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Sticking to the Core, Ignoring the Current:
The 2014 Brisbane G20 Summit

Caroline Bracht and Julia Kulik, G20 Research Group
November 16, 2014

The 2014 G20 host Australian prime minister Tony Abbott set the stage for this year's summit in Brisbane to be one of great suspense. Promising to return the G20's agenda back to its original roots to provide global financial stability, Abbott was adamant that the communiqué deal exclusively with the economy and abandon its previous issue of climate change and also ignore the pressing political security and global health concerns of the day. Many observers awaited the final day of the summit and its communiqué to see whether Abbott would be successful, where the leaders' alliances would fall and how the summit would handle Russian president Vladimir Putin.

Abbott succeeded on one of his promises, to ensure that the final communiqué be limited to three pages, although ignoring the conventional margin width. The communiqué did in fact stick closely to the heavily emphasized economic agenda that he had laid out in advance and the G20's core mandate to restore strong, sustainable and balanced growth. It consisted of statements and commitments that fell under the three subheadings of growth and jobs, building a more resilient economy and strengthening global institutions.

The big outstanding question, however, was whether the summit and resulting communiqué would address the current international health and security crisis of Ebola and the security threats posed by the Islamic State and Russia's increased aggression toward Ukraine.

The first official document released on the first day of the summit focused solely on Ebola. It was well received but not satisfactory (see Slow Learners Confront a Swift Disease). G20 leaders committed "to do what is necessary to ensure the international effort can extinguish the outbreak and address its medium-term economic and humanitarian costs." However, they did not commit to any tangible monetary targets, despite World Bank president Jim Kim's call earlier in October for $20 billion to properly fight the crisis.

On the G20's most highly emphasized economic goal in the lead-up to Brisbane — to lift the G20's gross domestic product by at least an additional 2% by 2018 — the leaders performed poorly. In February 2013, G20 finance ministers pledged to raise global growth more than 2% above the International Monetary Fund's (IMF) baseline 2014 projection of 3.6% published in the World Economic Outlook. This commitment was flawed even before leaders sat down to the discussion table as the latest IMF global growth forecast had been downgraded to 3.3%. Thus, if the leaders wished to accurately meet their initial goal they would need a commitment of at least 2.3%. However, they stated that their previous commitments would deliver just 2.1%. Furthermore, much of the work to develop this commitment had been accomplished by the finance ministers before the summit. One positive element to this section of the leaders' communiqué was a commitment to "monitor and hold each other to account" for the implementation of individual action plans. Although the true success of this growth goal depends solely on full implementation, a stronger, more robust accountability mechanisms would have provided better assurance.

In the section on lifting growth and creating jobs, G20 leaders outlined the expected and anticipated commitment to reduce the gap in participation rates between men and women in G20 members by 25% by 2025. They contributed to the G20 core mission to make globalization work for all by recognizing that women are consistently underutilized throughout the G20 and by addressing the fact that inequality leads to greater instability. This commitment builds on the work done by the Global Partnership for Financial Inclusion (GPFI) outlined in the 2014 Financial Inclusion Action Plan appended to the Brisbane communiqué. The GPFI has undertaken work to improve gender equity in financial services and access to capital and to develop policies to promote women's economic empowerment. However, the G20 leaders included the phrase "taking into account national circumstances," which may allow those members that have historically oppressed women to opt out of implementing this commitment.

Climate change was never meant to feature prominently at the summit and it did not. Out of 21 paragraphs, the one on climate change merely reiterated statements of support from summits passed for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Green Climate Fund. There was one new, notable commitment "to work together to adopt a successful protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force under the UNFCCC." While this statement was new and forward looking, it was weak in that it provided options for a potential outcome at the Paris climate meeting scheduled for December 2015. Furthermore, the small phrase "that the agreement be applicable to all parties" indicated that it may be impossible to reach agreement at Paris at all.

In an uncharacteristic move, the G20 left out any reference to terrorism and traditional security issues. There was no mention of the Islamic State, and no mention of the crisis in Syria or Ukraine. This omission causes confusion and raises questions why, given that on the second day of the summit British prime minister David Cameron and United States president Barack Obama were informed of the release of another video of an Islamic State beheading video. Terrorism and regional security tensions remain high and the G20 failed to provide the world with any new solutions or hope. It could be assumed, however, that these issues dominated the informal conversations between the leaders on the sidelines of the formal meeting, perhaps during evening strolls along the Brisbane River.

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