Brazil in the presidency of the G20

Image: Lara Jameson


The search for a socio-environmental agenda and the questioning of global governance

Brazil finds itself at an important historical moment for its international insertion and power projection. Upon assuming leadership of the G20 bloc, he becomes responsible for defining the group's main agendas during the period in which the country is in this position: from December 1, 2023 to November 30, 2024, with the mandate ending after the holding of the 19th annual G20 summit in the city of Rio de Janeiro. In this context, the agenda proposed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in February this year highlights the focus on the economic, social and environmental pillars of sustainability as priorities for driving the agenda.

However, the war between Israel and Palestine, among other events in the international context, added complexity to the Brazilian position and reinforced the thesis defended by Brazil of the need to reformulate global governance structures. In this way, the country is committed to alleviating poverty and combating climate change, asserting itself as a nation concerned with social development, at the same time as making a call for change in governance, as established in the post-Second War.

The G20 is a group created in 1999 after a series of international economic crises, with the purpose of promoting measures to address the most urgent issues of the global order, bringing together the 20 largest world economies. Member countries are responsible for promoting solutions regarding socioeconomic and environmental problems.

Axes of Brazilian leadership

The G20, or Group of 20, is at a decisive moment, especially for the consolidation of Brazilian leadership. This entity, which brings together the countries with the largest economies in the world and is today the main forum for global economic cooperation, has rotating leadership – with a different member country assuming the presidency each year – and will be chaired by Brazil in the year 2024. Among the member countries are South Africa, Germany, Saudi Arabia, Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, South Korea, United States, France, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, United Kingdom, Russia and Turkey, in addition to the African Union and the European Union.

A particularly important segment of the G20 is the T20, a coordinating body that contributes to the functioning of the organization. To the extent that the T20 concentrates think tanks and research centers to assist in the group's formulation and decision-making, has a very relevant transformative capacity in the context of global politics. Just like the G20, this nucleus is also being led by the Brazilian State.

In this sense, Brazil is responsible for establishing the group's agenda during its mandate and determining the topics to be discussed during the event's annual summit. Itamaraty claimed to have the goal of organizing a more inclusive G20, in an attempt to give civil society a voice, which is evident in the three main axes introduced by President Lula: the fight against hunger, poverty and inequality; the three dimensions of sustainable development (economic, social and environmental); and global governance reform. These focal points, related and interdependent with each other, were established in view of the emergency situation in which the world currently finds itself and which is likely to worsen.

Although the UN 2030 Agenda brings Sustainable Development Goals based on the eradication of poverty, hunger and extreme social inequality, more than 333 million people suffered from food insecurity in 2023. The majority of citizens in this situation are inhabitants of emerging and underdeveloped countries located in Africa, the Middle East and Central America. One of the main factors behind hunger is the climate crisis and its consequences.

According to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), the global average for 2023 was approximately 1,45ºC above pre-industrial levels, being considered the hottest year on record. Rising temperatures result in intense droughts, responsible for the devastation of crops and a decrease in food production in countries where crops are the means of subsistence for thousands of families, such as those in the African Sahel. Therefore, it is urgent that ambitious measures be discussed and put into practice jointly by the international community, because as Lula stated in his Temporary Presidency speech at the G20, “I hope we can address issues that we need to stop running away from and try to resolve".

Therefore, task forces were established by the Brazilian government with the purpose of mitigating the problems mentioned above. The Global Alliance Against Hunger and Poverty Task Force, an initiative that covers not only G20 member countries but all motivated countries, aims to capture resources and research in favor of developing public policies to reduce poverty and hunger worldwide. The Task Force for Global Mobilization against World Change Climate will be responsible for catalyzing sustainable development and combating climate change, intermediating communication between international, financial and governmental organizations and debating strategies to achieve the goals set out in the Paris Agreement.

However, although the efforts of Brazilian foreign policy to stimulate effective change are admirable, these issues will not be adequately discussed – much less resolved – if there is no structural reform in the global governance model that governs contemporary international discussions.

