Will Lula live up to expectations as G20’s new leader?

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Brazil's President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva attends a joint press conference with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz (not pictured) during the German-Brazilian government consultations at the Chancellery in Berlin, Germany, December 4, 2023. REUTERS/Liesa Johannssen

As Brazil assumed the G20 presidency from India on December 1, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva was faced with the challenge of advocating for the interests of the Global South in the midst of two wars and a slowing global economy. Lula takes the reins during a period of internal strife within the G20, and follows the outgoing presidency of India and Narendra Modi’s legacy.

The Arguments

Modi handed over the leadership amidst numerous issues, including a slowing world economy, the threat of climate change, and conflicts in Ukraine and Palestine that have strained North-South relations. Despite these challenges, Lula is moving forward and has outlined Brazil’s three main priorities as G20 head: promoting social inclusion and combatting hunger, transitioning from fossil fuels to renewable energy, and reforming global economic governance.

Analysts are seeing Lula as a pragmatic leader. While the previous G20 presidency was more focused on domestic politics, Lula is viewed as the ideal candidate to attempt to restore a degree of stability to the current turbulent world order.

At the G20 summit in New Delhi this year, Lula urged leaders to work towards ending world hunger by 2030. He proposed the creation of a global task force against hunger, focusing on areas like low-carbon agricultural research and improvements in farming insurance, requiring increased funding from wealthy nations. He also endorsed the idea of a minimum global corporate tax rate of 15%, part of the OECD plan designed to combat tax evasion and generate additional global tax revenues. He aimed to expand the scheme to increase investment in the green transition, advocating for more funds in renewable energy and nature conservation projects.

But he also raised eyebrows by suggesting joint responsibility for the Russia-Ukraine conflict and publicly supporting both Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin’s attendance at the next year’s G20 summit in Rio de Janeiro.

In 2022, the IMF allocated $160 billion in reserve currency to European countries, while only providing $34 billion to the entire African continent. President Lula will seek to increase country quotas for emergency lending and strive to reduce the associated programme conditions. However, there is uncertainty about the success of these efforts, given previous attempts over the years.

The Facts

Brazil pushed back its BRICS leadership to 2025 to avoid accumulating both roles in the same year, a sign that it has big plans for G20. The G20, a forum for the world’s largest economies to coordinate on key global policy issues, represents 85% of global output and two-thirds of the world’s population. Comprising the European Union and 19 other countries, a mix of advanced and emerging economies, the G20 held a leadership summit in September where India invited the African Union to join as the new member.

Ahead of the handover, Lula, speaking to a virtual G20 summit, expressed hope that the Israeli-Palestinian ceasefire agreement could pave the way for a lasting political solution to the conflict. Brazil maintains support for a two-state solution, and has called for an end to the fighting following recent events in Gaza.

As the president of Brazil, Lula has advocated for reinforcing the role of multilateral bodies such as the United Nations to address global challenges. At the United Nations General Assembly held in New York in September, Lula advocated for the necessity of restructuring the global governance system. He expressed strong disapproval of the unequal and distorted representation within the leadership of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank, stating that such disparities are unacceptable. He will, probably, try to raise the issue again in G20.

Lula also announced that during its one-year term as the leader of the G20, Brazil plans  to put the reduction of inequalities at the centre of the international agenda and make sustainable development a primary tool for combatting climate change.

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