The world’s most powerful and influential leaders are gathering in New Delhi to attend the G20 Heads of State and Government Summit.
The culmination of India’s year-long presidency of the G20, the summit will be concluded with the adoption of a G20 Leaders’ Declaration, which will state the participating leaders’ commitment towards the priorities discussed and agreed upon during the respective ministerial and working group meetings (more on that later).
Here is everything you need to know about the G20 – from why the group came into existence and what exactly it does, to the specifics of the Summit that New Delhi is set to host.
What is the G20 and what does it do?
The G20, or the Group of Twenty, comprises 19 countries (Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Republic of Korea, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Turkey, United Kingdom, and the United States) and the European Union.
These members represent around 85 per cent of the global GDP, over 75 per cent of global trade, and about two-thirds of the world population. As a forum for international economic cooperation, it plays an important role in shaping and strengthening global architecture and governance on all major international economic issues.
Some of its major objectives are as follows:
-Policy coordination between its members in order to achieve global economic stability, sustainable growth;
-To promote financial regulations that reduce risks and prevent future financial crises; and
-To create a new international financial architecture.
When did the G20 come into being? Why?
The Soviet Union fell in 1991, bringing an end to the Cold War. At the same time, vibrant economies were emerging in the Global South, in countries such as Brazil, China and India. It was in this context that a need for reform emerged in global governance and international institutions. Simply put, existing fora such as the G7, or international organisations such as the World Bank, were incapable of handling crises in the emergent global order.
In 1997, the Asian financial crisis ripped through some of the fastest-growing economies in East Asia. It soon spread to Latin America. It was in the context of this crisis that the G22, G20’s earliest iteration, was set up in 1998. While initially conceived as a one-time crisis-response meeting, in early 1999, two more meetings were convened including 33 members (G33) to discuss reforms of the global economy and the international financial system.
It was in late 1999 that the G20, with its current composition, was finally founded as an informal forum for Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors of its members to meet annually.
When did the G20 Leaders’ Summit begin? Why?
Between 1999 and 2008, the G20 operated mostly outside the public eye. While annual meetings were held, they were not the big deal they are today. The global financial crisis of 2008 would, however, catapult G20 to its present status. As the world reeled from the greatest economic crisis to hit since the Great Depression (1929-39), France, which held the EU presidency at the time, argued for an emergency summit meeting to address the crisis.
But whom to invite? The G8 (comprising Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the UK and the US) was not sufficiently influential on its own to stabilise a crisis on this scale. Typically, diplomats would deliberate for months to decide which countries to call, but amid the ongoing crisis, there was simply no time. The G20 was the obvious answer.
The first G20 Leaders’ Summit (the ‘Summit on Financial Markets and the World Economy’) was convened in Washington DC in November 2008. In addition to the leaders of its 20 members, the heads of the IMF, the World Bank and the United Nations were invited, along with Spain and the Netherlands. Annual summits have been held ever since.
How does the G20 work?
It is important to note that the G20 is an informal grouping. This means that unlike the United Nations (UN), it does not have a permanent secretariat or staff. Rather, the G20 presidency rotates annually among the members and is responsible for bringing together the G20 agenda, organising its workings and hosting summits.
The presidency is supported by the “troika” – previous, current and incoming presidencies. India holds the presidency from December 1, 2022, to November 30, 2023, with the troika comprising Indonesia (the previous presidency), India, and Brazil (the incoming presidency).
The G20 is also informal in another sense – while the decisions of the G20 are important, they do not get implemented automatically. Rather, the G20 is a forum where leaders discuss various issues and make pronouncements, which signals their intentions. Then, they are implemented by relevant nations or international organisations. For instance, if the G20 makes a pronouncement on trade, the actual implementation of the pronouncement will be done by an organisation such as the World Trade Organization (WTO).
How is the G20 presidency determined?
The G20 presidency is rotated among its members who (except the EU) are divided into 5 groups.
The presidency rotates from group to group. However, each country within a group is eligible for presidency when it is their group’s turn. Thus, the countries in the eligible group negotiate among themselves to determine the group’s presidency.
What does the G20 presidency entail?
As previously mentioned, the presidency is responsible for setting the G20 agenda for the year. This is done in consultation with other members as well as pertinent global developments.
The president also gets to host various meetings and the G20 Leaders’ Summit, which is the culmination of all the work done by the group at lower levels through the year. It is in charge of all logistics and in absence of a permanent secretariat, provides the human and material resources to successfully conduct the workings of the forum for the year. Moreover, the G20 president also has the prerogative to send invitations to other guest countries and organisations to take part in G20 processes for the year (more on that later).
In short, the G20 presidency is a major honour and responsibility, one which allows the country to determine the workings of the group for a year.
What is the working structure of the G20?
The G20 works in three major tracks — two of them are official and one is unofficial, former Indian diplomat JS Mukul, who served as sous-sherpa for the G20 process and was involved in six G20 summits between 2008 and 2011, told The Indian Express. The official tracks are the Finance Track and the Sherpa Track. The unofficial track includes engagement groups or civil society groups.
FINANCE TRACK: Headed by the finance ministers and central bank governors, who usually meet four times a year, it focuses on fiscal and monetary policy issues such as the global economy, infrastructure, financial regulation, financial inclusion, international financial architecture, and international taxation. It currently has 8 working groups.
