The 2020 G20 Leaders’ Summit will be hosted in Riyadh, marking the first time the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia hosts this annual event. The theme for 2020 is “Realizing Opportunities of the 21st Century for All”. The Presidency focuses on three aspects of this theme: Empowering People, Safeguarding the Planet, and Shaping New Frontiers.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the G20 has become virtual. Travel bans, closed borders, stay-home orders, and lockdowns have forced the G20 delegations to cancel the numerous face to face meetings at the ministerial and technical level.
The COVID-19 pandemic obliged the G20 proceedings to adjust to this new reality, and the G20 even lived up to its responsibility as the “premier forum for international economic cooperation” to address this global challenge and its dramatic socio-economic impact. For the first time, an extraordinary and virtual G20 Leaders’ summit was convened on March 26 bringing all G20 leaders and International organization principals together in a video call to tackle this global crisis, and “to do whatever it takes to overcome the pandemic” (G20 Leaders Statement, 26 March 2020).
Following on the Leaders summit, G20 ministers and delegates have been participating in virtual meetings in various areas such as finance, health, trade and investment, agriculture, digital economy, development, energy, and climate. Many other virtual meetings are convened on a regular basis. The Presidency’s goal is to implement Leaders’ commitments and develop collective action that help respond to the pandemic and its impact. Video calls are usually shorter than actual meetings. They are prepared by the Presidency who shares, in advance, a draft statement for comments to be endorsed during the meeting.
Virtual meetings are extremely helpful in bringing together every stakeholder and giving opportunity to share views on specific topics. However, when it comes to negotiating and building consensus between various interests, many delegates have noted that video calls are not always a perfect substitute for face-to-face meetings and the human dimension that underpins any agreement. That said, for now, the reality is virtual. The UNDP CO in Saudi Arabia is standing by, providing support, and hoping for a fruitful Summit in November 2020.