Protesters descend on Hamburg demanding substantial change from G20

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G20 Oxfam photo demo. Photo: Mike Auerbach/Oxfam

Colourful posters, banners, and flags line the streets around Hamburg's exhibition grounds.

"NO G20."

"Planet Earth First!"

"Refugees Welcome."

Thousands of protesters from around the world have descended onto Germany's second-largest city to make one thing clear: things have got to change.

Unless you've slept through the last decade, you can't be surprised at this outrage. Economic inequality is getting more and more out of hand -- just eight men now own as much wealth as half of the world. The world is on track for a brutal 3 degrees Celsius of warming. Millions are at risk of starvation, as conflicts in Yemen and South Sudan go unabated.

The response from the world's richest nations to all of this has so far been maddeningly underwhelming.

Far from strengthening the Paris Agreement, the American president, Donald Trump, took an axe to it. His stubbornness has now opened the door for other nations to look for ways to back out of their own commitments. The G20 has to hold the line and refuse to give any ground for member states to wiggle out. If that happened, the results would likely be disastrous for the world's poorest.

Millions are already feeling the effect of climate change. In Somalia, brutal droughts have killed the crops and livestock that so many depend on. Combined with the effect of conflict, the fingerprints of climate change can be found on this disaster. Somalia is now one of the so-called "four famines." Together with the hunger crises in Nigeria, Yemen and South Sudan, these four countries add up to one of the world's toughest humanitarian challenges.

These are the kinds of issues that the G20 should be prioritizing. They have the resources to put forward the assistance needed to save millions and millions of lives.

Will they come through? Sadly, past experience tells us we shouldn't get our hopes up too much.

What we will get is a lot of talk about economic growth. But who will this growth really benefit? In the past, the G20 has recognized that growing inequality presents a risk, and that growth must be sustainable and work for all.

While this sounds great in a communique, the G20 have been reluctant to adopt policies that are proven to reduce inequality, like stricter tax rules to make sure corporations pay their fair share.

Instead, the G20 are likely to endorse a blacklist of tax havens recently published by the OECD. That is, if you can call a document which names just one country a "list." Instead of endorsing it, the G20 should rip it up and demand the OECD start over.

This is a time for seriousness and substantial answers to huge problems. Can the G20 come up with any of them?

Steve Price-Thomas is Oxfam International's Advocacy and Campaigns Director.

Photo: Mike Auerbach/Oxfam

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