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A Summit of Solid Success: The 2018 G20 Buenos Aires Summit

John Kirton, Director, G20 Research Group
December 1, 2018

The G20's 13th summit, held in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on November 30 and December 1, 2018, proved to be a solid success. Against the odds, it produced a consensus communiqué of six and a half pages that codified the leaders progress on a broad array on issues. And in their private conversations, the leaders directly address many more issues, including the most divisive security and political issues of the day.

The first achievement came on gender equality. A year ago, when Argentina as host had set the priorities for its summit, there were three: infrastructure, jobs and food. A year later, the Buenos Aires communiqué opened with four, with "a gender mainstreaming strategy across the G20 agenda" now added to the list. It was the first time a G20 summit had put gender equality at the centre of its governance. It was a significant step toward the G20 fulfilling its distinctive, foundational mission of making globalization work for the benefit of all, including the women and girls who constitute half the people in the world.

The second achievement was the authorizing new resources for the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The clear, if diplomatically careful, passage in paragraph 23 of the communiqué read: "We reaffirm our commitment to further strengthening the to further strengthening the global financial safety net with a strong, quota-based, and adequately resourced IMF at the centre." The IMF would thus have the resources to help the G20 meet its distinctive core mission of promoting financial stability, should more G20 members or other countries require IMF support packages, as increasing U.S. interest rates and value of the U.S. dollar pulled money out of emerging countries, leaving them without the convertible currency needed to pay their international loans and bills.

The third achievement came, most surprisingly, on climate change, where most assumed that U.S. resistance would lead at best to only a short, and general passage that might not even reference the Paris Agreement or the work of the United Nations. Yet the communiqué contained three precise paragraphs. The second and third repeated the Hamburg Summit formula, first stating in paragraph 20 the complete commitment of 19 members to the Paris Agreement, and then in Paragraph 21 stating "the United States reiterates its decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement." But paragraph 19, agreed to by all 20 members, stated: "We note the latest IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] Special Report on the Impacts of Global Warming of 1.5 degrees centigrade … We look forward to successful outcomes of the UNFCCC [United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change] COP24 [24th Conference of the Parties] and to engage in the Talanoa Dialogue." In this passage Donald Trump and all his colleagues accepted the science behind and conclusions and recommendations of this UN report and that 1.5°C alone was the new target, rather than the more lenient 2° one highlighted in the Paris Agreement. Trump and his colleagues further agreed to work on December 3, when COP24 begins, to write the rule book to implement the Paris Agreement, even if the United States was withdrawing from it. And by engaging in the Talanoa Dialogue the G20 leaders implied they might accept climate change control commitments more stringent than those in the Paris Agreement itself. In all it was a meaningful, if still inadequate, move toward climate change control, in accordance with the stark warnings of the IPCC report.

On the divisive issue of trade, in two paragraphs, all leaders agreed to "support the necessary reform of the WTO [World Trade Organization] to improve its functioning. We will review progress at our next Summit." To be sure, they did not include the standard anti-protectionist pledge do renounce imposing further restrictions and to roll back the ones they had recently introduced. But it provided a basis on which to build, as Japan assumed the G20 chair at the Buenos Aires Summit ended.

In all the Buenos Aires Summit communiqué produced 88 precise, future-oriented, politically obligatory commitments. This was more than the 61 generated at the fourth G20 summit, in Toronto, in June 2010. It was almost as many as the 95 produced at the first G20 summit, in Washington DC in November 2008. It remained to be seen how well G20 members would comply with these commitments in the short seven months before their leaders meet again in Osaka for their next summit on June 28-29, 2019.

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