What Does the G20 Do?

World Leaders Address a Threat That's Worse Than Terrorism

G-20 summit in 2015 was dominated by Paris attacks
In 2015, the G-20 summit focused on a response to the Paris terrorist attack. Photo by Thierry Chesnot/Getty Images

What Is the G20?

The G20 includes the developing nations, including China, Brazil, India and Russia. Together these countries represent two-thirds of the world's people, and 85 percent of the its economy. The success of this G20 meeting means these countries are being recognized for their role as powerful drivers of the world economy. 

The finance ministers and central bank governors of the G20 countries meet twice a year, usually in coordination with meetings of the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and the G-20 summits themselves.

The next meeting is July 7-8, 2017, in Hamburg, Germany. It's expected that 4,000 delegates and 3,000 members of the media will attend. (Source: "G20 Information Centre," G-20.)

The G20 was formed in 1999 to give developing countries a more powerful voice in forming the global economy. The meetings started as an informal get-together of finance ministers and central bankers.

During the 2008 financial crisis, the first ever G20 summit was held on November 16-17 in Washington, DC. Before this meeting, most global economic plans were decided by the G-8, which are just the developed countries.Emerging market leaders asked the U.S. to regulate its financial markets more. The U.S. refused. The leaders wanted to regulate hedge funds and debt-rating companies such as Standard & Poor's. They also sought to strengthen standards for accounting and derivatives. Insufficient regulations and standards were blamed for the crisis that turned into a global recession.

 

2016 Summit Meeting

September 4-5: Hangzhou, China: Both the United States and China agreed to ratify the Paris climate change agreement. They are the two biggest emitters of greenhouse gases. Natural disasters are a bigger threat than terrorism, warned financial guru Warren Buffett. Most scientists agree that climate change is creating more hurricanes, tornados, and flooding.

Russia and the United States did not come to an agreement on ending the Syrian war. China complained that other countries should allow more free trade. On the other hand, it has become more protectionist itself.  (Source: "G20 a Success for China, But Hard Issues Kicked Down the Road," Reuters, September 6, 2016.)

Previous Summit Meetings:

