sachs346_Gunter FischerEducation ImagesUniversal Images Group via Getty Images_AU office Gunter FischerEducation ImagesUniversal Images Group via Getty Images

The Case for a G21

As a powerful complement to the United Nations, the G20 has acquitted itself well by representing most of the world’s population and economic output with a limited membership. By expanding to include the African Union, it would overcome its biggest limitation without any loss of agility.

NEW YORK – The Group of Twenty has become a pillar of multilateralism. Although the world has many high-level talk shops, the G20 represents the best kind, actively supporting global dialogue, debate, and – most importantly – economic problem solving. Fortunately, its biggest limitation – that it leaves out 96% of Africa’s population – can be easily remedied by including the African Union (AU).

To be sure, since the early post-World War II era, multilateralism has worked mainly through the United Nations system. With 193 member states, the UN offers the singular, indispensable venue for creating and implementing international law. Though the UN is frequently undermined by the unilateralism of the United States and other major powers, it remains essential for global survival. At around $3 billion per year, its paltry core budget is perhaps one-tenth what it should be, and it is chronically underfunded. Still, it manages to make enormous and indispensable contributions to peace, human rights, and sustainable development.

But the G20, too, has come to fill a critical role. Representing the world’s 20 largest economies, it enables more flexible and quicker problem solving. When the UN grants each of its members ten minutes to speak on an issue, the remarks take 32 hours; when the G20 goes around the table, it takes just over three. And while the G20’s decisions do not have the force of international law, they can and do support corresponding UN processes, such as on climate change and development finance.

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