G20 performance on the environment
G20 Summit

G20 performance on the environment

India is well poised to drive real progress on the environment, after years of G20 summits paying fluctuating attention to crucial environmental issues

The G20 summit has paid fluctuating attention to the natural environment since its inception 15 years ago. G20 environment ministers met for the first time in 2019, under Japan’s presidency, alongside G20 energy ministers. Since then, G20 presidencies have gathered the environment ministers ahead of each summit. At the 2023 New Delhi Summit, leaders should continue to recognise the importance of G20 action in tackling environmental challenges.


A crucial aspect of the environment is biodiversity. Between the 2008 Washington Summit and the 2022 Bali Summit, G20 summits produced 6,616 words on biodiversity, averaging 389 (3%) of the total at each summit. There has been one dedicated document on biodiversity, produced at the 2017 Hamburg Summit, and 15 documents have referred to biodiversity.

Biodiversity was first mentioned at the 2010 Seoul Summit, with 459 words (3%), referencing its loss as a global environmental and economic challenge. The number of words on biodiversity declined steadily to 136 (1%) at Cannes in 2011, 130 (1%) at Los Cabos in 2012, and 115 (0.4%) at St Petersburg in 2013. Biodiversity then dropped from the agenda at Brisbane in 2014 and Antalya in 2015. 

It returned at the 2016 Hangzhou Summit with 87 words (0.5%). At the 2017 Hamburg Summit biodiversity peaked with 2,333 words (7%), focused mainly on marine litter. Attention dipped to 171 words (2%) at the 2018 Buenos Aires Summit. But it then steadily increased, with 395 words (6%) at the 2019 Osaka Summit, 434 words (8%) at the 2020 Riyadh Summit, 1,089 words (12%) at the 2021 Rome Summit and 1,267 words (12%) at the 2022 Bali Summit. 


G20 leaders have made 120 commitments on the environment and biodiversity. The 2010 Seoul Summit made one environment commitment, for 1% of the total, on protecting the global marine environment. There were three (1%) at Cannes in 2011. None were made at Los Cabos in 2012 and one (0.4%) at St Petersburg in 2013, and none until the 2017 Hamburg Summit, where leaders made the most commitments on the environment, with 57 (11%) and adopted a G20 Action Plan on Marine Litter. However, the 2018 Buenos Aires Summit made no commitments. The leaders have since consistently made commitments on the environment: seven (5%) at the 2019 Osaka Summit, six (6%) at the 2020 Riyadh Summit, 21 (9%) at the 2021 Rome Summit and 24 (11%) at the 2022 Bali Summit. 


The G20 Research Group has monitored members’ compliance with eight of the 120 environment commitments from 2010 to 2022. Compliance averaged 67%, lower than the 71% average across all subjects. Four commitments made at Hamburg in 2017 averaged 62% compliance. Compliance with commitments made at Osaka in 2019 dropped to 53%, but rose to 73% for commitments made at Riyadh in 2020 and 88% – the highest ever – made at Rome in 2021. By April 2023, compliance with the environmental commitments made at Bali in 2022 was also high at 82%. 

Causes and corrections 

The G20’s low compliance of 67% with its environment commitments should be improved, and can be in the following ways. 

First, compliance on the environment increases when G20 leaders give more attention to the topic in their communiqués, measured by the number of words. At the 2021 Rome Summit, 12% of words referenced the environment, and compliance reached an all-time high of 88%. Bali in 2022 devoted 1,267 words (12%) and by April 2023 compliance was already at 82%.

Second, when same-subject pre-summit ministerial meetings are held, compliance with the leaders’ commitments made on that subject rises. Compliance has risen steadily since Japan’s 2019 presidency when environment ministers met for the first time. Compliance rose steadily from 53% with the Osaka Summit, to 73% with the 2020 Riyadh Summit and then 88% with the 2021 Rome Summit. G20 leaders should continue to gather their environment leaders ahead of their summits. 

India is well poised to propel progress on the environment. G20 leaders should focus on promoting environmental sustainability given growing challenges – not least biodiversity loss, pollution and ecological insecurity. The G20 represents all inhabited continents with diverse environments, so for a successful 2023 New Delhi Summit, leaders should continue to emphasise combating environmental degradation and bolstering biodiversity.