G20 performance on development
G20 Issue

G20 performance on development

When it comes to development, fewer conclusions and commitments mean higher compliance – and linking development to the subjects at the core of G20 governance leads to better outcomes

Saudi Arabia as host of the 2020 Riyadh Summit has set three objectives: empowering people, safeguarding the planet and shaping new frontiers. All are based on sustainable development, including fast-tracking the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. They build on a core subject of G20 summitry since its start, on which its performance has generally grown.


Since 2008, G20 leaders have devoted an average of a quarter of the words in their communiqués to development. They began at Washington in 2008 with 18%, rising in 2009 to 28% at London and 25% at Pittsburgh, then in 2010 to 35% at Toronto and a peak of 9,195 words for 58% at Seoul.

As the G20 agenda expanded, development fell to 18% at Cannes in 2011, rose to 32% at Los Cabos in 2012 and dropped after 2013 to reach 16% at Antalya in 2015. It rose to 25% at Hangzhou in 2016 and slid from 2017 down to 662 words for 10% at Osaka in 2019.


These conclusions contained 296 commitments, making development the third highest subject after macroeconomic policy with 476 and financial regulation with 350. There was an average of 21 commitments, or 11% of the total, on development at each summit. Washington in 2008 produced four (4%) commitments, London in 2009 produced 15 (12%), Pittsburgh in 2009 produced nine (7%) and Toronto in 2010 produced eight (13%). Then Seoul in 2010 surged to 23 (14%). There were 17 commitments (6%) in 2011, 10 (6%) in 2012 and a spike to 50 (18%) at St Petersburg in 2013. They dropped to 20 (10%) at Brisbane in 2014, 20 (18%) at Antalya in 2015 and only 18 (8%) at Hangzhou in 2016. Hamburg in 2017 surged to an all-time high of 75 (14%), followed by a plunge to an all-time low of three (2%) at Buenos Aires in 2018, before rising to 24 (17%) at Osaka in 2019.


According to assessments of 52 development commitments by the G20 Research Group, compliance averaged 67%, or 4% below the all-subject average of 71%.

Compliance started strong at 90% for the commitments made at Washington in 2008, but plummeted to 58% for London in 2009 and 63% for Pittsburgh in 2009. Compliance was stable in 2010 and 2011, with compliance of 68% for Toronto, 65% for Seoul and 67% for Cannes. It jumped to 89% for 2012, plunged to an all-time low of 52% for 2013, rose to 64% for 2014 and 2015 each, soared to an all-time high of 93% for Hangzhou in 2016, and declined to 79% for 2017 and 73% for 2018.

Overall, compliance on development was led by the United Kingdom at 88%. Argentina came last at 45%.

Causes of compliance

The first cause of compliance is the number and proportion of words and commitments on development at the summit. Fewer conclusions and commitments coincide with higher compliance. The seven summits with compliance above 80% averaged 3,205 words or 23%. The six summits with compliance below 61% averaged 4,216 words or 29%.

Compliance was higher by 16% with commitments containing highly binding verbs. It was higher by 10% when linking development to other subjects (led by financial regulation, macroeconomic policy, trade, infrastructure and climate change), by 8% referring to a past summit, by 10% referring to the Sustainable Development Goals and by 21% referring to digitalisation.

In particular, the three assessed commitments that specified the SDGs averaged 77%, compared to the 67% for the other 49. The one commitment that referenced digitalisation averaged 88% and the 51 without averaged 67%.

The catalysts that correlate with lower compliance include a reference to the core or other international organisation, a multi-year or one-year timetable, a specific target level, money mobilised and the Millennium Development Goals.


To increase compliance with their development commitments, Riyadh’s G20 leaders can thus use highly binding verbs that signal their collective political will, link development to the subjects at the classic and evolving core of G20 governance, and refer to their past summits, because progress in development benefits from dedicated repetition. Leaders can specifically invoke the 2030 Agenda and its SDGs. The number of development commitments should take up a small portion of the total they make. The leaders should make fewer commitments on development and more that reference financial regulation, macroeconomics, trade and climate change. They can avoid referring to the World Bank or other international organisations, timetables, targets or money mobilised.