Predictions are that this trajectory would lead the world to a catastrophic 3.2 degrees rise in temperature, with serious disasters now commonplace, especially in countries with no responsibility for these rises.

Inequality and financial power

The leading G20 countries continue to push deep financial liberalisation, ‘race to the bottom’ trade deals, and ever new powers for corporations. Even the very modest reforms passed in the wake of the financial crash are being unwound in the US and the EU. But it’s precisely this system which has created extreme levels of inequality, volatility and new debt build up around the world. As UN agencies and experts clearly state that this financial power is at the root of the erosion of democracy and the thrust towards authoritarian regimes (3), the G20 focuses on exacerbating that power through deeper trade and investment deals.
In particular, Global Justice Now criticised the UK government, which has made clear their primary objective in Buenos Aires is a desperate push for post-Brexit Britain to sign up to multiple trade deals, including with Saudi Arabia, a country Britain is also arming while it fights a deadly war in Yemen.
Nick Dearden, director of Global Justice Now, said:
“In the coming days we can expect G20 leaders to patch together some nice words about peace, security and prosperity for the whole world – but we need to remember that it’s their governments which are pushing society towards ever worse division, driving devastating war and fuelling catastrophic climate change. Their first principle should be simply: stop the incredible harm you’re doing.   
“Theresa May’s unseemly desperation for post-Brexit trade deals is already having deeply damaging impacts on human rights around the world. She won’t hesitate to shake the hand of Saudi’s de facto ruler Mohammed bin Salman this weekend, because she wants to sell him more weapons and negotiate a deep trade deal. This is awful news for those suffering in Yemen and throughout the Middle East.   
“We know that the annual G20 summit is divided as never before between right-wing populists and authoritarians on the one hand and free market fundamentalists on the other. But both these directions are atrocious for people around the world, and for climate change. People are crying out for fundamental change – yet it won’t come from the G20 leaders but from people working together for a different world. For this reason, we show support and solidarity for those protesting at the G20 summit this weekend, in the face of repression by the Argentinian government.”

  1. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, ‘Trends in International Arms Transfers’, March 2018
  2. JRC Science for Policy, ‘Fossil C02 & GHG emissions of all world countries’, 2017
  3. UNCTAD, ‘Trade & Development Report 2018’, September 2018

Photo: The 'Trump baby' in Buenos Aires, Argentina, ahead of the G20. Credit: Fuera G20