The Group of 20 is such a flawed beast that it should be put out of its misery. The latest G20 summit, in Hamburg, where Donald Trump – surprise! – wrecked any sense of unity, seems to support the argument that the G20 and the smaller, richer club of countries, the G7, have reached the point of uselessness, even farce.
I would disagree. The G20 is needed more than ever precisely because the U.S. President is running a one-country show. Some unity is better than no unity and the Paris climate-change agreement is a case in point.
At the G7 in Taormina, Sicily, in late May, Mr. Trump said he might yank the United States out of the Paris deal, struck in 2015. He did so shortly after the summit and no amount of cajoling among the other G20 countries in Hamburg persuaded him to change his mind. Out meant out.
But look what happened. Nineteen of the G20 countries, including China, India and Russia, came together on the climate file like never before, isolating the United States. The G20's final statement, published Saturday, called the agreement "irreversible." To be sure, the Paris agreement is weaker without the participation of its second-biggest polluter, but an agreement that still covers most of the world is better than no agreement.
Indeed, there was considerable fear after Mr. Trump pulled out that the entire accord would collapse. It has not. Even the mayors of more than 50 of the world's largest cities have endorsed the Paris agreement.
To be sure, there's a lot to dislike about the G20. Its membership seems to have been arbitrarily selected by the group's most powerful members, meaning that entire continents are either under- or over-represented.
Spain, whose economy is almost as big as Canada's, is a member of neither the G20 or the G7. Latin America has three members on the G20 (Mexico, Brazil and Argentina), but sub-Saharan Africa has only one – South Africa. Africa is coming to dominate world population and economic growth, and oil-rich Nigeria, whose population is almost 200 million, has every right to be among the G20, certainly more so than low-growth middle powers such as Canada or Italy.
While no one wants to turn the G20 into a G25 – the G20 is unwieldy enough – it's time to boot out a couple of the lesser players, or devise a rotating system where, say, Spain or Nigeria or Norway, one of the biggest names in international aid and the promotion of human rights, get a seat at the table every other year.
The G20 could also do with a lot less pomp, formality and expense. Some of the delegations – the Americans, the Chinese, the Saudis, to name but a few of the lavish spenders – arrive with teams numbered in the hundreds, fleets of helicopters and armoured cars, and rent entire luxury hotels. It's obscene, unnecessary and delivers the message to the taxpayers who fund such excess that their ruling elites are entirely disconnected from the people. At its essence, the G20 (and the G7) is just a talking shop. It could be held in a Tim Hortons, for all it matters, and might be more productive if it were.
But as far as talking shops go, the G20 is hard to beat. The G7 is too small, is dominated by low-growth countries and excludes most of the developing world. The G20 countries can lay claim to two-thirds of the global population, three-quarters of the economic output and 80 per cent of the planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions.
The Hamburg G20 did not accomplish a lot beyond uniting the G19 on the Paris agreement, which is no small thing. It became something of a laughing stock when the unelected and unqualified Ivanka Trump briefly took her father's place at one of the G20 sessions, reinforcing the global view that the executive arm of the U.S. government is rife with nepotism. The G20 failed to produce a unanimous statement condemning North Korea's provocative missile tests, one of the world's most pressing security issues.
Trade was, at best, a partial victory for both the United States and the G19. On trade, the communiqué said the G20 pledged to "continue to fight protectionism," but in a sop to the Americans recognized "the role of legitimate trade defence instruments." The wording may be a prelude to Mr. Trump's vow to hit steel imports with tariffs.
After Mr. Trump's appearances at the G7 and the G20, it is obvious that H.R. McMaster, Mr. Trump's security adviser, and Gary Cohn, his economic adviser, were not joking when they wrote in May that they saw the world as an "arena" where countries "engage and compete for advantage." The American view is that the world is a jungle – survival of the toughest, meanest, cleverest.
And that's precisely why the G20 – less so the G7 – is essential. Much of the non-U.S. world, notably Angela Merkel's Germany, still believe in alliances, multilateralism, consensus building and diplomacy because the world faces common problems, from pollution to fighting terrorism.
The G20 often falls short of its goals; it would achieve none of them if it were dissolved because one man, Donald Trump, decided to go rogue. The evidence is the Paris climate agreement. Nineteen endorsements is worse than 20 but far better than none. If multilateralism is to survive in the era of Mr. Trump, the G20 can't be allowed to die because one guy has no respect for it.