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What is the G20 summit in Bali? Who’s there? And what are the top 3 topics on the agenda?

G20 Indonesia
US President Joe Biden shakes hands with Indonesian President and G20 host Joko Widodo at the 2022 summit in Nusa Dua, Bali. ANTARA FOTO/Media Center G20 Indonesia/Akbar Nugroho Gumay/wsj.

The latest G20 Summit is being held in Bali, Indonesia, on November 15 and 16. It is the culmination of a series of G20 events that have been going on for the past year.

But what are these G20 meetings really about? What are the goals and benefits for member states, countries around the world, and for host nation Indonesia in particular? Reports and statements conveyed by state officials that have attempted to explain this often use complex and sometimes diplomatic language, making it difficult for the public to understand.

This is unfortunate as this year’s G20 meetings have attracted more international attention than previous years. The summit takes place against the backdrop of global political and economic crises: a challenging post-pandemic recovery, the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine, soaring food and energy prices, and the worsening climate crisis.

The results of this summit will undoubtedly determine the cohesiveness, solidarity, and effectiveness of the G20 forum and its member countries.

Rounding up expert analyses published in The Conversation, we summarise several important issues and complex terms surrounding the event that you may have heard from the media.

What is the G20?

The G20 is a multilateral forum representing the world’s largest economies, involving 19 countries – Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Republic of Korea, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and the United States – plus the European Union.

This forum represents more than 60% of the earth’s population, 75% of global trade, and 80% of the world’s gross domestic product (GDP).

The G20 was initiated by the G7 – a political forum consisting of seven democratic countries with advanced economies – in 1999, as a response to the group’s lack of inclusion and other criticism that it received especially after the 1997/1998 Asian financial crisis.

This year, Indonesia is the host – also known as holding the presidency – of the G20, after receiving the baton from Italy in December 2021. In 2023, India will hold the G20 presidency.

United States President Joe Biden, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau are some of the heads of state who are present at the G20 Summit in Bali.

With “Recover Together, Recover Stronger” as its theme, referring to the global post-pandemic recovery effort, the 2022 G20 summit is focusing on three major topics: strengthening global health architecture, digital transformation, and achieving a sustainable energy transition.

What are those major topics about, and how will they affect people around the world?

1. Global health architecture

The main agenda for the health sector is strengthening “global health architecture”.

The G20 member countries, usually represented by their respective ministers, hold a series of meetings to discuss how to build a resilient global health system, align global health protocols, and establish centres for the manufacture and research of genomes and vaccines.

All of this aims to build a strong health defence system, which will enable countries worldwide, including middle to lower-economy countries, to be better prepared to respond and take appropriate actions during future pandemics.

These goals stem from the world’s experience with COVID-19. The global economic downturn due to the pandemic has proven the unequal capacity of different countries’ health systems, which in turn led to their drastically differing abilities in responding to the health crisis.

So far, G20 members, through their respective ministers of finance and ministers of health, have agreed on establishing an emergency funding system known as the Financial Intermediary Fund, sometimes also called the Pandemic Fund.

Director of research and policy of the Center for Indonesia’s Strategic Development Initiatives, Olivia Herlinda, says that this is the most prominent achievement coming out of the G20 Summit in Bali so far.

According to the Indonesian government’s data, the fund has gathered US$1.4 billion from 24 donors, consisting of G20 and non-G20 countries and other international foundations. However, this amount is still far from what is required to build a pandemic preparation and response system, calculated at US$31 billion annually.

The G20 countries have agreed that the funding will mostly be targeted at low-income countries, including for construction of genomic research centres and vaccine production. This fund will be managed by a joint secretariat under the control of the World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Bank.

The G20 hopes that a global funding system for pandemic preparedness will help countries, especially low- and middle-income economies, better respond to the next pandemic.

2. Digital transformation

The next primary agenda item in G20 discussions is on digital transformation. The topic is being discussed by countries and stakeholders through the G20 Digital Working Group, which has carried out a series of activities and meetings since March 2022.

Digital transformation refers to efforts to optimise digital development to support the economy and also digital governance, in the hope that they become resilient in the face of future pandemics.

Digitalisation is recognised as a key factor in driving a stronger, more inclusive post-pandemic economies, as it can engage more diverse groups, including women and small and medium enterprises to globally cooperate in response to global crises.

The G20 considers this a crucial issue, as artificial intelligence continues to shift the landscape of the economy, people’s lifestyles and work, and is widely utilised by the health sector, especially with limited mobility during a pandemic.

At the digital working group meeting last September, the forum agreed on a priority issue – to improve post-pandemic digital connectivity, digital skills and literacy, as well as the security and trust of cross-border data flows. This issue is also being discussed across other G20 forums, such as in the Business20 (B20) group, which focuses on enterpreneurs, and also in the G20 Empower alliance, to respond to the gender gap in digital literacy.

Aside from that, an unfamiliar term that is often used in the G20 forums is “sustainable finance”. This refers to efforts to push the financial services industry to create sustainable economic growth that aligns with environmental interests. It is also known as green funding, stemming from the notion that the economy is intertwined with planet’s climate crisis.

3. Sustainable energy transition

The third agenda item at this year’s G20 meetings is on achieving a sustainable energy transition. This refers to efforts to encourage global transition from non-renewable energy use, such as petroleum and coal, to renewable energy, including solar, wind, and hydro.

As global demand for clean energy increases, so has the demand for a “just energy transition”. This means that the transiiton to cleaner energy sources must consider social, economic, and environmental justice in all levels of society.

The Indonesian government, for instance, needs to ensure that energy transition efforts will empower, and not harm, Indonesian citizens.

Another term that often comes up is “net-zero”, also known as being carbon neutral, whereby the quantity of emissions released into the atmosphere is equal to the emissions absorbed by the earth.

Natural events on Earth release emissions, for example from volcanoes or underwater circulation of hot water. However, these emissions are absorbed and stored back (known as carbon sinking) in trees, peat areas, and reefs. We often call this the Earth’s natural carbon cycle.

Human activities, however, have disrupted this natural balance. These include the combustion of fossil fuels, pollution that destroys marine life, and forest encroachment. Ultimately, these activities will continue to increase the Earth’s temperature, which has increased by 1.2°C since the pre-industrial era.

For this reason, countries worldwide – including the G20 – are presently taking various measures to restore this balance. According to the Paris Agreement, the deadline is 2050.

Zalfa Imani Trijatna from Universitas Indonesia (UI) translated this article from Indonesian.

This article was originally published in Indonesian

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