G20 performance on development
G20 Summit

G20 performance on development

To drive higher compliance with development commitments, leaders should create synergies with other key areas, such as tax, infrastructure and trade

The 2021 Rome Summit comes at a critical juncture for sustainable development, amid the escalating harms from COVID-19, felt more acutely in the Global South. The Rome Summit must address these harms. With its summit priorities of ‘people, planet and prosperity’, and the significant performance of its first meeting of G20 foreign affairs and development ministers in June, the Italian presidency is well positioned to do so. G20 leaders can make their development commitments in ways that lead to higher compliance and beneficial impact.


Since 2008, G20 leaders have devoted an average of 27% of the words in their communiqués to development. They began at Washington in 2008 with 18% (651 words), rising in 2009 to 28% (1,726 words) at London and 25% (2,292 words) at Pittsburgh, then in 2010 to 35% (3,899) at Toronto and a peak of 58% (9,195 words) at Seoul.

As the G20 agenda expanded, development fell to 18% (2,545 words) at Cannes in 2011, rose to 32% (4,021) at Los Cabos in 2012 and 27% (7,847 words) at St Petersburg in 2013, then fell to 16% (2,226) at Antalya in 2015. It rose to 25% (4,091) at Hangzhou in 2016 before declining again to 17% in 2017 and 2018. At Osaka in 2019 it jumped to 40% (2,623 words), but slid to 33% at the virtual Riyadh Summit in 2020.


The G20’s 319 development commitments make this subject second to macroeconomic policy. Development commitments average 11% per summit. Washington in 2008 produced four (4%), London in 2009 had 15 (12%), Pittsburgh in 2009 nine (7%) and Toronto in 2010 eight (13%). Then Seoul in 2010 surged to 22 (14%), followed by seven (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, then jumped to 33 (21%) at Antalya in 2015 and 18 (8%) at Hangzhou in 2016. Hamburg in 2017 had an all-time high of 71 (14%), followed by a plunge to an all-time low of four (3%) at Buenos Aires in 2018. They rose to 24 (17%) at Osaka in 2019, but then COVID-19 came and the Riyadh Summit in November 2020 produced only seven (7%).


Members’ compliance with the 53 development commitments assessed by the G20 Research Group averaged 67%, a little below the overall average of 71%.

Compliance started strong at 90% from Washington in 2008, plummeted to 58% from London in 2009 and 63% from Pittsburgh in 2009, then rose a little to 68% from Toronto, 65% from Seoul in 2010 and 67% from Cannes in 2011. It next jumped to 89% from Los Cabos 2012, plunged to an all-time low of 52% from St Petersburg 2013, rose to 64% each from Brisbane 2014 and Antalya 2015, soared to an all-time high of 93% from Hangzhou 2016, and declined to 79% from Hamburg 2017 and further to 73% from Buenos Aires 2018. Osaka’s 2019 summit returned to a high level of 90%. And halfway between the 2020 Riyadh Summit and the 2021 Rome Summit compliance averaged 72%.

Compliance was led by the United Kingdom at 87% and Germany at 85%. Argentina came last at 43%. Italy sits at 63%.

Causes of compliance

Fewer development conclusions and commitments come with higher compliance. The seven summits with the highest compliance, averaging 83%, dedicated 22% to development and averaged nine commitments per summit. The seven summits with the lowest compliance, averaging 62%, had 28% on development and averaged 12 commitments per summit.

Commitments that reference the Sustainable Development Goals averaged 80% compliance versus 66% for those that did not. Commitments referencing Africa averaged 49% compliance versus 69% for those that did not.

Commitments without timetables had 13% higher compliance than those with multi-year timetables and 26% higher compliance than those with a one-year timetable. Commitments without targets had 12% higher compliance than those with targets.

Synergies slightly support compliance. When developments linked specifically to other subjects, their compliance averaged 68%, compared to 65% for the siloed development-only ones.


At Rome, G20 leaders should thus make fewer development conclusions and commitments, refer to the SDGs in them, and synergistically link them to tax, infrastructure or trade. Although commitments with targets, timetables and references to Africa have coincided with low levels of compliance, the SDGs inevitably include all three of those factors. Therefore, other causes, such as synergies, should be taken into consideration when making development commitments.