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China's First G20 Sherpa Meeting and Beyond

Brittaney Warren, Researcher, G20 Research Group
February 11, 2016
See also Comment @ G7G20.com

China kicked off its year as G20 host with its first G20 sherpa meeting on 14 January 2016 in Beijing, to prepare for the Hangzhou Summit on 4-5 September. State Councillor Yang Jiechi delivered the opening remarks to the 400 delegates in a speech titled "Strengthen Partnership for a Better Future," in which he praised the G20 as the "premier forum for international economic cooperation." Yang extolled the virtues of the G20 as rooted in lessons learned, listing a spirit of partnership, a core mission of growth, international economic cooperation and a results-oriented forum as catalysts for action against global threats such as climate change, Ebola and economic crises. He called on the G20 to lead the international community in charting a course for global economic growth and cooperation, to adapt the G20 as an institution for long-term governance rather than a crisis response forum, and to implement set rules and goals stating that "delivery on one promise is better than the pledge of one thousand promises."

For 2016 China's promises are based on its G20 summit theme "Towards an Innovative, Invigorated, Interconnected and Inclusive World Economy." Within these four Is are four priorities: breaking a new path for growth, more effective and efficient global economic and financial governance, robust international trade and investment, and inclusive and interconnected development. China views the G20 as an engine that can foster innovation-driven development through investment in science and technology and international cooperation on global economic governance as a necessary tool to "invigorate" and "unleash" the world economy. China seeks a strengthened sense of community and cooperation in an interconnected world in which the actions of one powerful country can have a ripple effect spanning the globe. In this vein, China acknowledges the widening gap between rich and poor and is calling for inclusive global growth and development to lessen inequalities.

Indeed, with a slowing economy, growth is a top priority for China. Its G20 official priorities document cites the 2009 Pittsburgh Summit's Framework for Strong, Sustainable and Balanced Growth and the 2014 Brisbane Summit's Comprehensive Growth Strategy as blueprints for successful coordinated global economic governance. Trade and investment are "important engines for growth and jobs creation." The document also endorses the Doha Development Agenda and the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development with mobilizing climate finance as key to realizing both agendas. This work has begun, with meetings of the G20 Strong, Sustainable and Balanced Growth Framework Working Group, the Green Finance Study Group and the G20 Energy Sustainability Working Group.

Yet gaps in growth objectives still remain – chief among them accountability. According to the University of Toronto's G20 Research Group, China's individual rate of compliance has risen but its overall performance lags. At the 2013 G20 St. Petersburg Summit, China ranked ninth with an overall compliance score of 58%. This rose to 79.4% at Brisbane in 2014, suggesting that China is an increasingly influential member of the G20. Co-director of the G20 Research Group John Kirton states this is a promising trend, but cautiously notes that China still ranks 15th among its G20 peers for multiyear compliance. It seems that although China has performed well in some issue areas such as macroeconomic development, it has been less consistent in others, notably the environment. In 2013 China took no action on its climate change commitment and some action on green growth development, and fully complied with its commitment on clean energy technology. In 2014 China again complied with its clean energy technology commitment, improved on climate change by taking some action, but failed in phasing out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies – a primary driver of climate change. With an estimated 1.6 million deaths per year in China caused by the unmitigated burning of air-polluting coal and fossil fuels, China may have the greatest need of the G20 members to reconcile its desire for rapid industrialization with its goals of sustainable development. If Yang Jiechi is correct in saying that delivering on one promise is better than the pledge of a thousand, then perhaps green growth should be the one promise China delivers on as this year's G20 host.

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Brittaney WarrenBrittaney Warren is a researcher with the G7 and G8 Research Group, the G20 Research Group and the BRICS Research Group, based at the Munk School of Global Affairs in Trinity College at the University of Toronto. She has worked in Spain and in Peru where she conducted field research on a sustainable development project with women living in extreme poverty. She has conducted research on the compliance of CARICOM members with their summit commitments on non-communicable diseases. Brittaney leads the social media strategy and marketing program for the G20 Research Group's books and works on climate change, and is the lead researcher on an e-book project on "Delivering Sustainable Energy Access."


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