G20 ‘workstreams’ – The Core IAS

G20 ‘workstreams’


  • Established in 1999, the G20, for about a decade worked, at the level of finance ministers and central bank governors only. After the financial and economic crisis of 2008, it became a leaders’ forum.
  • The summit is essentially the culmination of all the G20 processes and meetings held throughout the year in cities across the host country, among ministers, government officials, and civil society members and organisations. 

A brief introduction to the G20

  • The G20 or the Group of Twenty comprises 19 countries (Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Republic of Korea, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Turkey, United Kingdom, and the United States) and the European Union.
  • These members represent around 85 per cent of the global GDP, over 75 per cent of global trade, and about two-thirds of the world population. As a forum for international economic cooperation, it plays an important role in shaping and strengthening global architecture and governance on all major international economic issues.
  • Unlike the UN, G20 does not have a permanent secretariat or staff. Rather, the G20 Presidency rotates annually among the members – the Presidency is responsible for bringing together the G20 agenda, organising its workings and hosting summits. 

A need for a new global order

  • The G20’s emergence in the international order was not “the outcome of a carefully designed plan” by world leaders to address pressing international issues.
  • The emergence of the G20 in the international order arose from a combination of chance and necessity. It is partly the product of improvisation. It is also a logical consequence of the socioeconomic evolution of the world.
  • In the 1990s, as the “spectre of communism” became a thing of the past and vibrant economies emerged in the Global South, there was a need for reform in world institutions that had hitherto been dominated by nations from the Global North.
  • World institutions such as the UN and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) had not managed to overcome the North-South divide in their mode of deliberation. The G8 perpetuated this dichotomy.
  • For large countries that were both rich and poor, such as China, India and Brazil; from the standpoint of the world order, the North-South divide was no longer as clear. The G20 offered an initial response to the need for reform.
  • Thus, the G20 emerged in the context of a growing recognition among Global North nations (specifically the G7) that emerging economies in the Global South were not adequately represented in global economic discussion and governance.

The global economic crisis of 2008 and the creation of the G20 leaders’ summit

  • In 2008, the world saw perhaps the greatest economic crisis to hit since the Great Depression (1929-39). France, which held the EU presidency at the time, backed by the UK, argued for an emergency summit meeting to address the crisis. But whom to invite?
  • The G8 was not sufficiently influential on its own to stabilise a crisis on this scale. Typically, there would be extensive discussion among various countries to decide the invitees. But there was simply no time to go through that.
  • The G20, which had been functioning for nearly a decade by that time, was the obvious answer. In 2008, it [G20] was in the right place at the right time.
  • The first G20 leaders’ summit (the ‘Summit on Financial Markets and the World Economy’) was convened in Washington DC in November 2008. In addition to the 20 members, the heads of the IMF, the World Bank and the United Nations were invited, along with Spain and the Netherlands. Annual summits have been held ever since.

2023 G20 logo and its significance?

  • A government press release says: “The G20 Logo draws inspiration from the vibrant colours of India’s national flag – saffron, white and green, and blue. It juxtaposes planet Earth with the lotus, India’s national flower that reflects growth amid challenges. The Earth reflects India’s pro-planet approach to life, one in perfect harmony with nature.

How is the G20 structured?

  • The G20 works in three major tracks — two of them are official and one is unofficial.
  • The official tracks are the Finance Track and the Sherpa Track.
  • The unofficial track includes engagement groups or civil society groups.

Finance Track

  • The Finance Track is headed by the finance ministers and central bank governors, who usually meet four times a year, with two meetings being held on the sidelines of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) meetings.
  • It mainly focuses on fiscal and monetary policy issues such as the global economy, infrastructure, financial regulation, financial inclusion, international financial architecture, and international taxation.
  • The Finance Track started as a grouping of finance ministers and central bank governors. After 1999, it was the most important track because there was no Sherpa track. Today, it has eight working groups.
  • The track’s working groups are the Framework Working Group, International Financial Architecture Working Group, Infrastructure Working Group, Sustainable Finance Working Group, Global Partnership for Financial Inclusion, Joint Finance and Health Task Force, International taxation Issues, and Financial Sector Issues.

Sherpa Track

  • The Sherpa Track was established after the forum became a leaders’ summit in 2008. It consists of representatives of heads of state, and it focuses on socio-economic issues such as agriculture, anti-corruption, climate, digital economy, education, employment, energy, environment, health, tourism, trade, and investment.
  • Each representative is known as a Sherpa — it is the metaphor from the mountaineering domain, where the Sherpa is supposed to do the heavy lifting or assist the mountaineer. There are 13 working groups within the Sherpa Track.
  • They are: Agriculture Working Group, Anti-corruption Working Group, Culture Working Group, Development Working Group, Digital Economy Working Group, Disaster Risk Reduction Working Group, Education Working Group, Employment Working Group, Energy Transitions Working Group, Environment and Climate Sustainability Working Group, Health Working Group, Tourism Working Group, and Trade and Investment Working Group.

Engagement Groups 

  • The unofficial track comprises engagement or civil groups. These groups often draft recommendations to the G20 Leaders that contribute to the policy-making process. The engagement groups are as follows: Business20, Civil20, Labour20, Parliament20, Science20, SAI20, Startup20, Think20, Urban20, Women20, and Youth20.