Today’s announcement that the Group of 20 (G20) leading economies will permanently replace the G7 to become the “premier forum for international economic cooperation” is a landmark historical agreement that will pave the way for a new architecture of global decision making appropriate for the twenty-first century.

The decision to put the G20 at the centre of world efforts to build a durable recovery and make it the leading global forum on economic matters was agreed by the G20 leaders who are meeting at a summit in Pittsburgh. The G20 includes Brazil, India, China and other nations, representing 90 percent of global gross national product, 80 percent of world trade and two-thirds of the world’s population.

The decision marks the latest stage in the evolution of the G20 from a grouping of finance ministers, established in the 1990s, to their present role at the centre of world economic decision making, an evolution championed by the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI) almost since CIGI’s inception in 2003.

The concept of a leaders group of 20 nations to address major global challenges first emerged from discussions by CIGI and several of its partners in work that began in 2003 and has continued in several stages since.

CIGI’s former L20 project, conducted in partnership with the Brookings Institution, the United Nations University and the Centre for Global Studies at the University of Victoria, explored the feasibility and the benefits of the proposed G20 Leaders' Summit (or L20) for strengthening the capacity of the international system to manage critical global challenges.  While it was not always clear that a G20 summit would ever be possible, by having advocated for an expanded leaders’ forum and tested its applicability, CIGI has proven to be well attuned to the new policy directions that are needed internationally.

Over the past six years CIGI has produced a wealth of rigorous analytical research on a range of international governance issues, including the urgent need for the establishment of the G20 as the world’s premier forum for addressing global problems.

In the CIGI Special G20 Report: Flashpoints for the Pittsburgh Summit, issued last week and which contains specific recommendations for the G20 leaders, CIGI chair Jim Balsillie wrote: “[CIGI] was one of the first think tanks to recognize that the G8 needed comprehensive reform and that the world needs a more inclusive and representative forum to deal with challenges that have become global in scope and require coordinated global solutions. Since 2003, CIGI has convened experts from around the world in a series of topical meetings to research, discuss, provide analytical capacity and propose reform that would culminate in the first G20 Summit.”

In the wake of the financial crisis of the late 1990s, annual meetings have been held of G20 finance ministers, central bank governors and deputies to discuss economic issues.  However, the first summit of G20 leaders was not convened until November 2008, in Washington DC, in response to the world financial crisis. Today’s announcement confirms the G20 as a permanent institution and the expansion of the G20’s role in global economic affairs.  The G7 (G8 with Russia) will still meet twice a year to discuss security issues, but will defer economic issues to the larger grouping of nations.

CIGI’s annual conference next week, “Towards a Global New Deal” (CIGI’09), will address questions of global economic leadership in relation specifically to the international financial crisis. The conference focuses on the systemic impacts of the global economic crisis and the long-term prospects for international economic governance. Hosted at CIGI’s headquarters in Waterloo, on October 2-4, 2009, it will feature a keynote address by the 2008 Nobel Prize Winner in economics, Dr. Paul Krugman.

The full range of CIGI’s research on the structure and viability of creating the G20 at leaders’ level can be accessed here:

The opinions expressed in this article/multimedia are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of CIGI or its Board of Directors.