Photo illustration by John Lyman

World News


Was There a Point to the G20 Summit?

As world leaders convened in India for the G20 summit earlier this month, the state of the world seemed to mirror the meeting’s own ambiguities. Aimed at forging pathways for global economic stability, the summit covered an array of issues, from debt restructuring to cryptocurrency regulation. Yet, as Stefan Schirm, a noted political scientist, aptly posits, the stances taken by G20 members are often deeply rooted in the economic interests and prevailing ideologies of their respective nations.

Today’s global political landscape is marked by volatile complexities including the war in Ukraine, America’s rift with China, the sustainability of global debt, and wildly differing perspectives on climate change and technological innovation. While these issues often receive the blanket label of “geopolitical divide,” such categorization calls for a more nuanced analysis. Kristalina Georgieva, the IMF’s Managing Director, underscores this need in her essay, writing that the rise of fragmentation risks undoing the gains of global economic integration.

This year’s summit left the geopolitical stage more clouded than clarified. Against the backdrop of the war in Ukraine and economic fallout, particularly in Europe, an IMF report warns that economic growth will dip precipitously both in advanced and emerging economies. Compounding this decline is the widening gap between the U.S. and China, characterized by escalating tariffs and trade restrictions. G20 nations, which constitute 85% of global GDP—21% of which is the joint output of China and Russia—send mixed messages, particularly in light of Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping’s conspicuous absences.

When it comes to climate change, the G20 summit was equally inconclusive. Members committed to phasing down coal use, albeit vaguely, “in line with national circumstances.” Despite the French government’s call for urgent action, little consensus was reached. It’s crucial to note that nearly half of all developing countries are grappling with severe debt crises, complicating efforts to finance green transitions.

The summit did, however, mark a moment of recognition for India on the world stage. Firstly, by hosting an earlier G20 meeting in disputed Srinagar, India subtly sought to gain legitimacy from other members even as the Kashmir dispute lingers unresolved at the UN. Secondly, India’s push for an economic corridor linking India, the Middle East, and Europe, gained traction. While maintaining neutrality on the Russia-Ukraine conflict and retaining its protectionist trade policies, India appears to be striking a precarious balance in international relations.

For Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the G20 presidency played into his brand of ultra-nationalistic-populist politics. Rebranding the summit with the ancient Sanskrit term “Bharat,” Modi tapped into a wave of Hindu nationalism that has also been championed by Bollywood stars and cricketers.

In a world increasingly driven by nationalistic agendas, the lack of political consensus, emerging geopolitical dynamics, and barriers to free trade, one is left to ponder: What, exactly, has the G20 accomplished? While it remains a potentially transformative forum for global economic stability, it struggles to overcome the inertia of deeply entrenched national interests and ideologies.

The G20 exists in a moment when nations are drifting apart on fundamental issues, often choosing political maneuvering over meaningful dialogue on shared values. Unless this changes, new systems may evolve to perpetuate, rather than alleviate, the very fragmentation we’re witnessing. With states pursuing self-interest over global unity, the G20 faces an uphill battle against the disorienting fog of international fragmentation.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and do not necessarily reflect those of any institutions with which the author is associated.