A British perspective on the G20 in Pittsburgh

Back in 1998, in my home town of Birmingham, the then G7 group of major industrialised nations became the G8 as the de facto change that Russia was bringing to global issues was rightly acknowledged.

Over the ensuing years it became increasingly clear that no G8 (or G-anything for that matter) could be taken seriously on issues from climate change to capital flows, from free trade to food production unless India, Brazil and China plus many more were at the table, not patronizingly as observers but as fully-fledged members of the global leaders club.

And so it is the G20 that moves on from the UK last April to the USA, from London to … Pittsburgh.

It is fitting, indeed utterly symbolic, that the USA has chosen the home of the birth of the Ohio river, a city I have known and loved for over two decades, as the Host City for the upcoming G20. For just as the Grouping of Nations has had to change to reflect our globalised economy, so has Pittsburgh had to adapt to a changed world. The city’s most known connection with steel nowadays is in the name of the 2009 Super Bowl Champions, even though the largest fully integrated steel producer in the country, U.S. Steel, is still headquartered and manufactures there. Pittsburghers go fishing in the clear water of the three rivers that were at one time deemed environmentally unsafe. And “going global” means engagement with China and the UK, with Germany and Australia, not merely communication with a neighbouring state.

One of the world’s capitals for University-based medical research and for IT development has grown out of the need to change, to embrace a highly competitive, globalising economy, to accept the realities of international trade and investment, and not go down the protectionist road but develop new sectors based on innovation, quality and, above all, the development and transfer of knowledge.

As the leaders of the developed and developing world sit down together at the end of the month, as they balance short-term imperatives born of voters, vested interests and populations back home with the long-term global benefits they know to be right for all of us, they should banish the one pervasive, destructive sentiment that can cause such damage to the hope of so many: fear of the unknown. For they will be sitting in a city that faced exactly that as the first wave of the effects of a globalised economy laid waste to generations, indeed centuries, of established methods, industries and tradition. Change? Pittsburgh did it in under twenty years. Change? So too can the countries that are set to lead us out of the greatest global downturn in sixty years. The route is one set for courageous leadership, for adopting new ways, above all for equipping our peoples with the skills and self-esteem to allow them to go forward with confidence; not hanker for the old days of protected markets and constant pursuit of damaging self-interest. We can all learn a thing or two from the Pittsburgh story.

Our children and their children deserve nothing less.