G20 performance on macroeconomic policy
G20 Issue

G20 performance on macroeconomic policy

Over the years, the G20 has grown increasingly significant for global economic governance – and specific measures are available that can help sustain momentum

In the wake of COVID-19, the G20 will be a key force in stabilising the economic fallout and catalysing a post-crisis recovery. Since its inception at the leaders’ level in 2008, the G20 has become an increasingly significant summit for global economic governance. The G20’s strong performance on macroeconomic growth can be attributed to its strong deliberation, decision making and delivery on its commitments. The binding level of a commitment as well as various accountability measures appear to contribute to its high compliance. These measures should be used for the G20 Riyadh Summit in November.


Since 2008, the G20 has governed consistently on macroeconomic growth. At the 2008 Washington Summit, the G20 dedicated 651 words (18% of its communiqué) to macroeconomic policy. This rose to 1,700 words (28%) at London in April 2009, 2,800 (30%) at Pittsburgh in September 2009, 3,700 (34%) at Toronto in June 2010, and then to 5,900 (38%) at Seoul in November 2010. The number of words declined slightly at Cannes in 2011 and Los Cabos in 2012. It then surged to a peak of 12,000 words (42%) at St Petersburg in 2013, where macroeconomic policy appeared in all 11 outcome documents. More recent summits saw a slight decline to around 8,000 words (23%) at Hamburg in 2017 and 2,500 words (29%) at Buenos Aires in 2018. The number dropped to the lowest ever at the 2019 Osaka Summit with 673 words (10%). Still, with the exception of Osaka, macroeconomic policy has always taken at least 20% of the total conclusions in outcome documents.


Macroeconomic policy ranks first among all the subjects that G20 leaders make commitments on. Overall, decision making has been strong, although it has declined in recent years. In total, the G20 has made 476 macroeconomic policy commitments, accounting for 17% of the total of 2,668 commitments made at all 14 G20 summits. In 2008, there were six (6%) macroeconomic policy commitments, rising to peak at 91 (32%) in 2011 at Cannes, then declining gradually to nine (6%) at the 2019 Osaka Summit.


The G20 Research Group has assessed 28 commitments on macroeconomic policy for G20 members’ compliance. Although there were a few plunges, compliance was strong overall at 80%. It averaged 88% for commitments made at the 2008 Washington Summit, dropping to 68% for London in 2009. It climbed back to 85% and higher for Pittsburgh 2009, Toronto 2010 and Seoul 2010. Compliance dropped to 73% for Cannes 2011. But this rose to 88% for Los Cabos 2012 and 80% for St Petersburg 2013. It dropped again to 70% for Brisbane 2014, climbed to 85% for Antalya 2015, dropped to 69% for Hangzhou 2016 and then rose to a very strong 90% for Hamburg in 2017. It remained high at 85% for Buenos Aires 2018. Interim compliance from Osaka in 2019 had higher compliance of 89%.


The causes of this compliance include the number of same-subject commitments made at a summit, the politically binding level of the commitments and the presence of a multi-year timeline.

First, making fewer commitments on macroeconomic policy correlates with higher compliance on them. The seven summits with the highest number of macroeconomic policy commitments averaged compliance of 78%. The seven summits with the lowest number of commitments averaged 83%.

Second, strong politically binding language correlates with higher compliance. The three assessed commitments that used weaker language, such as ‘support’ or ‘should’, averaged compliance of 77%. The 25 commitments that used higher binding language, such as ‘commit’ or ‘insist on’, averaged 80%.

Third, when the commitment contains either a one-year or multi-year timeline, compliance is higher. The two assessed commitments containing a multi-year timetable averaged 92% compliance, compared to 79% for those without this catalyst. The two assessed commitments containing a one-year timetable averaged 91% compliance, compared to 79% for those without.


To improve its compliance the G20 should make fewer macroeconomic policy commitments and use politically binding language in them. Moreover, G20 leaders should increase the specificity of their commitments by including either a multi-year or one-year timetable. Together, these accountability measures can improve the G20’s performance in delivering its macroeconomic policy commitments.