Challenges of the current order

Global governance, a broad concept that encompasses the mechanisms, organizations and agreements that regulate and coordinate matters of global interest, is crucial in a world marked by changes in hegemonic powers. This current context is characterized by the relative decline of the influence of the United States and the crisis in Europe, contrasting with the gain in power of China and, consequently, the Eurasian region, together with the strengthening of the BRICS, initially formed by Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa and currently has other countries such as Egypt, Ethiopia, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Iran.

The United States, historically a key player in global governance, faces significant challenges that undermine its influence, with geopolitical rivalries, domestic challenges, and changes in the global economy contributing to this relative decline. At the same time, the crisis in Europe also compromises its ability to exercise global leadership, creating gaps in the global governance system that need to be filled.

In this context, Brazil emerges as an important actor in the search for reducing international tensions and advancing sustainable development. The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mauro Vieira, highlighted Brazil's crucial role during the opening of the first G20 Foreign Affairs Ministers' Meeting. His proposal to form a Global Alliance against hunger and poverty, as well as his emphasis on importance of the G20 in the discussion on global governance reform, reducing inequalities and sustainable development, demonstrates Brazil's commitment to promoting peace and global cooperation.

According to Serra, Espigel and Stiglitz, in the book The Washington Consensus Reconsidered: Towards a New Global Governance, it is demonstrated how the Washington consensus, which emerged in 1990, represented a set of views on development strategies associated with institutions such as the IMF, the World Bank and the US Treasury. Initially, he emphasized the market economy, openness to the world and macroeconomic discipline. However, over time it became associated with “market fundamentalism”, a view that has been criticized in light of widespread market failures, especially in developing economies.

Countries that strictly followed Washington Consensus policies saw limited economic growth, especially in Latin America, while other regions, such as East Asia, adopted more balanced approaches and achieved notable successes, Serra, Espigel and Stiglitz point out. For the authors, the so-called Barcelona Consensus, for example, emphasizes a balanced role for the State and markets, recognizing the importance of experimentation and microeconomic intervention to promote more inclusive and sustainable growth.

The 2004 Barcelona Consensus proposed general principles for alternative policies aimed at more flexible development. These principles sought to promote equity and sustainability through long-term goals for macroeconomic policy, an expanded range of economic instruments, a balance between market and government intervention, and an improvement in global governance.

It is clear that the Washington Consensus did not adequately address the international architecture necessary to govern globalization in an equitable and sustainable way, according to the authors. Meanwhile, Barcelona's development agenda seeks a more holistic approach, considering not only economic liberalization but also issues such as income distribution, poverty reduction and environmental sustainability. This more balanced approach reflects the need for reforms in multilateral trade negotiations, international financial arrangements and global governance to address urgent challenges such as capital flows, unequal trade and climate change.

The rise of a Chinese pole of power and influence, preceded by the country's economic growth, indicates the possibility of a new arrangement in international relations. A new conception of governance may come to spread across the West, according to both the hard as soft power Chinese people flourish. Based on values ​​such as cooperation and overcoming environmental and energy problems, China increasingly promises to actively integrate the world's main geopolitical debates, especially those considered not only urgent, but also difficult to implement.

Yongsheng Zhang, from the Chinese Academy of Social Studies, exemplifies that, given the need to change environmental governance, it would not be enough to adopt goals for existing activities, but rather the need for a reorganization of production factors and elements that involve this activity . It would be because of the conflict between new environmental ambitions and traditional modes of industrialization (present in fully industrialized countries) that the 17 proposals, presented at the 2015 UN Sustainable Development Goals Summit, have not yet been achieved (ZHANG, 2023, p .169).[1]

In his analysis, there would be two ways to reduce the aggregate environmental impact of traditional forms of industrialization: reducing industrial production that uses resources that have a high impact on the environment; or technological progress, which means that new industrial methods use less of these resources. With the first form potentially generating economic contraction, and the second tending to increase production costs, both would be seen as hindrances to economic development (ZHANG, 2023, p.173).[2]

To make the implementation of these measures even more difficult, “risk-averse decision makers refrain from taking initiative to reduce emissions without evidence of the green benefit being presented; but, in the absence of emission reduction initiatives, this evidence will never appear” (ZHANG, 2023, p.175)[3] conclusively for these borrowers, concluding a cycle of resistance to new formats.

