Global Leadership Initiative: Reporting back from the G20

Part Two: The G20 Leadership Disconnect

In the second article reporting back from the 2015 G20 'Leaders' Summit' in Turkey, the students and academic lead Dr Garrett Wallace Brown reflect on whether the G20 fulfills its purpose.

Photo of the GLI participants.

By Garrett Wallace Brown, Laura Copete, Amna Kaleem, Joanna Moody, Polly Sculpher, Gregory Stiles, Olivia Wills and Megan Wilson. Global Leadership Initiative, University of Sheffield.

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Read the blog from the G20 Summit 2015.

The Group of 20 (G20) Leaders Summit was founded in 2008 on the principles of increasing cooperation towards ‘strong, sustainable and balanced growth’ and to ‘ensure growth is robust and inclusive.’ Since 2008 the G20 has broadened its remit, which now includes agenda items such as climate change, development, labour policy, employment, gender equality, and global security. In labelling itself as ‘the premier forum’ for global decision-making, the G20 has also consistently stated its ‘resolve’ to include ‘strong engagement with all stakeholders’ and has posited its leadership role as ‘an apt model for global cooperation in today's world’.

However, as the University of Sheffield’s Global Leadership Initiative (GLI) reported from the 2015 G20 Summit in Antalya, there are reasons to question the purported ‘leadership’ role of the G20. This is particularly the case when measured against the need for global leadership in the face of increasing global collective action problems. As reported in Antalya, the Paris attacks dominated the G20 agenda and pushed most non-security related items onto the backburner. This resulted in no new G20 leadership commitments being made beyond those already discussed within the pre-G20 meetings by ministers and thus the final leaders communiqué represented more of a rubber stamp than a step forward in global governance. This is disconcerting given the need for a leadership steer immediately prior to the COP21 in Paris and for ‘real’ reforms to global finance.

Moreover, despite the fact that terrorism, the refugee crisis and long-term strategies for responding to the ‘culture of hate’ fuelling terrorist movements took over the G20 agenda, there was relatively little to come from it other than a joint statement condemning the Paris attacks and a commitment to prevent terrorist financing (something that was already agreed at previous G20 Summits). Furthermore, as we reported, new potential leadership organizations such as the BRICS - who met immediately prior to the G20 for the first time as a means to align interests - failed to signal anything more than ‘business as usual’ and it was clear that geopolitical disagreements between the BRICS are too substantial to allow policy solidification on their proclamations to be ‘a different form of global leadership.’ Like the concerns with G20, and the G7 (also reported on by GLI), the BRICS have not offered a viable new form of global leadership and have not changed the global governance landscape as some have hoped.

Two Areas of Concern

There are two areas of concern to stress here. First, it is necessary to criticise the G20 leadership for not meeting the demands of global collective action problems listed above. As a group that collectively represents 85% to 90% of global GDP, there are reasonable arguments suggesting that the G20 has an increased obligation to show leadership. This is reasonable from any of the three traditional methods from which to assign responsibility: 1) those with the capacity have the duty; 2) the benefiters of the system have the duty; or those who profit most from the system have the duty. And this makes sense, for as it was related to the GLI team by a disheartened diplomat at the G20, ‘if not from the leadership of the G20, then who else would have the political and economic capital to drive needed global reform and collective action.’ Second, it is also necessary to hold G20 leadership to account for their proclaimed aims and aspirations. This is necessary because it is far easier to hold a single institution to account for their own normative commitments than to hold them accountable for more general concerns at the global level, since general responsibilities can fall on a number of institutions simultaneously and with differentiated obligations.

Yet, when holding the G20 to account against their own principles, one particularly striking failure of G20 leadership in Antalya related to its own commitment to ‘ensure growth is robust and inclusive’ and which includes a ‘strong engagement with all stakeholders.’ As buzzwords go, ‘inclusiveness’ is a popular choice in politics and governance. And for this year’s G20 agenda, it was specifically attached to the agenda with the stated aim to complete a perfect alliterative set of priorities - ‘implementation, investment, and inclusiveness’. However, as is the case with buzzwords, they often remain hollow promises and the same can be said for the ‘inclusivity agenda’ at the G20 Leaders’ Summit.

Partner Groups

In line with its predecessors, the Turkish G20 Presidency continued the inclusivity trend by highlighting its collaboration with partner groups - Business 20 (B20), Civil Society 20 (C20), Labour 20 (L20), Think 20 (T20), Youth 20 (Y20), and added Women 20 (W20) to the list. By involving experts from different fields, the idea was to recognise the importance of public input for economic growth and get advise from different sectors. While all of this looked promising, when it came to the Leaders’ Summit, grassroots messages seemed to get lost in the clatter of politically urgent issues.

We can look at the work of Youth 20 as an example of this disconnect. The Y20 Communiqué, furnished by around 90 young activists and policymakers from 18 countries, presented responsive policy suggestions such as educational banks modelled on the pattern of development banks to provide funding for students and incentivising teacher training through grants and loan deferment for trainees. The Communiqué also suggested measures for tackling gender discrimination in education and employment; communication flow between the G20 members, NGOs, and Low Income Developing Countries (LIDCs); and integration of refugees and migrants. However, the Leaders’ Summit Communiqué only managed to mention youth once, almost as an afterthought, to be dealt with alongside women’s issues under sustainable development goals; a major step down from last year’s Communiqué. The accompanying ‘G20 Policy Principles for Promoting Better Youth Employment Outcomes’ also failed to present any substantial policy recommendations, opting instead for abstract goals to be implemented ‘according to national circumstances’.

Similar to the Youth 20, the work of Women 20 also had a disappointing result at the Leaders Summit. With the establishment of a partner group solely dedicated to women’s issues, it was hoped that important issues such as women’s access to the labour market, female-friendly infrastructural adjustments, and workplace equality would be addressed. However, the final Communiqué failed to recognise any of the wide-ranging recommendations made by the Women 20 and Civil 20 in their joint statement. This disconnect is all the more evident in the self-congratulatory Fact Sheet released by Turkey detailing the Summit outcomes. While the document lists ‘increasing the participation of women into the labor market, foster safer and healthier workplaces’ as a presidency priority, it fails to mention any action taken to achieve this aim.

A Failure to Materialise

There is a wealth of information coming from the G20 partner groups, however, disappointingly it is failing to materialise into action. While it is encouraging that a link has been made between the well-being of fringe groups in the society and overall economic growth, future summits should focus on ensuring that concrete action is taken. If not, then the rare moments for leadership from the G20 will continue to be lost and this will relegate the G20 to just another institution that is not only not fit for purpose in tackling global issues effectively, but that is not even fit to satisfy what they claim are their own beliefs.

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Missed Part One? Read it here.

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