The G-20 and What It Does

World leaders address terrorism, climate change, and economic crises

German Chancellor Angela Merkel (L) speaks at the G-20 Summit. China's President Xi Jinping, U.S President Donald Trump and British Prime Minister Theresa May (L-R) listen. Photo:

Thomas Lohnes/Getty Images

The G-20 is comprised of the G-7 nations, plus developing nations such as Brazil, China, India, and Russia. The G-20's members represent two-thirds of the world's people and 85% of its economy. Since 2007, the news media has covered each G-20 summit that recognizes the members' role as significant drivers of the world economy.

The G-20's primary mandate is to prevent future international financial crises and shape the global economic agenda. The finance ministers and central bank governors of the G-20 countries meet twice a year and at the same time as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

In 1999, the meetings started as an informal get-together of finance ministers and central bankers seeking a dialogue between developing and developed countries.

G-20 Member Nations

The G-20 members include the G-7 nations—Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States—and 11 emerging market and smaller industrialized countries—Argentina, Australia, Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, and Turkey. The EU is also a member of the G-20.

The G-7 nations have no legal or political authority, but they wield significant influence as some of the leading economies in the world. Russia had been part of what previously was known as the G-8, but it was excluded in 2014 after invading Crimea.

Why the G-20 Is Important

The growth of Brazil, Russia, India, and China (the BRIC countries) has driven the growth of the global economy. The G-7 countries grow slower. Therefore, the BRIC countries are critical for ensuring continued global economic prosperity.

In the past, the leaders of the G-7 could meet and decide on global economic issues without much interference from the BRIC countries, but those nations have become more critical in providing the needs of the G-7 nations. For example, Russia delivers most of the natural gas to Europe. China produces much of the manufacturing for the United States. India provides high-tech services.

Previous Summit Meetings

Summit meetings have become major news events as top world leaders come together for a couple of days each year. Each summit has primary objectives based on current events of the time, and they also provide opportunities for leaders from individual nations to meet over issues specific to their respective governments:

