Did the G20 Hamburg Summit advance 2030 Agenda implementation?

Series: What remains of the G20 Hamburg Summit?
Image: Munich Security Conference

Not a breakthrough, but some opportunities

One major goal of the German G20 Presidency was to promote the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which are essential to addressing the challenges faced by the world.  The outcome of the 2017 Hamburg Summit is not a breakthrough for sustainable development, but it does offer some opportunities for real progress.


In the outcome document of the 2017 Hamburg Summit, G20 leaders “commit to further align our actions with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its integral part, the Addis Ababa Action Agenda on Financing for Development, domestically and internationally, including in support of developing countries and the provision of public goods.”

First, given President Donald Trump’s “America First” approach, his opposition to multilateralism and his rejection of several established common positions of the G20, the renewal of the G20 commitment to the 2030 Agenda in the official Summit communiqué can be considered an important success.

Second, the G20 agreed on additional steps to push the implementation of the 2030 Agenda. At the Hangzhou Summit in 2016, the G20 adopted the Action Plan on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development which comprises commitments in all G20 work streams, national reports by all G20 members, and a mandate for the Development Working Group (DWG) to cooperate with Sherpas for strengthening policy coherence and coordination. In Hamburg, building on the Hangzhou Action Plan, the G20 leaders managed to agree on the Hamburg Update, which is an official document of the Summit on which future G20 presidencies should build. The Update lists three new commitments that were worked out by the DWG (pp. 2-3), Agenda-relevant collective actions that were elaborated under the German Presidency by the other work streams (pp. 3-6), and all previous relevant G20 commitments (pp. 6-18).


The T20 Task Force on the 2030 Agenda elaborated a number of recommendations for the G20 to ensure ambitious collective and individual action, to advance policy coherence and to reform international cooperation so as to facilitate transformative change. Which of these recommendations have been taken up and which have not?

Two T20 recommendations were achieved at the Hamburg Summit: to renew the G20’s commitment to implementing the 2030 Agenda and to update the Hangzhou Action Plan. Another T20 recommendation was to commit to voluntary reporting to the UN High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF), individually and with regard to collective action, and to do this by 2019. While the Leaders’ Declaration does acknowledge the key role of the UN in achieving the SDGs, and expresses support for the HLPF, the Hamburg Update specifies that reports should be “expedited, high quality and regular”. However, a date by which all G20 members would hand in their first reports could not be agreed upon at the Summit.

The T20 Task Force on the 2030 Agenda specifically recommended reviewing collective implementation and setting up a framework for monitoring and evaluation of national policies. The DWG published its 2017 Annual Progress Report (APR), which tracks advancements on all active G20 development commitments, and looked at a few 2030 Agenda-related commitments outside the DWG’s remit. In the future, as agreed at the G20 Summit, the APR will need to cover the whole list of collective actions and commitments listed in the Hamburg Update (pp. 3-18).

While this progress review is a rather formal exercise, more substantial learning and evaluation processes will be necessary to achieve the transformative change demanded by the 2030 Agenda. Two further commitments in the Hamburg Update could be more promising: voluntary peer learning on the implementation of the 2030 Agenda, which also involves low-income countries; and “having a regular knowledge exchange with G20 engagement groups hosted by the G20 presidency, focusing on the implementation of the 2030 Agenda, including the promotion of multi-stakeholder approaches” (Hamburg Update: 3). The German Presidency organized a morning-long workshop in Bonn in which delegates, academics and representatives from business and civil society engaged in open and structured dialogue on new topics such as urbanization. Will the future presidencies, Argentina (2018), Japan (2019) and Saudi Arabia (2020), continue with this dialogue?

Finally, some results that were achieved outside the DWG deserve mention given the background of the 2030 Agenda. The commitment to “fostering the implementation of labour, social and environmental standards and human rights” in global supply chains as well as “national action plans on business and human rights” and “to eliminate child labour by 2025, forced labour, human trafficking and all forms of modern slavery” is an achievement (Leaders’ Declaration: 4-5), as is the clear statement of 19 G20 members that “the Paris Agreement is irreversible” and members will move “swiftly towards its full implementation” (Leaders’ Declaration: 10). Another noteworthy achievement is the commitment that improved food security through increased agricultural productivity shall not impede sustainable management and protection of water and water-related ecosystems, but the protection of soils and biodiversity is not mentioned (Leaders’ Declaration: 12).

Some shortcomings – future action needed!

The concrete collective actions listed in the Hamburg Update cover all 17 SDGs, and much will be done for domestic implementation of the 2030 Agenda if all are taken forward. The US, however, has distanced itself from this part of the Update as it is “still reviewing the collective actions that were supported by previous leadership”.

Synergies and trade-offs between the collective actions are not mentioned, and there is no gap analysis of actions that may be missing. Specifically, the T20 Task Force has recommended describing the mechanisms by which the Sustainable Development Sectors mentioned in the Hangzhou Action Plan and reiterated by the Hamburg Update will contribute to achieving the SDGs. This is also important with regard to “reducing economic, social, ecological and political risks” (Hamburg Update: 5). However, a specific description that would show risk awareness and contribute to policy coherence and coordination is missing.

One additional approach recommended by the T20 Task Force is to embed the 2030 Agenda in the development finance institutions. The multilateral financial institutions working group on environmental and social standards, led by the World Bank, has been joined by all co-hosts of the Global Infrastructure Forum, including the regional development banks, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), the Islamic Development Bank (IsDB) and the New Development Bank (NDB), among others. This is important progress, but in the Multilateral Development Banks‘ (MDBs) Joint Principles and Ambitions on Crowding-In Private Finance (“Hamburg Principles and Ambitions”) there is no substantial reference to the 2030 Agenda; an important opportunity to specify sustainability criteria for private and public investment was missed.

Reforms of the global economic governance framework and the role of international financial institutions in the provision of global public goods were not within reach of the G20 in 2017. However, the Hamburg Summit succeeded in maintaining previous commitments, such as a multilateral and rules-based trade system and the phasing out of fossil fuel subsidies, albeit still without a clear timeline.

Two questions remain open. First, when will economic and financial policies include protection of the environment and climate change mitigation as main objectives? The Hamburg Action Plan refers to “achieving strong, sustainable, balanced and inclusive growth”, but there is no reference to the 2030 Agenda and no definition of “sustainable”. Second, will the G20 also apply the principles and collective action listed in the Hamburg Update to South-South and North-North cooperation?

The G20 represents 80% of the world’s population, economic output and greenhouse gas emissions. All G20 members are expected to do their share to respect the global consensus to achieve the 2030 Agenda and to promote global cooperation. Collective action is more urgent than ever; the Earth’s systems face multiple dangerous tipping points that threaten the future of human development.

Soon the G20 presidency will be taken over by Argentina. The G20 should do all it can to build on the progress achieved in Hamburg, to fulfil the commitments made in 2017 and to address the major shortcomings.


Previous blogs that appeared in the series on the outcomes of the G20 Hamburg Summit:

What remains of the G20 Hamburg Summit?, by Axel Berger

Image: Imme Scholz

Imme Scholz is Deputy Director of the German Development Institute / Deutsches Institut für Entwicklungspolitik (DIE) and Deputy Chair of the German Council for Sustainable Development

Image: Clara Brandi

Clara Brandi is a co-head of the Research ProgrammeTransformation of Economic and Social Systems programme at IDOS and an expert on global economic governance, international trade and sustainable development. She holds a PhD from the European University Institute, an MPhil from Oxford University and a Diplom from the University of Freiburg. She is Professor in International Economics / Development Economics at the University of Bonn