The primary outcome of the BRICS summit¹ in August was to expand membership to six new countries: Saudi Arabia, Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran and the UAE. Similarly, one of the key outcomes of the G20 leaders’ summit² in September was the African Union (AU) becoming a permanent member of the G20.
The G20 leaders’ declaration also reflected concerns of the so-called Global South, including emphasizing the need to address global food insecurity, highlighting the importance of climate change and sustainable finance and affirming territorial integrity and sovereignty (without explicitly citing Russia’s actions in Ukraine).
The United Nations (UN) General Assembly later in September included a similar focus on international financing for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and other global priorities. However, US President Joe Biden was the only leader of a UN Security Council permanent member to attend the General Assembly opening this year, which called into question the UN’s relevance as a multilateral forum in the current environment.
The willingness of EU countries and the US to tone down the language regarding the war in Ukraine in the G20 leaders’ declaration reflects the growing geopolitical power of the Global South. This more even distribution of power can also be seen in the ever-expanding agenda of the G20 leaders’ summits – with the first Declaration in 2008 containing only 3,540 words compared to about 14,400 in 2023.
The G20’s agenda is likely to continue to expand as the number and significance of transnational challenges continues to rise, and the G20 is seen as the leading international forum for addressing such issues given the institutional challenges of making progress in larger multilateral organizations (e.g., the UN and the World Trade Organization).
Developed markets will nevertheless continue to try to elevate the role of traditional multilateral institutions, partly to counter the rise of alternative China-led institutions in addressing the issues of most relevance to emerging and frontier market governments. The US will lead the charge to expand funding for the World Bank.³ And governance reform to expand the voting rights of developing countries at the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) is likely to rebound to renewed prominence on the international agenda.⁴
Additional members expanding the financial power of the BRICS’s New Development Bank (NDB), G20 support for expanded World Bank funding and the newly announced India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor suggest that emerging market and developing countries may have access to greater financing for development projects in the coming years.⁵ Many analysts expect the upcoming 2023 United Nations Climate Change Conference or Conference of the Parties of the UNFCCC (commonly referred to as COP28) to similarly focus on greater financing for the Loss and Damage Fund (established at COP27) and renewable energy technologies.⁶
The membership expansions in both the BRICS and the G20 will increase the geopolitical and economic leverage of the Middle East and Africa, respectively, in those institutions. These developments reflect these regions’ crucial roles in the ongoing global energy transition, in terms of oil and gas as bridge fuels and of critical minerals for high-capacity batteries.