SHERPA TRACK: Established after the inception of G20 Leaders’ Summit in 2008, it is headed by Sherpas, who are the appointed representatives of the member countries’ president/prime minister. It focuses on socio-economic issues such as agriculture, anti-corruption, climate, digital economy, education, employment, energy, environment, health, tourism, trade, and investment. It currently has 13 working groups.
ENGAGEMENT GROUPS: The unofficial track comprises non-government participants from each member country dealing with a gamut of issues. These groups draft recommendations to the G20 leaders that contribute to the policy-making process. There are 11 Engagement Groups at the moment.
What is on the G20 summit agenda and what has happened at the meetings so far?
The end of such summits usually results in a declaration or joint communique agreed to by all of the members. It outlines common positions on matters such as international conflicts, climate change-related commitments, the areas of future cooperation, etc.
While no concrete agenda is mentioned at the outset, broader climate change-related cooperation and sustainability have been pointed to in official statements. India, which has pitched itself as a voice of the Global South, will also have to balance its interests related to the West and Russia over a common statement on the Ukraine War.
The absence of Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping at the summit could make this more complicated. However, the two countries will be represented by senior officials: Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov from Russia and Chinese Premier Li Qiang.
As of last month, India’s G20 Sherpa Amitabh Kant said that 185 meetings, including 13 ministerial-level meetings, had been held so far. This includes meetings of Finance Ministers and Central Bank governors, and other Ministerial Meetings on Health, Tourism, Agriculture, Climate, etc.
Twelve outcome documents and 12 other deliverables had been adopted with consensus but no joint communique has been adopted, largely because of Russia’s objections to language concerning the Ukraine War and China’s opposition to the matter being brought up at the forum’s meetings in the first place. It has said the forum should focus on economic issues.
Who is invited to this year’s G20 Summit?
In addition to the member countries, each year, the G20 president invites guest countries to participate in the G20 meetings and the Summit. This year, India has invited Bangladesh, Egypt, Mauritius, the Netherlands, Nigeria, Oman, Singapore, Spain and UAE as guest countries during its G20 presidency.
The president also invites certain international organisations (IOs). India has invited the International Solar Alliance (ISA), the Coalition of Disaster Resilient Infrastructure (CDRI) and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) as guest IOs in addition to the regular G20 IOs (who participate every year) which include the UN, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank (WB), the World Health Organization (WHO), the WTO, the International Labour Organization (ILO), the Financial Stability Board (FSB) and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
India has also invited the chairs of the following regional organisations (RO): the African Union (AU), the African Union Development Agency-New Partnership for Africa’s Development (AUDA-NEPAD) and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
Do the invitees remain the same every year?
One of the main prerogatives that comes with the G20 presidency is the ability to invite guest countries, IOs and ROs. These invitations are a tool for the president to set the agenda and guide G20’s workings.
For instance, experts have pointed out that India’s invitations to African countries and ROs this year are part of a concerted Africa outreach by the Narendra Modi government, an effort to counter China’s ever-growing presence in the continent. India has even made calls for AU to be made a permanent member of the G20.
Why are the International and Regional Organisations invited?
IOs and ROs are important for the G20 to achieve its aims of furthering international cooperation and implementing any pronouncements made by the group.
As mentioned previously, the G20 itself is an informal grouping, in the sense that it does not have any direct power to govern or implement any pronouncements made. Rather, it depends on its members and IOs to do that. This is why it is crucial to involve IOs in the workings of the G20. For instance, one of the areas India’s G20 presidency has emphasised has been health. An organisation such as the WHO is crucial in this regard, as decisions made in the G20 can be implemented and carried forward by it.
Similarly, ROs being a part of the G20 helps further the group’s reach to countries that otherwise might not be members but who remain crucial to the G20’s agenda nonetheless. For instance, ASEAN as an RO can represent the interests of all its member countries including the likes of the Philippines and Thailand which are not otherwise a part of the G20.
What is the theme of the G20 this year?
According to the official G20 website, this year’s theme is “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam — One Earth, One Family, One Future”. It is drawn from the ancient Sanskrit text of the Maha Upanishad. “Essentially, the theme affirms the value of all life – human, animal, plant, and microorganisms – and their interconnectedness on the planet Earth and in the wider universe,” it adds.
Further, the website says the theme also spotlights LiFE (Lifestyle for Environment), “with its associated, environmentally sustainable and responsible choices, both at the level of individual lifestyles as well as national development, leading to globally transformative actions resulting in a cleaner, greener and bluer future.”
What is the 2023 G20 logo?
A government press release says: “The G20 Logo draws inspiration from the vibrant colours of India’s national flag – saffron, white and green, and blue. It juxtaposes planet Earth with the lotus, India’s national flower that reflects growth amid challenges. The Earth reflects India’s pro-planet approach to life, one in perfect harmony with nature.”
Prime Minister Narendra Modi had said while introducing the logo, “The symbol of the lotus in the G20 logo is a representation of hope in this time. No matter how adverse the circumstances, the lotus still blooms. Even if the world is in a deep crisis, we can still progress and make the world a better place.”
The seven petals of the lotus in the logo are also significant. They represent the seven continents.
The logo is to reflect the idea of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam (the whole earth is a family). “The lotus flower symbolises our Puranic heritage, our aastha (belief) and boddhikta (intellectualism),” the PM said.