As the complex evidence for climate change builds in the public mind, the role of corruption as a driver of climate change -- for example by accelerating the destruction of forests -- needs to be recognized. Equally urgent is a recognition that several of the key tools for reducing carbon emissions -- such as carbon trading or the big development funds aimed at addressing the problem --may be undermined by corruption (as has already occurred with funds provided by the Clean Development Mechanism in Bangladesh and India, for example).
The Arab Spring created a surge of new publicity about the misdeeds of authoritarian rulers (such as Egypt's Hosni Mubarak, whose family fortune was a major source of discontent, or Tunisia's Ben Ali, who left behind $23 million in cash in his palace when he fled the country). Yet the public resentment against the malefactors who accumulate huge fortunes at public expense continues to be exacerbated by the reluctance of countries such as the United Kingdom and the United States to repatriate these ill-gotten gains. There are cases in Switzerland, France, and the U.K. that show how this logjam can be broken, particularly by resorting to civil rather than criminal law. But the question of how repatriated funds will be spent is a long-standing excuse for inaction. An international trust fund into which these funds could be placed as a first stage to repatriation would validate and expedite a contentious process.
Last but not least, there is the ubiquitous small-scale corruption that beggars the lives of at least two billion people across the globe, perfectly described by Katherine Boo in her book Behind The Beautiful Forevers, about a Mumbai slum. While this is driven by a myriad of local circumstances, every bribe paid by a western tourist or by a trading company to clear a container feeds into the slough of despair that dogs the lives of so many of the world's poorest. The U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (as well as many of the foreign bribery laws passed by OECD member states in the last few years) actually permits "grease payments" (small-scale bribes that expedite everyday life and business). It is time for all of that to go.
The G20 certainly has the capacity to make progress. The milestones identified here go well beyond the group's official agenda. If real progress is made on the official agenda, there will still be plenty left for Australia to do when it take up the G20 Chair in 2014.