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T20 Day 3: the greatest challenges for policymakers

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For many, COP26 could be the most important climate summit since the Paris Agreement. In prevision of this venue, Bocconi University held the Think20 summit, a 3-day event bringing influential figures to discuss hot topics such as sustainability of debt, vaccines and health care, inequalities, and digitalization. Tra i Leoni was there to cover each day and here is our final reportage on the third day.

The third day of Think20 Summit welcomed key global policymakers to discuss topics ranging from migration, benefits and costs of digitalization, as well as turning the tide of post-pandemic poverty and inequalities.

The third day got inaugurated with the speech of Emma Bonino, Lead Co-Chair of Task Force 10 Migration, on the Afghan refugee exodus. Her words posed as an introduction to a conversation between James McGann, Director of Lauder Institute, and Antonio Vittorino from the Internation Organization of Migration (IOM). Shedding light on the issue of unequal social mobility opportunities, Vittorino called for the implementation of the Global Compact, providing a framework to attain the objectives of the Sustainable Development Goals (SGDs) and create legal pathways for migration. Both speakers acknowledged political will, international cooperation, and mobilizing civil society as central to alleviating the effects of migration.

The first panel of the day, Digitalization: Reaping the Benefits, Reducing the Costs, welcomed Vint Cerf, Chief Internet Evangelist from Google, who spoke on the contribution of the Internet to the improvement of the quality of human lives. Although the Internet has enormously contributed to economics, research, and education, we are still behind in connecting the underserved areas. The hope rests in the increasing number of undersea cables and the arrival of low Earth orbit satellites. Yet, together with the Internet expansion, new concerns might arise. Aware of the fact, Cerf has shed light on a big challenge faced by current generations: protecting people’s security while increasing access to the Internet.

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Cerf was joined in his discussion on privacy concerns by Dennis Snower, President of Global Solutions Initiative Germany, who called for applying the offline world measures to the Internet sphere. Snower claimed that private data generated by individuals should be entirely within the rights of manipulation of concerned individuals, suggesting making competition law more applicable to the digital service providers and having data traffickers submit to the GAAP oversight. “The central aspect,” he said, “is to give users the control over the data they give and the rights that they already have in the offline world.”

The conversation further turned to Sharon Thorne from Deloitte Global, and Houlin Zhao, Secretary-General of the International Telecommunication Unit (ITU). Thorne addressed the ambivalent effects of the digitalization process: “Digitalization has the power to exacerbate or alleviate inequality, depending on how it permeates the economy.” Despite the leverage of the rich in using digital technologies, social media has the power to accelerate the expanding success of small businesses and make previously underserved markets more profitable. Yet, how it will be played out depends on the large companies, governments, and society that should ensure universal access to ICT infrastructure, incorporate digital skills into education, and design the rule of new markets in ways that reinforce the attractiveness of serving excluded populations. Thorne’s proposal was backed by the words of Zhao: “We need infrastructure, investments, and inclusiveness – it is a huge challenge.”

The panel on digitalization continued, striking a conversation between Paolo Magri, T20 National Coordinator and Chair, and Michelle Bauchelet, UN High Commissioner of Human Rights. Asked about the impact of the rise of inequalities on the human rights issue, Bauchelet spoke about the need for a life-changing vision and concerted action. Former President of Chile called for working towards the UN Renewed Social Contract, general international solidarity encapsulated in the declaration of the right to development and adopting expansive economic policies. All of that should be deployed bearing in mind those disproportionately affected by the pandemic: “We need to stop leaving them further behind when thinking about the pandemic recovery.”

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The second panel, Poverty, and Inequalities: Turning the Tide, first welcomed Esther Duflo, 2019 Nobel Prize Winner in Economics. Asked by Tito Boeri, Professor of Economics, about what shall be done to tackle the current social emergency, Esther spoke about the root of economic divergence between the rich and the poor. Although the rich borrowed massive amounts of money to sustain their economies, they did not manage to find a similar mechanism to cover the debts of the Least Developed Countries (LDCs). The pandemic itself did not strike the poor disproportionately at the beginning. Yet, as Duflo revealed, by adopting similar lockdown measures to the rich countries, the poor have formed a loop of poverty traps.

The floor was then given to four key policymakers working on poverty and inequalities. Karim El Aynaoui, President of the Policy Center for the New South, provided his recipe for forming economic resilience in the countries of the Global South. He stressed the importance of strong governments and social cohesion that would instill a sense of peace and fairness in society. Further, Guntram Wolff, Director of Bruegel, pointed up the significance of investments in pandemic prevention: it is economically irrational and morally unacceptable not to invest below 15 billion US dollars per year to reduce the likelihood of pandemics. Lastly, Gabriela Bucher, Executive Director of Oxfam International, brought up the topic of the SDGs: “We are now free-falling backward as the economic rules are designed to serve the interest of the few at the expense of so many.” Saying this, Bucher underlined the role of G20 as the best chance for global leadership.

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Meanwhile, Ilaria Capua, a virologist from the University of Florida, presented the pandemic teachings, addressing the interconnections between the health of animals, plants, and the environment, the importance of climate efforts, citizen empowerment, responsibility in social media, and vaccine equity. These teachings need to be acknowledged within the context of the healthy policies as “there is no economy if people are not healthy,” Capua underlined.

In the closing session, Daniele Franco, Italian Minister of Economy and Finance, reflected on the G20 summit happening in Rome at the end of October. Despite the global economic recovery, we should be cautiously optimistic, continuously calling for concerted actions and stepping up international cooperation. Franco spoke with one voice with Gianmario Verona, Rector of Bocconi University, and Paolo Magri. Both highlighted the significance of the international platforms, like G20, in tackling the complex problems of the “new normal”. Officially closing the summit, Chairs of G20 from Saudi Arabia and Indonesia foregrounded the importance of digitalization and multilateralism for creating a future of prosperity, sustainability, and inclusion.

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