  • June 28-29, 2019, in Osaka, Japan: G-20 members expressed concerns about U.S. protectionism and how it could slow global growth. U.S. President Donald Trump met with China's President Xi Jinping to discuss the ongoing trade war. Trump also hinted at potential trade agreements with Japan and India. The G-20 leaders pledged to have the World Trade Organization oversee rules on online trade. They also called for the U.S. to appoint new judges to staff the WTO's trade dispute function.
  • Nov. 30-Dec. 1, 2018, in Buenos Aires, Argentina: Trump and Xi agreed to start trade negotiations and stop the escalation of their trade war. Trump canceled a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin to protest Russia's attack on Ukraine. Trump signed the new NAFTA agreement with Mexico and Canada. All countries except the U.S. reaffirmed their commitment to the Paris Climate Accord.
  • July 7-8, 2017, in Hamburg, Germany: The meeting focused on climate change and global trade but made little progress with Trump opposing the views of the other 19 countries. The G-20 agreed to share information about steel production, eliminate safe havens for terrorist financing, and address conflicts in North Korea, Syria, and Ukraine. On July 7, Trump and Putin privately met for two hours. When Trump asked about Russia's meddling in the 2016 presidential election, Putin denied it. They agreed to a limited cease-fire in Syria.
  • Sept. 4-5, 2016, in Hangzhou, China: Both the U.S. and China agreed to ratify the Paris climate change agreement. They are the two worst emitters of greenhouse gases. Russia and the United States did not agree on ending the Syrian war. China complained that other countries should allow more free trade, but China has become more protectionist itself. 
  • Nov. 15-16, 2015, in Antalya, Turkey: The meeting focused on responding to the terrorist attacks in Paris. The members agreed to tighten border surveillance against threats. At the same time, they would admit refugees who were escaping the war against ISIS. The U.S. agreed to share more intelligence with France and other members. It wouldn't send in ground troops but would support Syrian and Iraqi forces fighting ISIS. They outlined further steps to cut off financing for ISIS.
  • Nov. 15-16, 2014, in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia: The meeting condemned Russia's attack on Ukraine. All members promised to work together to increase global GDP growth to 2.1% percent by 2018. That would add $2 trillion to global economies. The U.S. and Europe pressured the group to take strong action on climate change. That was not on the official agenda. The leaders vowed to do all they could to combat Ebola in West Africa. President Barack Obama met with the leaders of Japan and Australia. They agreed to work toward a peaceful resolution of maritime disputes in the South China Sea. 
  • Sept. 5-6, 2013, in St. Petersburg, Russia: Unofficially, the meeting focused on a response to Syria's chemical weapons attack. Obama sought support for a U.S. strike, while others argued for economic sanctions. Russia supported the Syrian government with arms and trade. China was concerned about an increase in oil prices. France, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia supported an airstrike. Officially, the leaders focused on spurring global economic growth. The BRIC countries sought G-20 action to reinvigorate their economies after they were pummeled by a withdrawal of foreign direct investment.
  • June 18-19, 2012, in Los Cabos, Mexico: The summit focused on the eurozone debt crisis. The G-20 pressured German Chancellor Angela Merkel to work with other European Union leaders. They wanted a more sustainable grand plan to resolve the Greece debt crisis. Germany wouldn't bail out Greece without austerity measures because German taxpayers ultimately face higher costs to fund the bailout. Germany itself is already highly indebted and pushed for a fiscal union to support the EU's monetary union. That meant EU members would give up political control of their budgets to an EU-wide approval process. This was necessary before Merkel would support Euro-wide bonds. 
  • Nov. 2-4, 2011, in Cannes, France: The summit addressed the Greek debt crisis. Members agreed on plans to create jobs and strengthen financial regulation.
  • Nov. 11-12, 2010, in Seoul, South Korea: In advance of the G-20 meeting, finance ministers pledged to stop the currency wars. They occurred primarily between China and the United States and could create global inflation in food, oil prices, and other commodities. 
  • June 26-27, 2010, in Toronto, Canada: Leaders agreed to cut their budget deficits in half by 2013. They promised to eliminate deficits three years later.
  • Sept. 24-25, 2009, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: Leaders established a new Financial Stability Board to develop standard financial regulations for all G-20 countries by working with the World Bank and the IMF.
  • April 1-2, 2009, in London, United Kingdom: G-20 leaders pledged $1 trillion to the IMF and World Bank to help emerging market countries ward off the effects of the recession. They promised $250 billion in trade finance. They also agreed to develop new financial regulations, create a supervisory body, and crack down on hedge funds.
  • Nov. 16-17, 2008, in Washington, D.C.: The G-20 held its first-ever summit. Before this meeting, the G-7 guided most global economic plans. The topic was the 2008 financial crisis. Emerging market leaders asked the U.S. to regulate its financial markets better, but the U.S. refused. The leaders also wanted better regulation of hedge funds and debt-rating companies such as Standard & Poors. They also sought to strengthen standards for accounting and derivatives. One of the causes of the financial crisis was insufficient regulations and standards.

G-20 Protests

G-20 meetings usually are the site of protests against the G-20 agenda. They claim the group focuses too much on financial interests and globalization. Protesters want the G-20 leaders to focus on one or more other issues:

  • Poverty: In 2010, protesters were against the G-20's focus on fiscal responsibility and austerity at the cost of social programs. They also were opposed to the $1 billion cost of the meeting itself, which was borne by Canadian taxpayers.
  • Climate Change: Protesters wanted the G-20 to refocus on global warming as a priority.
  • Gender Equality: Protesters argue G-20 countries need to pay more attention to rights for the LGBT community. They ask for more funding for family planning, including abortions.
  • Immigration: Protesters seek more open borders for immigrants fleeing humanitarian crises in their home nations.
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