The World’s 20 Largest Economies Just Met, and the Media Reported on Cats

g20-cats

(Photo: dat’ / Flickr)

Doesn’t the Internet have enough cat videos?

News of the G20 summit in Antalya, Turkey, which concluded a few days after the Paris attacks, focused predominantly on discussions of the violence, along with the response of the G20 on Syria — and yes, cats. Videos of stray cats who wandered onstage as the press awaited remarks from Presidents Barack Obama, Vladimir Putin, and Recep Tayyip Erdogan quickly went viral.

I get it. From my hotel room in Antalya, Turkey, I also wept, messaged friends, and obsessively monitored the news following the attacks in Paris and Beirut, and then Syria, throughout the G20 summit. Although I was here in Antalya to engage with the voices of protest during the summit, and to monitor the G20’s actions, I couldn’t get these tragedies off of my mind.

The cats were some welcome comic relief. But they seem to have snatched more headlines than the actual decisions made at the G20, a forum of the 20 most important economies in the world that meets at least once per year.

Together they constitute about 60 percent of the world’s population and emit the lion’s share of global carbon emissions. Since its beginnings as an emergency response to economic crises, the G20’s agenda has broadened to encompass a variety of issues, such as corruption, food policy, taxes, youth employment, and especially the expansion of economic growth.

But despite bold statements that would suggest they are like a mini-UN, seeking to address the world’s humanitarian crises, their focus remains on economic issues.

While the world mourned Paris, Beirut, and Syria during the summit, then laughed at the G20 cats, thousands of government representatives from the 20 nations worked to deepen neoliberalism. They increased corporate control, moved forward on exploitative infrastructure developments, and harshly rebuked nations for not funding the dubious International Monetary Fund. They also delayed any meaningful action on climate change.

Here are some other items to take away from the G20 summit.

Protesters Raised Their Voices Against the G20, Imperialism

The first thing anyone covering the summit would have noticed were the protests. Out in the streets, young Turkish activists marched against the G20, holding signs that called the G20 a “killer, colonist, imperialist” organization.

Several organizations participated. The Türkiye Gençlik Birliği (TGB), or Turkish Youth Party, held an orderly march which began with a rally of hundreds inside a fenced-off “protest zone.” When I entered this zone through a security gate, police checked not only my pockets but also carefully read each one of my signs to vet for content.

The group symbolically threw shoes at Obama’s effigy as an act of street theater, then marched as they held aloft posters of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the secularist founder of the modern Turkish republic. They marched with anti-U.S.-imperialism signs, including a 15-foot-long banner that read, “Yankee Go Home!”

“For this protest, we are mostly focused on Obama and U.S. imperialism. When we think of America, we think of blood and tears,” said Sinan Sungur, the TGB’s assistant general secretary. Sungur complained specifically about NATO military bases in Turkey, as well as U.S. interference in the Middle East more broadly. “We follow Atatürk’s way in Turkey. The model is to open towards socialism. We take our power from the people.”

Hundreds more marched without a permit, getting into scuffles with the police as they held banners that read, “G20 go away!” These were the Öğrenci Kolektifleri or Halkevleri, the People’s Party. In total, 30 people in total were arrested from the People’s Party. Four were arrested as they attempted to walk to the security barricades to deliver letters to President Obama and other leaders.

“Why do we protest the G20? The G20 is imperialistic,” said Kutay Merig, a university professor marching with the group. He added that they also “make war and hunger, are anti-democratic, and serve the interests of rich people. Totally abolish imperialism.”

I’ve been personally present at five G20 Leaders Summits now, and this is the smallest crowd of protesters I’ve seen. This is no doubt because of the extreme censorship and repression here in Turkey against anyone critical of the dominant paradigm, the government’s repression of the Kurdish population, or President Erdoğan.

I was told by many that it was illegal to protest at all, and warned that even getting caught with a G20 protest sign by police might land me in jail. I took these words of caution seriously, as local police had prepared an additional detention center for the summit with space for 500 protesters. I didn’t want to occupy one of these 500 cells.

G20 Kicks the Can on Climate Change

Climate was no doubt on the minds of many of these leaders, with a major climate summit coming up in Paris in just weeks (and now underway).

Yet the G20’s actions on the subject were meager. The group reaffirmed its commitment to prior goals of staying under a global temperature rise of 2 degrees Celsius, and re-stated that each G20 country intends to fulfill promises made to reduce their carbon emissions. In hewing to old lines, they punted any meaningful action to Paris.

