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Paul Hilder

Paul Hilder

Posted April 7, 2009 | 07:46 PM (EST)

Public Pressure Made A Difference At The G20 - Here's Why


The circus has left London town. Obama, Hu, Lula and Sarkozy have moved on to their next diary dates. So what to make of the G20?

We had thousands of people in green hard hats out on the massive, peaceful march before the Summit -- Avaaz.org, the global counterpart to MoveOn, had been teaming up with the unions and NGOs and bombarding officials and leaders with campaigns for weeks. We delivered our G20 campaigns in person to UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown's Downing Street residence and to Dominique Strauss-Kahn ("DSK", who heads up the now-supersized IMF)... and I still wasn't sure how much we were getting through the noise.

But when I look at the big picture, you know what? Beyond the hoopla, Michelle's sequins and a brief flurry of street violence, progressives got a lot of what we wanted last week.

Campaigners were pushing for two things: first, some bold initiatives to fight the crisis and start to fix a broken system. But just as importantly, the beginnings of a new shared understanding that we're not isolated spectators or victims -- we sink or swim together in this crisis. And this isn't just about leaders, but about citizens -- because without us, politicians alone will inevitably fail to rise to this great challenge.

So how did we do? The dust is still settling, but here's a quick overview. There are two big victories for the good guys in the summit communique.

One: there is serious money for the "global rescue package" for developing and emerging economies we were calling for, and this will make a real difference for the poor and vulnerable.

Most critical here is the agreement on $250 billion in Special Drawing Rights (big new international reserve funds available to everyone, especially poorer countries, without onerous conditions). We made a last-minute push for the SDRs and we got them -- this was an important victory, and the Financial Times groupblog Alphaville namechecked our role alongside that of George Soros -- Alphaville, by the way, is a good place to start understanding the strange importance of Special Drawing Rights, which still has some of the smartest bamboozled. The rescue package overall has put global solidarity and supporting the weakest at the heart of the response to the crisis, and it also starts to point the way toward correcting some imbalances and root causes.

Two: The summit also made significant moves toward better regulation and reform - regulating global finance and the shadow banking system, closing the tax haven loopholes which impoverish every country, and democratising and fundamentally reforming international financial institutions like the IMF.

These moves are incomplete, and thus-far inadequate: it's far from time to go home and chill in satisfaction. But unprecedented processes have been set in train to fix global finance. Now we need massive global pressure to push them to be bolder.

But perhaps the best news out of this London summit is that these advances happened substantially as a result of growing public pressure around the world. At the Washington G20 meeting last year, citizens seemed like helpless spectators.

That has now changed.

That extraordinary peaceful march of tens of thousands of citizens, unions and NGOs through London on the weekend before the summit was supported by hundreds of thousands around the world, and it had a serious and positive agenda (symbolised for the Avaaz contingent by our thousands of green hard hats, a meme taking off around the world since it hit Washington DC last month with Powershift and the Capitol Coal Action).

And we know from those who were inside the summit that advocacy by ourselves and allies, notably the unions and anti-poverty groups, made a real difference in the final outcome.

Citizens and civic groups everywhere need to build on this success during the vital coming year, pressing leaders to go far beyond their comfort zone and to tackle the fundamental problems which birthed this crisis. It's down to us -- with powerful vested interests still holding sway, our leaders won't do what's needed unless the countervailing public pressure is clear, positive and overwhelming (as Sunder Katwala of the leading UK think-tank the Fabian Society is saying).

While it is good that the summit declaration talked about a sustainable green recovery and a climate deal at Copenhagen, it was for the most part only talk. This was perhaps the biggest failing of the summit.

Our members had been calling for big investment in green recovery, and for at least 1% of GDP to be invested in everything from home insulation to renewable energies, public transport and smart grids (based on research and policy from the UN Environment Programme and others). That hasn't happened yet, though the G20 has set up a group to try and make more practical progress. We can't let them sweep our future under the carpet of short-term caution.

But crucially, the global fiscal stimulus so far has been not invested in a sustainable enough way. Except in a few leading countries like South Korea, investments are locking in more polluting infrastructure. They will leave us vulnerable to a new oil price spike, as well as a deepening climate crisis.

So it seems the powers-that-be will need a few more months, a lot more inventive planning and some serious pressure to pull together better, greener stimulus and recovery programmes. Another urgent target is fundamental reform of the IMF, to make sure its huge new resources are used more responsibly, and we'll be targeting their spring meeting. Watch out, DSK.

Join Iris (below) and thousands of others now, and get your green hard hats on -- 2009 is going to be scarily big and important for us all.

Green Hard Hats at the London G20

(Paul Hilder is campaign director at Avaaz.org, the global web movement with 3.4 million members. He writes here in his personal capacity.)