At the end of their G20 Osaka Summit on June 29, 2019, the most powerful leaders of the world’s most powerful countries will release a communiqué containing many commitments to respond to the biggest challenges of today’s complex world. But their citizens, increasingly skeptical of the work of such governing elites, will doubt that these commitments will make any difference to their daily lives. After all, why should politicians who do not keep all their promises to their people at home do any better when they go abroad together to govern the world as a whole?
Yet the evidence shows that they do. Since the start of G20 summitry in 2008, G20 leaders have made over 2,500 precise, future-oriented, politically binding, collective commitments and complied with the 255 assessed ones at an average of 71%. Moreover, their compliance has been slowly, if not steadily, rising, reaching a high of 80% compliance with the priority commitments assessed from the 2017 Hamburg Summit.
G20 Compliance 2008–2017
Between 2008 and 2017, compliance was highest with the G20’s core economic and finance commitments — tax at 85%, macroeconomic policy at 80%, financial regulation at 78%, and labour and employment at 75%. The newer subjects of health, energy, food, climate change, financial institutional reform, trade and development have compliance just below the overall average of 71%. Compliance on gender equality, crime and corruption and the digital economy is much lower.
The highest compliers are the United Kingdom, Germany, Canada, Australia and the European Union, all at 80% or more. The G7 members of the United States and Japan have an above average 74%. Italy is lower, and Argentina, Turkey and Saudi Arabia are in the lowest range.
Some will be surprised by the compliance with the commitments made at Donald Trump’s first G20 summit. Hamburg in 2017 had compliance of 80%. Was this the start of a rising tide, repeated at his second summit in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in December 2018? At first glance the early evidence suggests it was. With only seven months to comply with the 2018 commitments before the 2019 ones arrive to supersede them, compliance with the Buenos Aires priority commitments is 77%.
On the other hand, this could signal a trend toward more broad and less ambitious commitment making and thus easier to implement commitments. After all, the United States was absent from the climate change commitments assessed from the Hamburg and Buenos Aires summits and was not included in the 2017 or 2018 compliance scores.
G20 Compliance 2018–2019
From the 2018 Buenos Aires Summit, compliance was the highest with the commitments on universal health coverage, the digital economy and energy security, all at 90% or higher. Also high, at 80% or more, was compliance with the commitments on clean energy, malnutrition, the Paris Agreement on climate change, employment, gender equality, macroeconomic policy, infrastructure and reform of the World Trade Organization. Also above the all-time average of 71% were tax, sustainable agriculture, early childhood development, disaster resilience, reform of the International Monetary Fund, data governance and financial regulation.
By member, compliance was led by the European Union at 100%, followed by Australia at 90%. Argentina, Canada, China, Brazil, Germany, France, Japan, Korea and the United Kingdom were all at or above 80%. Italy, which will host the G20 in 2021, rose to an above average 75%. India, which will host in 2022, and Russia had 73%. The United States had an average 71% compliance with the commitments made at Trump’s second summit. All other countries were below this.
Thus G20 summit commitments count, by being complied with by the members at a solid level, recently rising to a significant one. This provides promising momentum for the Osaka Summit. Host Japan, whose compliance has just risen to 80%, is focusing on priority subjects where compliance has been lower overall, thus providing increased attention to them, which can in turn lead to more commitments and better compliance. The task now is to identify and implement measures that improve compliance and assess whether they have the impact intended by the leaders and needed by a troubled world.