Making good on G20 commitments
G20 Summit

Making good on G20 commitments

Each year, those attuned to global governance await the release of the G20 communiqué. This document concludes the summit and outlines the shared positions and promises of the G20 leaders on a diverse set of complex global issues. Embedded within the communiqué’s text are clear, future-oriented statements of ‘intent-to-take-action’, which are more familiarly known as commitments.

According to the methodology developed by the University of Toronto’s G20 Research Group, commitments are defined as discrete, specific, publicly expressed, collectively agreed statements of intent, promises or pledges by summit members that they will undertake future action to move towards, meet or adjust to meet an identified target.

Since the G20 was elevated from a meeting of finance ministers and central bank governors to a meeting of leaders in 2008, the G20 Research Group has identified a total of 1,514 commitments that have been made, and assigned each a corresponding issue area according to the identified objective or target. Unsurprisingly, most commitments are within the group’s core competence – to be the G20 leaders’ premier forum for global economic governance.

The G20 Research Group, in collaboration with the National Research University Higher School of Economics in Moscow (and a variety of other universities and organisations) has measured the implementation of selected priority commitments since the first 2008 Washington Summit. Its compliance reports rely on publicly available information, and are distributed to a broad stakeholder community in order to both elicit feedback, and to strive for comprehensive and accurate data collection and assessment.

The G20 Research Group and its global network of partners have monitored a total of 130 commitments. Overall, across all issue areas and all members, the average implementation was 71% between 2008 and 2014. This average is lower than both the average of the Group of Seven (G7) or Group of Eight (G8) at 75% and the BRICS group of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa at 73%.

There are three distinct stages for implementation. The first stage includes the first two summits, Washington in 2008 and London in April 2009, and has the largest range. The Washington Summit had the highest compliance average of 83%, based on four commitments within the G20’s areas of strength – macroeconomic policy, finance and trade. The following year there was a significant dip in implementation of the London Summit’s commitments, to 59%.

The second stage includes the next three summits, Pittsburgh in September 2009, Toronto in June 2010 and Seoul in November 2010. Implementation clustered around the 67-70% range, based on a larger number of commitments. The Seoul Summit analysis included a heavy emphasis on development, an issue specifically and significantly addressed for the first time by the G20. The third stage includes the most recent summits. The 2011 Cannes Summit achieved a 72% implementation rate, which increased to 76% the following year with Los Cabos commitments, and then dipped back to 72% with the implementation of 2013 St Petersburg commitments.

The question is now whether compliance with the commitments made at Brisbane in 2014 will increase, decrease or remain level. Find out here.

With regard to issue areas with more than one compliance report completed, labour and employment commitments achieved the highest compliance, with an implementation rate of 88%. Energy is the next area at 76%, then implementation on other issues is clustered around the mid 60-70% range: food and agriculture at 75%; reform of international financial institutions at 74%; financial regulation at 73%; macroeconomic policy at 72%; development at 67%; climate change at 66%; trade at 59%; international cooperation at 58%; and crime and corruption at 57%.

The implementation patterns by issue are not as clear as the analysis of implementation across time. The G20’s mandate to function as the premier forum for economic cooperation prioritises growth and jobs. While implementation of labour and employment commitments has gone well, macroeconomic policy and financial regulation show room for improvement.

The country with the highest implementation score was the United Kingdom at 88%, followed by: Australia, Germany and the European Union at 83%; Canada and France at 81%; the United States at 78%; Korea at 77%; and Italy at 71%. These scores are higher than the overall G20 compliance average. The countries with the lowest compliance, starting with the lowest score, were Argentina at 52%; Saudi Arabia at 54%; Indonesia and Turkey at 61%; Russia at 65%; China at 67%; South Africa, India and Mexico at 67%; Brazil at 68%; and Japan at 71%.

Of the nine countries with averages above the G20’s overall score, only two were not members of the G7. One explanation for this is experience. G7 members have attended summits since 1975, and therefore have had the time to develop and correct implementing behaviour.

The G20 Research Group has identified some factors encouraging compliance: first, priority placement of a commitment at the beginning of the communiqué; second, a completion timeline of one year or less; and third, explicit references to the core international organisation most relevant to the commitment in the text of the communiqué.

Compliance with G20 commitments could be strengthened in the coming years. Building awareness and embedding the compliance catalysts mentioned above – priority placement, a one-year timetable and reference to the core international organisation in the communiqué – could increase compliance with summit commitments. The institutionalisation of an internal accountability-reporting mechanism could also help to increase compliance, by increasing peer pressure. Furthermore, a knowledge-sharing mechanism within the G20 that would facilitate the transfer of compliance-producing behaviour among members could help to increase overall compliance among the low implementers. These small and yet significant actions could contribute to higher compliance overall in the coming years.