G20 leaders should be cautious about making more commitments on infrastructure, as it does not correlate with higher compliance; targeted language and mobilising money are among the more effective measures in this area
Infrastructure for development is among the top priorities for the 2020 G20 Riyadh Summit. The vision outlined by the Saudi Arabian presidency includes “shaping new frontiers”, which includes a commitment to using technological advancements to bring innovation in infrastructure and close the infrastructure financing gap. The vision acknowledges that innovation in infrastructure “represents a game-changer to promote sustainable and inclusive growth”, making a firm pledge to place infrastructure for development at the forefront of the Riyadh Summit.
Since its first summit in 2008 in Washington, the G20 has paid sporadic attention to infrastructure. At the Washington Summit, leaders dedicated only 1% of all the words in their statement to infrastructure. That number rose to 2% at the 2009 London Summit and decreased to only 0.2% later that year at Pittsburgh. Attention to infrastructure spiked up to 6% at the 2010 Seoul Summit, decreased to 3% at Cannes in 2011 and to 4% at Los Cabos in 2012 and at St Petersburg in 2013. It peaked at 25% at the 2014 Brisbane Summit, and then declined to 9% at Antalya in 2014, 5% at Hangzhou in 2016, and 4% at Hamburg in 2017. It rose to 8% at Buenos Aires in 2018 and 7% at Osaka in 2019.
Since 2008, G20 summits have produced 70 infrastructure commitments. The first were made at the 2009 London Summit, with five. Six were made at each of the 2010 Seoul and the 2011 Cannes summits. Five commitments were produced at the 2012 Los Cabos Summit and four at the 2013 St Petersburg Summit. There was a peak of 28 at the 2014 Brisbane Summit, but the number subsequently decreased steadily to eight commitments at the 2016 Hangzhou Summit, six at the 2017 Hamburg Summit, and only one commitment each at the 2018 Buenos Aires Summit and 2019 Osaka Summit.
The G20 Research Group has assessed 12 of these 70 infrastructure commitments for compliance by G20 members and found average compliance of 69%, slightly lower than the overall average of 71%.
The highest compliance of 98% was with commitments made at the 2014 Brisbane Summit, followed closely by 95% from 2010 Seoul, 91% from 2012 Los Cabos and 93% from 2013 St Petersburg. Compliance of 90% for the 2012 Los Cabos Summit was achieved for a commitment to promote reforms for development, including enhancing infrastructure investment.
The lowest compliance was 33% for the 2017 Hamburg Summit and 50% for the 2009 London Summit. Commitments made at the 2018 Buenos Aires Summit on attracting more private capital to infrastructure investment and investment in disaster-resilient infrastructure in vulnerable countries averaged 77%. A commitment on quality infrastructure investment from the 2019 Osaka Summit received an interim score of 75%.
Compliance can be improved in the following ways under G20 leaders’ direct control.
First, the leaders should be cautious about producing more commitments on infrastructure, because a high number of commitments on this subject does not necessarily increase compliance. Of the 28 commitments made at Brisbane – the summit with the most commitments on infrastructure – the two assessed for compliance produced scores of 98% and 58%.
Second, the leaders should avoid using general language in their commitments. The four highest-scoring commitments for compliance included language that targeted long-term financial investment in infrastructure and a conducive environment for infrastructure development. The leaders should be careful to assess the impact of language on infrastructure for development and economic growth and embed ambitious policy targets in the commitments. Money mobilised is also an important catalyst for improved compliance, and leaders should include such language in their commitments on infrastructure.
Thus, the G20 leaders should continue to put infrastructure for development on their agenda, assess the potential for infrastructure projects to improve economic growth and include financial catalysts in the text of their infrastructure commitments. The G20 Research Group has found that commitments on other subjects with money mobilised also produce higher compliance. At Riyadh, the leaders should take the opportunity to create more ambitious policy targets to advance innovative solutions on crucial infrastructure projects.