Who is the G20?
The Group of 20 (G20) is an informal club for global governance. The heads of state and government meet annually and discuss internationally important matters. The G20 is constituted of industrialised states, emerging economies and the European Union (EU). Its members are Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, Turkey, the United Kingdom, the United States and the EU. Together, the G20 accounts for 85% of global GDP and 75% of world trade. Its members also account for about two thirds of the world’s population and produce 80% of the global CO2 emissions.
The G20 permanently invites Spain. The German presidency has furthermore invited the Netherlands, Norway and Singapore as guest countries. Furthermore, international organisations and regional unions are regularly being invited. This includes the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), the African Union (AU), the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank, the World Trade Organisation (WTO), the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the United Nations (UN) and the International Labour Organisation (ILO).
Yet, this means that 173 countries are being excluded. The G20 is not accountable to independent scrutiny and the outcomes of G20 summits and ministerial meetings are not binding for any member. Civil society criticism frequently focuses on the exclusive, unaccountable, executive-driven nature of the process that inevitably weakens the United Nations – as well as its focus on a neoliberal growth paradigm that is increasingly controversial around the world.
What’s its history?
The G20 was founded in 1999 as a consequence of the Asian financial crisis. The finance minister of Canada, Germany and the US realised that the consequences needed to be dealt with in a group bigger and more inclusive than the G7. Accordingly, the finance ministers and central bank governors have met annually to discuss matters of economic and financial policy.
During the height of the global financial crisis in 2008, it was decided to also meet at the level of the heads of state and government. Supporting and securing economic growth is a central goal of the G20 summits every year. Thus the agenda focuses foremost on the world economy and the international financial system.
How is the G20 organised?
The host county automatically holds the presidency which begins on 1 December of the year before the summit. As there is no standing G20 secretariat, the presidency (currently Germany) together with its troika partners (the most recent host, currently China, and the future host, currently Argentina) has agenda-setting power. The troika also decides which ministers will meet.
There are two tracks in the G20: the “finance track” and the “sherpa track”. The finance track is in existence since 1999. The sherpa track coordinates the ministerial meetings as well as the G20 summit. The name derives from the so-called sherpa, a personal representative of each head of state/government who leads the preparation of the G20 summit on behalf of his/her government. G20 decisions are summarized in a G20 Summit Communique.
Good sources of information about past G20 work is the G20 platform of the Heinrich Böll Foundation and the G20 Information Centre, hosted by the University of Toronto and the Munk School of Global Affairs.