The G20… Behind Closed Doors

The G20… Behind Closed Doors

World leaders have gathered in Osaka, Japan for the latest G20 summit meeting. Where did the G20 come from, what purpose does it serve, and why should anyone care about it?

What's the G20? Thirty years ago, the G7 group of industrialized nations—the United States, Japan, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, and Canada—accounted for almost 70 percent of the global economy, giving them hefty international influence. But by 2008, that number had fallen to just over 50%, and when the global financial crisis hit, it was clear that big new players like China, India, and others had to be included in talks over what to do about it.

Enter the G20, which includes the G7 plus China, India, Brazil, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Argentina, Australia, South Korea, South Africa, Russia, Mexico, and a representative of the European Union. This group now accounts for 80% of global GDP and two-thirds of the world's population.

What's the G20 good for? The G20 produced a unified response to the financial crisis, but only because it threatened all of these countries at the same time. Since then, the group hasn't accomplished much of anything that demands compromise and shared sacrifice. It's hard to get 20 negotiators to agree on anything, but particularly when key players like China, Russia, and Saudi Arabia don't have the same political values as the US, the Europeans, and Japan.

So does this summit matter? Yes. Even if the larger G20 summit meeting accomplishes little else, the event will serve one very important purpose: it will give world leaders a chance to meet on the sidelines to talk through important questions in less formal settings. Not surprisingly, there are lots of people who want face-time with Donald Trump.

The main event: The most anticipated moment of the Osaka summit is the expected Saturday meeting between Trump and China's President Xi Jinping. The US-China trade war continues, and finance officials and economists warn that it's beginning to undermine the entire global economy.

US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said this week that the two sides are 90% of the way to a deal, but China reportedly has a list of specific demands -- including the lifting of US sanctions on Chinese tech giant Huawei -- that they want met before anybody signs anything. Trump hasn't yet indicated how he feels about that.

In short, the world is watching and hoping for a trade war truce, if not a deal to end it altogether. We'll find out over the weekend whether things are moving in that direction.

The under card: That's not Trump's only noteworthy meeting. In the past few hours he's met with…

  • Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel to talk about trade, energy security, Iran, and Trump's view that Germany is free-riding on US security guarantees…
  • Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to discuss a US-Japan trade agreement that Abe doesn't really want and Trump's view that the US does more for Japan than Japan does for the US….
  • India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi to discuss Indian tariffs on US products…
  • Abe and Modi in a trilateral meeting to talk about strengthening security ties among democracies in Asia in response to China's expanding influence…
And on Saturday, in addition to the highly awaited Xi-Trump meeting, the US president will also meet with...
  • Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman over breakfast to talk about Iran and global oil prices, but probably not the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi
  • Turkey's President Recep Erdogan to talk about trade and Turkey's plan to buy Russian-made missiles, which would trigger US sanctions…

Bottom line: You can ignore the choreographed group photos and empty joint statements, but the private meetings behind closed doors are genuinely important. That alone makes the G20 worth watching.

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Ukraine is once again in a tough spot.

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Vaccine nationalism, where countries prioritize their own citizens before the rest of the world, has been effective for rich nations like the United States and Israel. But leaving behind so much of the global population isn't just a humanitarian issue. It could prolong the pandemic, according to the World Health Organization's Chief Scientist, Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, who argues that what the global vaccination effort most urgently lacks are doses, not dollars. In a wide-ranging interview with Ian Bremmer on GZERO World, she calls for a large increase in the global vaccine supply in order to prevent the rise of more dangerous and vaccine-evading super-variants. She also weighs in on a controversial new WHO report investigating the origins of COVID-19 and suggests we may be seeing alternative vaccine forms, like nasal sprays, sooner than we think.

Listen: Soumya Swaminathan calls for a massive increase in the global vaccine supply in order to prevent the rise of more dangerous and vaccine-evading super-variants, in a wide-ranging interview with Ian Bremmer on the GZERO World podcast. Dr. Swaminathan, Chief Scientist at the World Health Organization, argues that vaccine nationalism, where countries prioritize their own citizens ahead of the rest of the world, will only prolong the pandemic because a virus does not stop at any national border. She also weighs in on a controversial new WHO report investigating the origins of COVID-19 and discusses when she thinks the world's children should get vaccinated. In addition, she suggests we may see alternative vaccine forms, like nasal sprays, sooner than we think.

Subscribe to the GZERO World Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or your preferred podcast platform to receive new episodes as soon as they're published.

India, the world's third largest emitter of carbon dioxide, is one of the countries worst affected by climate change. But it takes issue with those now asking it to clean up its act. Why, the Indians ask, should we give up our right to get rich by burning fossil fuels like you developed economies have done for generations?

That's precisely the message that India's energy minister had for the US and other wealthy nations at a recent Zoom summit after they pressured Delhi to set a future deadline for net zero emissions. For India, he explained, such targets are "pie in the sky" aspirations that do little to address the climate crisis the country faces right now.

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The Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics are nearly a year away, but discussion of a potential boycott is already stoking tensions on both sides of the US-China relationship. Officials in Washington and other Western capitals are coming under mounting pressure from activists to respond to human rights abuses in China. An increasingly assertive Beijing, meanwhile, vigorously rejects any foreign criticism of what it regards as internal issues.

The last time the US boycotted an Olympics was in 1980, when it withdrew from the Summer Olympics in Moscow to protest the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan. Four years later, the Soviet Union repaid in kind by skipping the Games in Los Angeles. Would the US and its allies do something like that again? And how might China respond? Eurasia Group analysts Neil Thomas and Allison Sherlock explain the drivers of the boycott movement and its possible fallout.

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In two weeks, US President Joe Biden will be hosting an online "climate summit" to mark Earth Day. He'll ask China and India to sign up to America's ambitious new plan to slow down climate change. Will they go for it? China is the world's largest polluter, but Beijing is rolling out solar and wind power as fast as it's burning coal. India, meanwhile, is loathe to pick up the slack for rich countries that polluted their way to wealth and now want everyone else to agree to emissions cuts. No matter what happens, any successful plan to reduce global emissions will require buy-in from these three nations which, along with the European Union, account for almost 60 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions nowadays. Here's a look at emissions by the world's top polluters compared to everyone else over the last two decades.

Two big Andean elections: This Sunday, Ecuadorians go to the polls for the second time this year in a close presidential runoff, while Peruvians will vote in the first round of their own presidential election. In Ecuador, the matchup is between the leftwing-populist frontrunner Andrés Arauz, who has pledged to blow up the country's IMF agreements and boost national oil production, and Guillermo Lasso, a pro-business candidate who is seen as the choice of continuity with the current market-friendly government. Voter abstention is likely to be high, and the final result could very well be close and contested in a polarized country that was struggling with massive social unrest even before the pandemic struck. Meanwhile in Peru — which recently went through three presidents in the space of a week — the candidate field is hugely fragmented. Those with a decent shot to make it to the second round include "change" candidates like the leftist former lawmakers Yohny Lescano and Verónica Mendoza, as well as the prominent neoliberal economist Hernando De Soto, who has recently risen in the polls. Former soccer star George Forsyth is also in the mix, as is Keiko Fujimori, daughter of authoritarian former president Alberto Fujimori. Both of this Sunday's elections will serve as a kind of bellwether for the political mood in a region that has been devastated by the public health and economic impact of the pandemic.

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