It is tempting to analyze summits through the lens of snapshots rather than as ongoing processes. Time-series understandings of the G8 and G20 Summits are easily eschewed in lieu of segmented communiqués, particularistic press reports, or those one-off “family photos” that Stephen Harper can’t seem to make it to on time. But if there’s one thing that we can learn from economists, it is that we should interpret phenomena in relative terms (historians might word this in a different and probably more elegant manner). New works on the ‘G’ summits by CIGI Distinguished Fellow Gordon Smith and Peter Heap can provide the context within which we can analyze the present.

G7 to G8 to G20: Evolution in Global Governance

Written by CIGI Distinguished Fellow Gordon Smith, this paper is the sixth installment in CIGI’s G20 Paper series. It provides a brief history of the evolution of the Group of Seven (G7) from its origins in the aftermath of the 1971 breakdown of the Bretton Woods system of exchange rates and the oil crisis in 1973, and discusses Russia’s participation at summits after the fall of the Berlin Wall. The paper gives a concise account of the formation of the Group of Twenty (G20) finance ministers and central bank governors in the late 1990s, in the wake of financial crises in Asia and Latin America, which was elevated to a leaders’ summit forum at the outbreak of the global financial crisis in 2008. Smith wraps up the paper with a discussion of the differences in the G8 and G20 models, concluding that the G20 process is still the best option for meeting the challenges of complex global governance issues.

For the G20 to be sustainable, it must be legitimate. To be legitimate, it must be effective as well as demonstrably more representative than the G8. Public opinion is becoming increasingly impatient with the perceived lack of output from this process. However, the G20 is exactly that: a process.

  • Download the full paper here.

The New Geometry of Global Summitry

As part of its commitment to supporting the G20 process through thoughtful analysis and discussion of challenges facing the global economy, CIGI hosted the conference, The New Geometry of Global Summitry: The Future of the G20 (and the G8), from May 2 to 4, 2011. This conference report, written by Peter Heap, summarizes the key topics considered by conference participants, including:  the G20’s position as a “global steering group” and the related issue of ensuring legitimacy; global governance challenges and the need for summitry; the future roles of the G8, the UN and the G20; and items under consideration for the G20’s agenda in 2012 and beyond.

The emphasis should be on political efforts to build consensus while not ‘fudging’ to give the impression of progress in communiqués.

  • Read the full report here.


John Zelenbaba is a Research Assistant at The Centre for International Governance Innovation. He is a fourth-year undergraduate student in Political Science and Economics at the University of Waterloo. 

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.