Lightboxx / Shutterstock.com

Sizing Up the G20

On July 7 and 8, world leaders will gather in Hamburg, Germany, for this year’s “Group of 20” (G20) summit. Their task is to find points of agreement on complex global issues that cannot be solved without cooperation between countries. We wonder: Which of the following statements are true about the G20 countries collectively?

A. They represent more than 20% of the world’s countries.
B. They account for more than 60% of the world population.
C. They produce more than 80% of the world’s GDP.
D. They release more than 80% of CO2 emissions.

A. The G20 represents more than 20% of the world’s countries … is correct.

The G20 consists of 19 national governments as well as the leader of the European Union (acting on behalf of all 28 EU members as a collective unit).

Four of the nineteen individual G20 governments – Germany, the UK, France and Italy – are also EU members, but get separate representation due to their individual economic sizes.

Taken all together, between the 28 EU countries and the 15 non-EU countries, the G20 officially represents 43 key countries from every world region. Their main focus is on solving economic, legal and environmental issues of global governance, such as overseas tax evasion and pollution control, which nation-states by themselves cannot control effectively.

There are approximately 196 countries in the world (depending on how one counts certain disputed entities). Thus, the 43 countries that are actually represented at the G20 table equal about 22% of all countries.

Among the 19 national members of the G20, the per capita nominal GDP ranges from a low of $1,593/€1,427 (India) to a high of $56,291/€50,442 (Australia). The United States has nearly the same per capita GDP as Australia.

The European Union’s per capita GDP for the full union is $35,100 (€31,418).

B. The G20 accounts for more than 60% of the world population … is also correct.

Some 64% of the world’s population – 4.7 billion people – lives in one of the 43 countries represented in the G20.

This is due in large part to the group’s inclusion of the five most populous countries in the world, as well as the entire European Union (506 million people).

However, even Australia, which is the smallest member country (not counting smaller EU members represented in the group by the union), has a population of more than 24 million.

The largest population in the G20 is China’s (1.4 billion), followed closely by India’s (1.3 billion). Several of the world’s 20 most populous nations are not part of the G20, including Pakistan, Nigeria, Bangladesh, Ethiopia and the Philippines, among others.

In fact, the population of Australia is almost 44 million people smaller than that of Thailand, the world’s 20th most populous nation, which has 3 million more people than the United Kingdom’s 65 million, but is not included in the G20.

C. The G20 produces more than 80% of the world’s GDP … is also correct.

The 43 countries of the G20 (including all EU members) produce 85% of the world’s nominal GDP ($63.1 trillion /€56.4 trillion). It is especially this economic heft that makes their cooperation on resolving economic issues of trade, finance and legal compliance across world borders so important.

The country with the smallest economy represented individually in the G20 is South Africa ($313 billion/€280 billion). The largest economy is the United States ($18 trillion/€16 trillion), which is just ahead of the EU’s 28-member economy ($16 trillion/€14.5 trillion).

Although the G20 was formed in 1999 and there is dynamic change in the world economy, the G20 still includes 19 of the world’s 20 largest economies, if one includes Spain and the Netherlands as being represented via the EU. (Switzerland is the only one not included.)

However, South Africa’s economy is smaller than the non-G20 economies of Nigeria, Iran, Thailand, Norway, Venezuela, the UAE or Egypt – all of which are key economic or political players in their respective regions.

D. The G20 releases more than 80% of CO2 emissions … is also correct.

Together the G20 countries, including the full European Union, produce 29.3 million kilotons of CO2 annually, as of 2015. This is about 81% of all global CO2 emissions, which is a slightly smaller share than the group’s share of the world economy.

The largest emitter, in absolute terms, is China (10.6 million kilotons) and the smallest emitter is Argentina (191,000 kilotons).

China, which has 18.6% of world population as well as 14.9% of nominal world GDP, accounts for a disproportionately large share of global CO2 emissions, at 29.36% – nearly double its economic share.

Getting the G20 governments to agree on pollution controls on greenhouse gas emissions or any other long-term pollutants is key to securing any meaningful environmental protection agreements at the international level.

Their collective economic and population size, as well as the political influence of their governments, gives them the key stake in global governance on the environment and other matters.

While G20 meetings often involve negotiations between finance ministers, foreign ministers, and even heads of government/state, there are also meetings of the environment ministers of the 20 governing bodies represented.

Word count: 837