As a result, the Chinese environmental governance proposal would obtain results from joint actions by the government, companies and consumers, with its establishment requiring a review of certain fundamental issues, including the redefinition of the market and government functions (ZHANG, 2023, p. 180).[4] In this way, in the tightening of environmental regulations and support for green technology by the government; in attention to the environmental impacts of economic activities by business; and the change in consumer behavior, with the perception of climate results harmful to their own interests and the benefits of environmental improvement (ZHANG, 2023, p.180-181),[5] there would be a greater chance of implementing an enforceable environmental governance policy.

It is up to Brazil, in its prominent diplomatic position, to verify the viability of this new vision in addition to its interest in using the G20 as a stage for presenting its economic-environmental proposals, in conjunction with measures that involve other actors, such as “ association of the G20 presidency in 2024 with advances in the climate financing agenda for developing countries” (RFI, 2024).

Thus, as the global geopolitical landscape continues to evolve, it is essential that state and non-state actors collaborate at regional and international levels to develop more inclusive, effective and sustainable global governance capable of meeting the challenges of the 21st century in a sustainable manner. equitable and coordinated. The constructive engagement of countries like Brazil, together with other emerging powers, can play a fundamental role in this process, promoting peace, stability and global progress.

In this guideline, governance reform becomes urgent: future challenges require a well-articulated global solution. Recent non-hegemonic coalitions are possibilities – not guaranteed, obviously – of new leadership and progressive negotiations, in which the BRICS can play an extremely relevant role, even more so considering the troika of the G20 presidency of three of its members – India in 2023, Brazil in 2024 and South Africa in 2025.

Is global governance reform possible?

Within this context of the challenges of the 21st century, we can affirm that a change in global governance is inserted within the context of multipolarity. This is seen, for example, from the reorganization of Global Value Chains (GVCs) in the post-COVID period, given the need for security of supply, it can be considered a milestone in the decline of neoliberalism and the return of the perception in which the national State is important as an organizer of the economy and a stimulator of development. A second aspect is the growing military conflicts: the Ukrainian War and the Israel-Palestine conflict, for example. They demonstrate the return of geopolitics as a relevant aspect in decision-making to formulate public policies, especially those concerning strategic resources and related to climate change.

According to the interview by Celso Amorim (2022) for the YouTube channel TV Forum, the chief advisor of the President of the Republic's special advisory office states that a change would be necessary in the International System and, specifically, in the UN Security Council. In this way, the organization would have a more democratic and inclusive structure, of a multilateral nature, in which relationships became more diverse and less restricted to blocks.

Furthermore, according to diplomat Paulo Roberto de Almeida (2008) in his article “Brazil in the context of global governance”, the restricted decision-making process, typical of the world of great powers until the Second World War, was and is being considerably altered by the gradual growth of new influential States, as well as by the simple participation in the growing number of small States and coalitions of countries around different causes and interests.

In this sense, we observe the rise of Asian countries, especially China and India, with the latter becoming the fifth largest world power in 2023, overtaking the UK. However, India still has substantial challenges to face and economic growth alone does not guarantee that it will want or be able to become a superpower: additional aspects such as the management of its large population, soft power and military power are relevant. Furthermore, the state of Indian democracy has reached a worrying level after a period of decline.

Vijay Prashad, an influential Indian historian and intellectual, assesses that there is a “stifling of democracy” in India, based, among other factors, on the persecution of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's opposition. This position is reiterated by relevant newspapers, such as The Economist, international organizations, such as Amnesty International, and even the most important economist and Nobel laureate in Economics, Amartya Sen.

When analyzing the international scenario, we observe a world in conflict around the globe, as stated by António Guterres, Secretary General of the UN, when presenting his priorities for 2024 before the General Assembly, in New York, at the moment the “Our world has entered an era of chaos.” This context strengthens the idea of ​​change in the global geopolitical framework when analyzing the current situation of the United Nations and the multilateral system of diplomacy. One of these conflicts is located in the Middle East and is an example of this difficulty in resolving the Security Council and the change in the International system. This situation emblematically demonstrates the lack of a body capable of acting effectively in resolving international issues – other than the UN Security Council – which is dependent on the five permanent members and their veto powers, making a resolution difficult.

