The Biggest News from Brisbane: China to Chair the G-20 in 2016


The biggest news at the end of the Brisbane G-20 on Sunday will be to confirm for the first time in an official G-20 communique that China will indeed chair the G-20 Summit in 2016. 

Coming on the heals of a momentous week of great power realignments and breakthroughs at the APEC Summit in Beijing and other one-on-one meetings of heads of state, the timing of China’s presidency of the G-20 Summit in 2016 could not be a better follow-up to this week’s accomplishments. It puts China in play as a global leader at a critical moment in geopolitical relations and in terms of several global agendas that will culminate in the next two years. It also provides an unusual opportunity for the U.S. and China to collaborate on a broader set of societal issues affecting everyone everywhere building on their agreements this week.

One of the reasons why the G-20 Summits have yet to realize their full potential is that the leaders-level summits have been captured by the finance ministers’ agendas and discourse. Leaders at G-20 Summits have individually and collectively failed to connect with their publics; ordinary citizens do not see their urgent issues being dealt with. Exchange rates, current account balances, reserve ratios for banks, and the role of the IMF do not resonate with public anxieties over their lives and livelihoods.

Three streams of global issues will culminate in 2015:  the forging of a “post-2015 agenda” on sustainable development with a new set of global goals to succeed the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs); the agreement on  “financing for development” (FFD) arrangements and mechanisms to support the new post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to be realized in 2030; and the achievement of a United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) by the end of 2015, which looks more promising now than it did a week ago.

What has been learned from previous global goal setting processes is that building on the momentum for the goal-setting process in 2015 and carrying it directly into the mobilization of national political commitment, resources and policies for implementation is vital. China as a member of the G-20 troika in 2015 through 2017 will be in crucial position of bridging the goal-setting and implementation phases of the new SDGs for 2030 to be adopted at the United Nations in September of next year.

China, as one of the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, will be in a pivotal position to create complementarities between the G-20 forum for the major economies and the U.N. as a forum for all countries for this critical period of setting the global sustainability agenda for the next fifteen years.  

The post-2015 agenda for social, economic and environmental sustainability is of high interest to the United States, and the new China-U.S. climate change agreement in Beijing this week augurs well for collaboration between the two countries on the broader agenda. White House Chief of Staff John Podesta was on the high-level panel for the post-2015 development agenda last year, which signals high U.S. policy involvement. The Shanghai Institute for International Studies has argued in a recent paper for the U.N. Development Program that “the G-20 and the U.N. could have certain complementary roles. The development issue could become the one linking the major work of both the U.N. and the G-20.”  

The world should welcome the unique role that China can now play in bringing the international community and the global system of international institutions together in charting a common path forward building on the progress made in the various summits this week.