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A Summit of Significant Success: The G20 at Hamburg

John Kirton, Co-director, G20 Research Group
July 11, 2017

The G20 leaders, meeting in Hamburg, Germany, for the 12th time on July 7-8, 2017, produced a summit of significant success at a level of B+ overall. This conclusion arises not only from an immediate judgement about the quality of the summit's results issued just after its end, but also from a systematic quantitative assessment of the summit's performance according to the six basic dimensions by which any such summit can be assessed (Kirton 2013). This quantitative assessment shows that Hamburg's performance on domestic political management was strong (A−), on deliberation extremely strong (A+), direction setting strong (A−), decision making extremely strong (A+), delivery substantial (B) and development of global governance significant (B+), for a strong performance (A−) overall. Together with the earlier immediate judgement of a solid (B−) success, the combined score is a summit of significant success (B+). This makes Hamburg the seventh most successful summit of the 12 held thus far and equal to the Hangzhou Summit in 2016.

Domestic Political Management

On the first dimension, domestic political management, performance was strong. It can be initially assessed by the component of attendance, given that leaders go abroad to manage their policies and politics back home. Hamburg attracted almost perfect attendance, as only the aging and ailing king of Saudi Arabia stayed home and sent a substitute. At the last minute Michel Temer of Brazil decided to come, despite the severe new charges of corruption he faced at home. This made Hamburg the fourth most well attended summit, ranking behind only the first three with full attendance in 2008–2009.

There was never any doubt that the newly elected, unpredictable, unilateralist, isolationist U.S. president Donald Trump would come. He attended the entire summit, from start to end. He did skip part of one session, on climate change, to hold his first bilateral meeting ever with Russian president Vladimir Putin. He also chose his daughter and advisor Ivanka to take his chair briefly at the summit table on one occasion. Although these specific moves were unprecedented, they were well within the summit's procedural norms. Notably, at its end, Trump declared the summit to have been a "wonderful success."


On the second dimension, deliberation among the leaders, performance was extremely strong (A+). In its public dimension, measured by the number, length and substantive breadth of the collective communiqués publicly issued in the leaders' name, Hamburg produced an unprecedented ten such documents, totalling 34,746 words. This was far more than the 2016 Hangzhou Summit with 16,004 words, and all other summits including the previous peak at St. Petersburg in 2013 with 28,766 words and the previous multi-summit average of 12,044 words.

Hamburg's ten documents covered an unprecedentedly broad range of topics. In first place came the G20 Hamburg Action Plan with 6,997 words, showing that the G20 remained an economically focused group. In a close second came the Hamburg Update: Taking Forward the G20 Action Plan on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, with 5,884 words, indicating that the G20 has become increasingly and almost co-equally a development-oriented group. In third place came the core G20 Leader's Declaration: Shaping an Interconnected World with 5,422 words covering a wide array of subjects. In fourth place came the G20 Hamburg Climate and Energy Action Plan with 4,020 words, making the G20 genuinely an ecologically sustainable development governor. This status was reinforced by the fifth-placed G20 Action Plan on Marine Litter, with 2,048 words. In sixth place came the Hamburg G20 Leaders' Statement on Countering Terrorism, issued separately at the start on the summit's first day and containing 1,431 words. It strengthened the G20 status as a growing security governor (Kirton 2017).

In its private deliberations, Hamburg's performance was also strong. Merkel's choice to start the summit with a leaders-only retreat, following her favourably impression of the precedent from Brisbane in 2014, encouraged leaders to engage in a free, flowing, frank, interactive way, rather than reading prepared scrips. Her choice to focus it on security allowed leaders to start on the subject where they were most united and the one on which Trump was most passionately and personally concerned, as his pre-summit speech in Poland showed again. On his second tour abroad, Trump was more relaxed, engaged and interactive than he was on his first. In the first formal session on Hamburg's first day, on the economy and trade, after Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau led off, Trump spoke next. In the session on climate and energy, Trump also spoke before he left to meet Putin. This was a contrast with the G7 Taormina Summit a month earlier, where Trump largely listened to what others said to him about the importance of the Paris Agreement on climate change. The private deliberations were often animated by an intense debate Trump between newly elected French president Emmanuel Macron, who, in traditional French fashion at such summits, led the expression of a hard-line, antithetical approach to the U.S. president, but now one centered on international economic openness and cooperation and strong collective climate change control with the Paris Agreement at its core.

