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Will the G20 Produce a Significant Success at Rome?

John Kirton,
Director, G20 Research Group, October 22, 2021

Presentation for "G20 Summitry: Performance, Prospects, Proposals for Rome 2021," sponsored by the Bill Graham Centre for Contemporary International History and the G20 Research Group, University of Toronto, October 21, 2021.


The G20's Rome Summit on October 30–31, 2021, will be a significant success. It is unlikely to be a more strongly performing one, relative to the 15 regular G20 summits that have gone before. But it could easily perform less well, given the many remaining risks.

On its first thematic priority of "People," Rome will produce a significant performance.

On vaccinations, it will promise to provide enough doses, dollars and support for domestic manufacturing to inoculate at least 70% of the world's population by the end of next year.

On pandemic preparedness and response, it will commit to significantly strengthen existing systems.

On the World Health Organization (WHO), it will agree on the need to strengthen this central international body through significant reform.

On other diseases, it will advance action on tuberculosis, non-communicable diseases, mental health, the zoonotic diseases that flow from animals to humans and anti-microbial resistance.

On its second priority of "Planet," Rome will produce a substantial performance, at best.

It will agree that a 1.5°C post-industrial temperature rise is the most appropriate target.

It will promise to generate enough action at the United Nations' Glasgow climate summit beginning the next day to keep this goal within reach.

The key G20 members will commit to end international coal financing this year.

They will start to give $100 billion a year to developing countries for climate finance.

And all will promise to protect more nature, in support of the UN's biodiversity conference in Kunming, China next spring.

On its third priority of "Prosperity," Rome will produce a strong performance.

It will approve a revolutionary new international tax regime, to force the world's richest digital and other multinational firms pay taxes to the countries where they make their money, and pay a minimum tax too.

It will decide on channelling some of the $650 billion worth of new special drawing rights just created by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), from the rich to the poor countries that need them the most.

It will offer an appropriate macroeconomic policy message, promising continued fiscal and monetary stimulus until the recovery is secure, while keeping inflation under control.

It will pledge more debt relief for hard hit states.


This significant performance will be propelled by six strong forces.

Shock-Activated Vulnerability

The first is the unprecedented severity and scope of the shocks that have exposed the vulnerability of all G20 members, including their most powerful ones.

COVID-19 has already killed millions and cost trillions, and the toll will mount. The most vulnerable country by far has been the United States, followed in turn by its fellow G20 members of Brazil, India, Mexico and Russia.

Climate shocks reached a new peak in G20 members this year, and are scientifically certain to get worse. They have compounded the closely related energy and food shocks arising during the past month.

Economic shocks from the COVID-19 crisis saw gross domestic product plunge last year, a fragile two-speed recovery return this year, and serious economic distress remain for several G20 members and many beyond.

Multilateral Organizational Failure

The second force is multilateral organizational failure in controlling these shocks without the G20's help.

The WHO and its affiliates depend on G20 members to provide the needed COVID-19 doses, dollars and domestic manufacturing support, to create the emergency response mechanisms and healthcare systems to cope with such pandemics, and to treat the many diseases sidelined by COVID-19.

The UN climate summits and ministerial meetings since the 2015 Paris Agreement have massively failed to stop the soaring climate emergency we now face. They will fail again at Glasgow, unless the G20 makes the big decisions at Rome the day before.

The IMF and World Bank have done better, but have not controlled the mounting debts of poor countries, nor have they been able to get their private sector creditors to do their fair share. They need G20 leaders, whose countries control these core multilateral organizations, to act at Rome.

Predominant Equalizing Capability

The third force is the globally predominant, internally equalizing capabilities of G20 members. They possess almost all of the world's safe, effective COVID-19 vaccines, about 80% of the sources of greenhouse gas emissions, most of the world's natural sinks that suck these emission out of the atmosphere and over 80% of the global economy too. They have 80% of the solutions to the shocks of today.

The most powerful members – the United States and China – with their economies now slowing and equalizing, should know that they need help from each other and all their G20 colleagues too. No one can solve the COVID-19 and climate crises alone.

Common Converging Principles

The fourth force is G20 members' convergence on common principles and domestic practices on health, climate and economic recovery. Most big G20 members are now producing, sharing or financing COVID-19 vaccines. Almost all are acting to control climate change and stimulate their economies in fiscal and monetary ways. They are all committed, careful Keynesians now.

Domestic Political Cohesion

The fifth force is the adequate political backing that most G20 leaders have at home, allowing them to adjust to their G20 colleagues abroad, to forge the needed agreements at Rome. This domestic support is good enough in all G7 members, very strong in China and Russia, and substantial in India and South Africa, if not in Brazil.

Club at the Hub

The final force is the G20 summit's growth as its leaders' personally valued club, at the hub of an expanding network of global summit governance. Rome finally restores in-person G20 summitry, even if the leaders of China, Japan, Russia, Brazil and Mexico will probably appear only on their video screens. And Rome caps a year of unprecedented G20-centred summitry that will culminate in Glasgow the day after Rome ends.


For these reasons, the Rome Summit could be one of the best performing G20 summits ever, through its supply of the timely, well-tailored global governance the world needs. But it still will not do nearly enough to meet the soaring demand for global solutions, above all on climate change.

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John KirtonJohn Kirton is director of the G20 Research Group, G7 Research Group and Global Health Diplomacy Program and co-director of the BRICS Research Group, all based at the University of Toronto. A professor of political science, he teaches global governance and international relations and Canadian foreign policy. His most recent books include Reconfiguring the Global Governance of Climate Change, with Ella Kokotsis and Brittaney Warren (forthcoming), Accountability for Effectiveness in Global Governance, co-edited with Marina Larionova (Routledge 2018), China's G20 Leadership (Routledge, 2016), G20 Governance for a Globalized World (Ashgate, 2012) and (with Ella Kokotsis), The Global Governance of Climate Change: G7, G20 and UN Leadership (Ashgate, 2015), as well as The G8-G20 Relationship in Global Governance, co-edited with Marina Larionova (Ashgate, 2015), and Moving Health Sovereignty in Africa: Disease, Govenance, Climate Change, co-edted with Andrew F. Cooper, Franklyn Lisk and Hany Besada (Ashgate, 2014). Kirton is also co-editor with Madeline Koch of several publications on the G20, the G7 and global health governance, including G20 Italy: The 2021 Rome Summit and G7 UK: The 2021 Cornwall Summit, and, with the support of the World Health Organization, Health: A Political Choice — Solidarity, Science, Solutions, published by GT Media and the Global Governance Project.