The G20 and SDGs are an acronym alphabet soup that do not seem to fit together at first glance.
The Group of 20 (or G20, as it is better known), is an international government forum that came into being as a result of the Asian financial crisis of 1997 and the growing realisation that financial systems of the world had grown increasingly interconnected as a result of globalisation. With exclusive membership for 20 economically and geopolitically significant countries, the primary focus of the forum was on global economic governance and was originally meant to bring together finance ministers and central bank governors. During the great global recession of 2007-2008 the G20 was used by global leaders and heads of states as a meeting ground to help thrash out the best ways to deal with financial crises. Since then, G20 has become a convenient forum for states to discuss wider global policy issues, with annual leaders’ summits.
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), on the other hand, are a United Nations-spearheaded intergovernmental agreement that is aimed at lifting the collective state of development across the world. Meant to be achieved by 2030, 17 SDG goals address interlinked environmental, economic and societal issues across the world in a balanced way.
While the two global policy tools seem to have disparate goals, as moderator Akshay Mathur pointed out at a panel on “Making G20 work for SDGs,” a natural intersection point seemed to occur in 2010-11 when the global growth agenda laid out by the G20 started to stall. Realising that there was no way the growth agenda could be met without addressing the development needs of the emerging economies, the G20 started to align its agenda with that of the SDGs.
Policy Analyst Feride Inan added that the past three presidencies of the G20 have seen the importance of the SDGs further magnified in the greater global context.
Beginning with the Australian presidency in 2014, a structured and more strategic approach was taken to the G20’s growth ambitions, specifically in relation to SDG 9 (Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure). The Turkish presidency in 2015 saw a greater focus on growth strategies, with a prioritised development approach for low-income countries and the global issues of employment and income distribution. The Chinese presidency in 2016 took three additional steps, geared towards helping the global achievement of SDGs. The first of these was to emphasise on Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure, with specific attention to technological innovation. The second was to create a platform for the purpose of voicing the perspectives of different actors and diverging interests into one common strategy. The third step involved linking the growth agenda of the G20 to SDG 7 (Affordable and Clean Energy) and SDG 13 (Climate Action), with a concerted push towards renewable energy.
Having said this, there remains some controversy over how much the G20 can actually do to achieve the SDGs. Senior researcher Thomas Fues eloquently pointed out in the panel that some view the G20’s alignment with SDGs as a case of “Big Words, Little Action.” Fues acknowledged that though the G20 has taken a very strong stand in identifying and taking over responsibility of the 2030 agenda and SDGs, there has been a lull in the SDG push under the current German presidency of the G20. However, Fues added, the difficulty for the German government has been the formulation of concrete deliverables. The verbal rhetoric from the G20 has been strong, but the practical steps have been incremental.
Taking forward the conversation and citing the example of the African continent, Vice President of the Ghana Growth and Development Platform Theo Acheampong illustrated certain steps that can be taken by the G20. Starting with SDG 2 (Zero Hunger), he addressed the issue of agricultural modernisation.
G20 in the end is a forum for collaboration. It is not clear why we need the G20 to implement the SDGs. —Akshay Mathur, Director, Research and Analysis, Gateway House
At the moment, the agricultural value chain in Africa remains at more or less subsistence level. Even increasing the productivity levels per acre to the levels that China and India had reached 20 or 30 years ago would be a huge leap for Africa. One possible way to do this could be through technology transfer from G20 research institutes to African research institutes. Having the ability to create drought-resilient seedlings or build climate-resilient irrigation infrastructure would help solve many of the issues plaguing the African agricultural sector such as crop diversification and higher export. Another SDG that the G20 can help Africa with is Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure. By focusing bilateral and multilateral aid on infrastructure- related projects, G20 countries can help not just in creating robust transportation systems to increase the flow of goods and services but also help with SDG 8 (Decent Work and Economic Growth) by providing gainful employment for a significant part of the population. A third area that the G20 can take up in Africa is SDG 10 (Reduced Inequalities). Sharing an example of his friend who owns a small citrus farm in Ghana, Acheampong said that some of the farmers’ products in the region are ideally suited for the EU market, where demand for oranges is high. However, due to rules of origin and trade agreements, the farmers are not able send their goods from Ghana to the EU. If the G20 were to revisit certain trade policies and agreements, the amount of global inequality could be greatly reduced.
To conclude, it can be established that the G20 has been able to align its interests with the achievements of SDGs. The last three G20 presidencies have provided a good framework, but it is important to move past rhetoric and towards action.
The views expressed above belong to the author(s).