The on-site bilateral, trilateral and plurilateral summit meetings G20 leaders had in Germany between and among themselves, including the traditional sideline summit of the BRICS leaders of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, were led by Japan with 10, the United States with nine and host Germany with seven, followed in turn by Canada, China, India, Russia and the European Union with five each; Korea, the United Kingdom and Australia with four each; France, Indonesia and Turkey with three each; and Argentina and Mexico with two each.

At the hub of this summit sociogram stood the three most powerful G7 members. Japan met in chronological order with India, the EU, the U.S. and Korea, Canada, India, China, the U.S. and China, and the UK. The United States as an engaged internationalist, rather than feared isolationist, met with Germany, Japan and Korea, Mexico, Russia, China and Japan, Indonesia, and the UK. Germany met with China, U.S., Turkey, Australia, Canada, Russia and France.

Direction Setting

On the third dimension, principled and normative direction setting, Hamburg's performance was strong (A−). On the principle embodying the G20's first distinctive foundation mission of promoting financial stability, it made 42 affirmations, the fourth highest number among the 12 G20 summits and above the previous multi-summit average of 33. This was a surge from the 10–13 affirmations at the previous three summits, if far from the peak of 73 at St. Petersburg in 2013.

On the G20's second foundational mission, making globalization work for the benefit of all, Hamburg made 61 affirmations, to rank second among the 12 summits and well above the previous multi-summit average of 25. This showed that the G20 was strongly shifting from its success in producing the global public good of promoting financial stability to its unfinished distributional task of making globalization work for all.

On the G7's distinctive foundational mission of promoting human rights, a core political principle, the Hamburg G20 made 11 affirmations. This was by far the highest ever, following the previous peak of five at Hangzhou, and well above the previous multi-year average of two. Hamburg's human rights affirmations arose in four of its 10 documents, led by the leaders' declaration with five, and followed by the statement on counterterrorism with three. It thus extended Hangzhou's human rights affirmations from corruption in the harder security subject of terrorism.

Other key principles were also affirmed. Most notable was the core environmental principle of renouncing over-consumption and over-production. It was proclaimed in the document on marine litter and, if put into practice, could help control climate change.

Decision Making

On the fourth dimension, decision making through public, collective, precise, future-oriented, politically binding commitments issued in the leaders' name, Hamburg's performance was extremely strong (A+). It produced 529 commitments, by far the highest ever, well above the previous peak of 282 at Cannes in 2011, 281 at St. Petersburg in 2013 and 213 at Hangzhou in 2016 and the previous multi-year average of 175.

Hamburg also stood first in the breadth of these commitments and in their new balance in favour of development. By document, first came the 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development with 182 commitments for 34% of the total, followed in turn by the leaders' declaration with 107 or 20%, the statement on marine litter with 55 or 10%, the Hamburg Action Plan and Rural Youth Employment with 46 or 9% each, the climate and energy action plan with 43 or 8%, e-skills for girls with 25 for 5%, terrorism with 23 or 4%, and Africa with two or 0.4%. Together the 2030 Agenda, Rural Youth employment and Africa commitments. With about 45% of the total, this made Hamburg a development summit. It was secondarily an environment one when the 18% from marine litter and climate and energy are added. The pure economy document, the Hamburg Action Plan, took only 9%.


On the fifth dimension, delivery of the decisions through members' compliance with their priority commitments, compliance is likely to be substantial (B). The 529 Hamburg commitments contain 21 catalysts that have been proven to raise compliance in the past, and only 18 proven to lower it. Compliance with the Hangzhou commitments rose from 72% at the halfway mark to 80% at the end, for an 8% rise when Germany held the G20 chair and when Donald Trump was the new president of the United States.

Development of Global Governance

On the sixth dimension, the development of global governance institutions, performance was significant (B+). The Hamburg documents made 73 references to intergovernmental institutions inside the G20, to rank fourth among the 12 summits thus far. It made 229 references to institutions outside the G20, to rank fourth and well above the previous 11 summit average of 147.


Kirton, John (2013). G20 Governance for a Globalized World (Abingdon: Routledge).

Kirton, John (2017). "The G20's Growing Security Governance Success," paper prepared for "The G20 as a Global Governance Institution," a conference sponsored by the Federal Academy for Security Policy, February 9, Berlin.

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John KirtonJohn Kirton is director of the G7 Research Group, and co-director of the G20 Research Group, the Global Health Diplomacy Program and the BRICS Research Group, all based at Trinity College at the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto. He is also a Non-resident Senior Fellow at the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies at China's Renmin University. A professor of political science, he teaches global governance and international relations and Canadian foreign policy. His most recent books include 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 of several publications on the G7/8, the G20 and the BRICS published by Newsdesk Media.

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