The climate language was “woolly and non-committal to say the least,” said Oscar Reyes, an associate fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies. Leo Hickman, editor and director of Carbon Brief, called the G20’s treatment of climate a “bit of a nothing burger.” Steve Price-Thomas, Oxfam’s Deputy Advocacy and Campaigns Director, said “the only thing G20 leaders had to say on climate was ‘see you at the climate summit.’”

The G20’s inaction is a disappointment. These 20 nations emit about 75 percent of all carbon spewed annually. If climate change is truly the most dangerous threat to humanity at this moment, more dangerous in the long term than even the Islamic State, then why make it a side conversation and kick the can down the road?

Following last year’s G20 summit in Brisbane, Australia, the United States and Japan had made a point to commit billions of dollars to the UN’s still undercapitalized Green Climate Fund, to go toward climate adaptation and mitigation in poorer countries bearing the brunt of climate chaos. So why no action now?

The G20 and the IMF Remain Buddies

The G20 reserved its strongest language to promote the interests of the IMF, saying in its communiqué that the countries “remain deeply disappointed” that countries are not contributing more funds to the IMF through fulfilling quotas. This leaves no doubt about the buddy-buddy relationship between the G20 and the IMF.

The IMF’s “structural adjustment” policies have elicited riots and protests from everyday people in a variety of countries, due to the fund’s adherence to harsh neoliberal policies and austerity measures that make lives harder for their client states, but earn banks and corporations more in the long run. Earlier this year, the streets of Greece, Turkey’s next-door neighbor, were the site of intense protests of everyday people opposing a raft of IMF- and EU-imposed reforms, including an increase to the retirement age, pension pay cuts, a reduction of government assets, and cuts to public sector worker pay.

A mighty increase in funding to the IMF has been one of the G20’s most significant actions to date. In 2010, the G20 decided to implement a host of reforms to G20 financing, including changing its decision-making balance and doubling IMF funding levels. This gigantic swell of funding for the IMF was supposedly to increase the resilience of the economy.

Giant Infrastructure Project, A Big Deal

One of the biggest commitments involved a $60 trillion infrastructure project spanning the 20 largest economies.

At the Turkey summit, the G20 advanced its commitment to this giant project and the creation of a Global Infrastructure Hub that will “unlock the ways and means for countries to better prepare, prioritize, and finance infrastructure projects,” according to its communiqué. Of course, the funding for these projects will flow through the World Bank, the infamous dam-building and coal-financing “development” organization, and other so-called multilateral development banks (MDBs), which will no doubt get a cut of the cash.

Right now the prospects don’t look good that this project will move forward with environmental sustainability at the center. The project would expand and update roads, ports, railroads, energy infrastructure, and more. Though the G20’s summit of energy ministers articulated clearly that energy efficiency and even renewable energy remained a priority, the text on the infrastructure project scarcely makes a mention of sustainability at all. These huge construction projects promise to greatly increase global carbon emissions if done wrong.

In March, an open letter signed by economist Herman Daly, activist Vandana Shiva, former Green Party presidential candidate Winona LaDuke, Greenpeace USA director Annie Leonard, Earth First! co-founder Mike Roselle, and others urged the G20 to rethink the infrastructure project. The letter suggests that the G20 “discuss significant changes to the economic model,” educate themselves on planetary ecological boundaries, and shift toward ecologically sound infrastructure.

Reporting in the Here and Meow

The G20 did take a few steps that can be celebrated.

They affirmed that they would broaden their acceptance of refugees and migrants, the tired and the weary. They also paid lip service to reducing inequality and including more women and youth in the workplace, though these may also be simply a new rhetorical twist behind old policies to “eliminate poverty” through more trickle-down economics.

The group also advanced the OECD Base Erosion and Profit Shifting (BEPS) program, which will cut down on corporate tax avoidance, though more work is needed to truly reduce tax cheating.

With this good news to report, why didn’t the news media faithfully get the word out?

Even if they wanted to keep the cats in the center of the story, there were plenty of bad metaphors to jump on. The G20’s statement on migrants is the cat’s pajamas? Their climate inaction makes it seem like they think they have nine lives? Their Global Infrastructure Hub project is what the cat dragged in? Eh?

So why has the news media been silent on this? Perhaps… the cat got its tongue?

Lacy MacAuley is a Masters of International Service Student at American University in Washington DC, and was in Antalya, Turkey, to cover alternative voices at the G20 Summit. You can find her on Twitter at @lacymacauley.