  • November 15-16, 2015, Antalya, Turkey: The meeting focused on responding to the terrorist attacks in Paris. The members agreed to tighten border surveillance against threats while allowing refugees the war against ISIS. The United States agreed to share more intelligence with France and other members. It won't send in ground troops, but will support anti-ISIS Syrian and Iraqi troops. They outlined further steps to cut off financing for ISIS.  (Source: "G20 Vows More Intelligence Sharing," Reuters, November 16, 2015.)
  • November 15 -16, 2014, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia: It focused on condemnation of Russia's attack on the Ukraine. All members promised to work together to increase global GDP growth to 2.1% by 2018, which would add $2 trillion to global economies. The United States and Europe pressured the group to take strong action on climate change, which was not on the official agenda. The leaders did vow to do all they could to combat Ebola in West Africa.President Obama met with the leaders of Japan and Australia to work toward the peaceful resolution of maritime disputes in the South China Sea. (Source: BBC, "G20 summit: Leaders pledge to grow their economies by 2.1%," November 16, 2014)
  • September 5-6 2013: It was hosted by President Vladimir Putin in St. Petersburg, Russia. Unofficially, the meeting focused on to respond to Syria's chemical weapons attack. President Obama sought support for a U.S. strike, while others argued for economic sanctions. Russia supports the Syrian government with arms and trade, while China is concerned about an increase in oil prices. France, Turkey and Saudi Arabia support an air strike. Officially, the leaders focused on spurring global economic growth. The BRIC countries sought G20 action to reinvigorate their economies, which have been pummeled by a withdrawal of foreign direct investment. (Source: "G20 Summit," USA Today.)
  • June 18-19, 2012, Los Cabos: It focused on the eurozone debt crisis. The G20 leaders pressured German Chancellor Angela Merkel to work with other European Union leaders to develop a more sustainable Grand Plan to resolve the Greece debt crisis. Germany did not want to continue to bail out Greece without continued austerity programs. That's because German taxpayers ultimately face higher costs to fund the bailout, and Germany itself is already highly indebted. In return for continued bailout funds, Germany pushed for a fiscal union to support the EU's monetary union. This meant EU members would give up political control of their budgets to an EU-wide approval process. This was necessary before she would support Euro-wide bonds. (Source: Reuters, G-20 to Press Europe for Lasting Crisis Fix, June 18, 2012)
  • November 2-4, 2011, Cannes: The summit was dominated by discussions about addressing the Greek debt crisis. They also agreed on plans to create jobs. (Source: "EU Satisfied with Achievements of G20 Summit," Europa News.)
  • November 11-12, 2010, Seoul: In advance of the G20 meeting, Finance Ministers pledged to stop the currency wars, primarily between China and the U.S., that threaten worldwide inflation in food, oil prices and other commodities. The result? Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner pledged the U.S. would not flood the market with Treasuries, driving down the value of the dollar, while emerging markets countries agreed to let the forex market determine their currency values (i.e., let them rise, if necessary).  So, why did this drive the dollar down, anyway, and the stock market up? First, forex traders were hoping for a more solid pledge by the U.S. and China to keep their currencies strong. Instead, the Federal Reserve will buy more Treasuries, keeping interest rates and the dollar low. Traders sold dollars, driving its value down. In response, the Dow rose one percent - a falling dollar value makes U.S. stocks cheaper to foreigners. In addition, G20 members agreed to transfer 6% of voting power in the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to emerging market countries, another shift in the balance of global economic power away from the old G-7 developed countries.  (Source: Reuters)
  • June 26-27, 2010, Toronto: Leaders agreed to cut their budget deficits in half by 2013, and eliminate deficits altogether three years later. For more, see G20 Summit Focuses on Debt Reduction.
  • April 1-2, 2009, London: G20 leaders pledged $1 trillion to the IMF and World Bank to help emerging market countries ward off the effects of the recession, and pledged $250 billion in trade finance. They also agreed to develop new financial regulations, create a supervisory body, and crack down on hedge funds. As a result, the Dow rose over 240 points, rising above 8,000 for the first time in two months. (Source: AP, "G20 to Give $1 Trillion to IMF," World Bank, April 2, 2009)
  • September 24-25, 2009, Pittsburgh: Leaders established a new Financial Stability Board to establish common financial regulations for all G20 countries. The Board will work with the World Bank and the IMF who have been subcontracted to implement many of these policies.They agreed to increase banks' capital requirements, and tie executive pay to long-term, not short-term, performance. They also wanted to move all derivatives contracts onto electronic exchanges so they can be better monitored. Finally, they suggested that companies that are "too big to fail," like AIG, develop international contingency plans so their collapse wouldn't threaten the entire global economy.

G20 Member Nations

Its members include:

  • The eight leading industrialized nations - U.S., Japan, Germany, UK, France, Italy, Canada and Russia. This group of countries also meets on their own, and are known as the G-8.
  • Eleven emerging market and smaller industrialized countries: Argentina, Australia, Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, Turkey, plus the EU.

Why Is the G20 Important?

The growth of Brazil, Russia, India and China (the BRIC countries) has driven the growth of the global economy. The G-8 countries grow slower. Therefore, the BRIC countries are critical for ensuring continued global economic prosperity.

In the past, the leaders of the G-8 could meet and decide on global economic issues without much interference from the BRIC countries. However, these countries have become more important in providing the needs of the G-8 countries: Russia provides most of the natural gas to Europe, China provides much of the manufacturing for the U.S., and India provides high tech services.

G20 Protests

G20 meetings are usually the site of protests. Protesters say the G20 leaders focus on economic and financial interests and globalization. Protesters usually want the G20 leaders to focus on one or more of these issues:

  • Poverty - The Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP) leader, John Clarke, said “The whole process of putting together this grouping has been about impoverishing people, and benefiting the richest members of society.” In 2010, protesters were against the G20's focus on fiscal responsibility and austerity at the cost of social programs. They also were opposed to the $1 billion cost of the meeting itself, which was borne by Canadian taxpayers.
  • Climate Change - Protesters wanted the G20 to refocus on global warming as a priority.
  • Gender Equality - G20 countries need to pay more attention to rights for homosexuals and provide funding for family planning, including abortions.
  • Immigration - Protesters sought more open borders for immigrants fleeing "humanitarian and climate crisis. (Source: "What the G20 Protests Are Really About," Alixandra Gould, The Faster Times, June 27, 2010.)