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Academics, Analysis and Accountability:
Contributions to G20 Governance

John Kirton
Co-director, G20 Research Group
April 25, 2012

Paper presented at an international conference on "Global Governance for the Next Generation: Building on the Los Cabos G20 Summit," sponsored by the Instituto Technologico Autonomo de Mexico (ITAM), the Institut d'Etudes Politiques de Paris (Sciences Po), the National Research University — Higher School of Economics of Russia, the G20 Research Group of the University of Toronto, the Centre for International Governance Innovation, and Newsdesk Publications, ITAM, Mexico City, April 25, 2012.

At the conclusion of their fifth summit, in Seoul, Korea, on November 12, 2010, G20 leaders promised: "We will increase our efforts to conduct G20 consultation activities in a more systematic way, building on constructive partnerships with international organizations, in particular the UN, regional bodies, civil society, trade unions and academia" (para 73). In outlining its priorities for its summit in Los Cabos in 2012, the Mexican presidency promised in January to "conduct a broad outreach dialogue ... that will include ... interaction with non-member countries, the UN [United Nations] system and International Organizations; B-20 [Business 20] Summit for the private sector; Think-20 discussion forum for think tanks; Y-20 event targeted to young students and professionals; a set of structured dialogues with NGOs [non-governmental organizations] and the civil society" (G20 Mexican Presidency 2012). These promises have largely been kept, with one major omission the academics have been left out.

It is thus time to ask what the academic community is distinctly able and willing to contribute to G20 governance. I argue that it is now able, ready and willing to contribute its independent, social science analysis and evidence about how to improve the operation of the G20 as a permanent, premier, international institution. It can do so in the three major ways: first, by autonomously exploring how well and why the G20 works; second, by continuously and transparently informing and educating all about its work; and third, by assessing its members' compliance with, and the results of, the commitments it makes. To make these contributions in analysis, transparency and accountability, the time has come to develop an ongoing, organized "Academic 20," to work alongside co-operation with the Think Tank 20, the B20, the Labour 20 and the other civil society groups.

Let me briefly outline each of these points in turn.

First, analysis. The academic community is now able to contribute serious scholarly analysis about how well, how and why the G20 works as an international institution, using the highest standards of theory, evidence and interpretation that its profession demands. This year should see the publication of the first three full-length scholarly books on G20 governance, backed by a growing reservoir of chapter and articles on particular facts of its operation. Unbiased, systematic logic and evidence can thus replace motivated institution backed by selective examples in understanding how well, how and why the G20 works, and how its performance can be improved. There is a lengthy research agenda on whether G20 performance is improved by changes in membership, participation, civil society involvement, meeting frequency, length and location, media relations, hosting and chairing, format, policy breadth and focus, governance function and secretariat support. One question central to the effectiveness and legitimacy of G20 governance is how much and why its promises are kept. It is self-propelled academics, driven by curiosity, who are best positioned to do this painstaking work.

Second, transparency. Academics continuously, openly and independently inform all about the G20's work. As the G20 has no permanent secretariat, academics can provide some of the basic services that secretariats perform, starting with a permanent website that makes available in all G20 languages, all the G20's official public documents, as well as the bibliographies, research reports and data sets that are the basis of academic work. Regular publications, conferences and teaching courses could be easily added. Academics could also provide a trusted, neutral platform through which G20 governance could tell its own story to the world.

Third, accountability. Academics can assist G20 accountability by carefully assessing whether the collective commitments made by the G20 are complied with by members and achieve the intended and desired results. The G20 itself has no mechanism to produce such assessments. It selectively asks some international organizations, ones that its members dominate, to conduct some assessments in some areas. G20 leaders should be the first to want to know if the summit commitments they made have been kept, and how imperfections can be improved on. Academics want to know this for their own research, and have no personal or institutional stake in the findings that emerge. Only they are well positioned to undertake independently the laborious work of examining if each of the G20's 20 members has complied with each of the 807 commitments G20 summits have made to date, what the results have been, why this happened and how this aspect of G20 performance can be improved.

There is already proof that this can be done and that G20 leaders value such work. Since the start of G20 summitry in November 2008, the G20 Research Group at the University of Toronto and the International Organizations Research Institute at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow have been assessing G20 members' compliance with their summit commitments, sending the preliminary results out for stakeholder feedback and releasing the results on the next summit's eve. One G20 leader at the Cannes Summit in 2011 reported that these assessments were referred to by the leaders at the summit and enriched their work.

The results of the 55 compliance assessments completed this far show that these G20 summits are well worth doing, but that there is much more to be done (see G20 Research Group 2012).

1. Compliance from the first five summits has averaged 60% and none of these summits has had a failing grade below 50%.

2. Compliance got off to a strong start, with crisis-affected Washington's 83% followed by London's 57% and Pittsburgh's 64%, followed by a post-crisis rise with Toronto's 70% and Seoul's 74%. So the G20 works as both a crisis-response and a post-crisis global management group.

3. Compliance by issue area has varied, led by macroeconomic policy at 82%, trade, energy and climate change at 71% each, financial regulation and supervision at 70%, reform of international financial institutions and development at about 66% each, and crime and corruption at 59%. The G20 has thus performed strongly on its core issue of macroeconomic policy management but has also done well across a broad range, extending into the social and even political sphere.

4. Compliance by member has also varied, by a much wider degree, even if only one member receives a failing grade. At the top are Britain at 90%, France at 85%, the European Union at 84.5%, and Canada at 83%. At the bottom come Argentina at 47%, Saudi Arabia at 50%, India at 52%, Indonesia at 53%, Turkey at 56% and Mexico at 57%.

5. Fifth, and finally, there are good grounds to suggest that Mexico's compliance performance will soon rise. The average compliance scores of members that have hosted G20 summits is 83% and all such hosts have scores of at least 77%. As Mexico serves as the G20 host this year, its compliance score could well move upwards as well.


G20 (2010). "The Seoul Summit Document." Seoul, November 12. http://www.g20.utoronto.ca/2010/g20seoul-doc.html (April 2012).

G20 Mexican Presidency (2012). "Discussion Paper: Mexico's Presidency of the G20." January. http://www.g20.utoronto.ca/2012/2012-loscabos-disc-en.pdf (April 2012).

G20 Research Group (2012). "Leaders' Compliance Reports." G20 Information Centre. http://www.g20.utoronto.ca/analysis/index.html#compliance (April 2012).

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