In October 2023, the first proposal for a resolution in the Israel and Palestine conflict was posted, which was vetoed by the US representative. This was not the only prohibition, considering that the United States abstained on the topic of increasing international humanitarian aid in Gaza in November. However, on March 21, a change in the country's position in relation to the previous ones was confirmed, proposing a “ceasefire” resolution that was not approved due to vetoes by Russia and China, thus showing a multipolar world that is consolidating with nuclear powers acting to counter their pole of power, which continues to be extremely relevant to the international system.

In this trend of transformations on the world stage, the search for maintaining peace and achieving sustainability objectives are the main objectives of the moment, which will only be achieved through multilateral cooperation between countries. However, it can be argued that this vision is idealistic, as there are several challenges related to change in global governance. For example, we can see the protectionism of developed countries with the refusal to give up economic or political space to more powerful powers on the international scene, the inability or effective lack of will to undertake corrective actions on environmental, criminal or even social levels. . Therefore, what we see are States taking care of their own interests and, therefore, exporting, when possible, only the crisis to their neighbors.

Therefore, we can think about the probability of a “piecemeal approach”, as countries are always seeking negotiation on the world stage for the lowest common denominator. A view that illustrates this fact is the interview for the magazine Galileo with Ronaldo Carmona, senior fellow from the Brazilian Center for International Relations (CEBRI) and a specialist in geopolitics, who demonstrates his vision on the effectiveness of the international system.

It is specified that one of the reasons for the growing irrelevance of this system is linked to the issue that, less and less, the UN is able to prevail in its decision, as the great powers agree with multilateral rules to the extent that their national interest is achieved. In other words, there is friction between national interests and multilateralism, so there is no space for diplomacy, thus representing a complex transition to the definition of world power.

Therefore, following this line of thought, how willing are hegemonic countries to face hunger, poverty and inequality without losing their leading role in the global context? Will national interests be prioritized to the detriment of humanity? Brazil, as leader of the G20, has the responsibility to mediate the resolution of international conflicts and to articulate decisions on the equality and sustainability agenda, but will find it difficult to make effective changes in the face of global governance that puts such topics in the background.

*Observatory of Brazilian Foreign Policy and International Insertion (OPEB) is made up of teachers and students linked to the International Relations course at the Federal University of ABC (UFABC). The cThe general coordinator of OPEB is Olympio Barbanti Jr.

Giovana Plácido, Henrique Cochi Bezerra, João Pedro Taffner, Nícolas de Paula, Lucas Nascimento, Beatriz Dantas Gonçalves, Isabela Morais, Stefany Lima, Caio Araújo, Juan Pascual and Olympio Barbanti Jr. participated in the preparation of this article.


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[1] From the original “On September 25, 2015, the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit was held at its headquarters in New York, which officially adopted 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs). Nonetheless, the reasons why these goals have not been achieved are not because their importance was not well-understood, but because they conflicted with each other in the traditional industrialization mode”.

[2] From the original “there are two ways to reduce aggregate environmental footprint E under the mode of traditional industrialization. One is to reduce e1 through technological progress, ie, to make X with greener technologies, which tends to increase the cost of production. The other way is to reduce the output of X, which means an economic contraction similar to reaching the limit of growth.17 Both pathways are seen as a burden of economic development”.

[3] From the original “Risk-averse decision-makers refrain from taking emissions reduction initiatives unless enough green evidences are seen; but in the absence of emissions reduction initiatives, green evidence will not appear anyway”.

[4] From the original “Environmental governance is the result of joint actions by the government, enterprises, and consumers […] In establishing the governance system for ecological civilization, some fundamental questions need to be revisited, including the redefinition of market and government functions”.

[5] From the original “tight environmental regulation will change the relative price of products, and government support for green technology will lower the price of green products […] considerations should be given to the social, environmental, and cultural impacts of economic activities […] Change in consumer behaviors can be driven by (i) perception of how environmental pollution affects their own interests; (ii) deepening experience of the benefits of environmental improvement; and (iii) education and public awareness”.

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