Civil Society Calls Out G20 Declaration’s Omission of Civic Space Erosion, Democracy Decline

The G20 Declaration falls short in offering a clear roadmap to tackle the pressing concerns of economic inequality, climate crisis, hunger, and energy issues, Peoples' 20 said in a statement.

New Delhi: The G20 Leaders’ Declaration, following the New Delhi Summit, has drawn criticism from civil society organisations for its inadequacy in addressing critical global issues.

The Declaration falls short in offering a clear roadmap to tackle the pressing concerns of economic inequality, climate crisis, hunger, and energy issues, Peoples’ 20 said in a statement on Monday, September 11.

The Summit itself was marred by controversy, with a “beautification drive” displacing slum residents. Meanwhile, reports of ethnic violence against the Christian minority were reported in Northeast India.

The Declaration, a result of intense negotiations among G20 member nations, also lacks a comprehensive reassessment of neoliberal market-driven economies and GDP-centric growth paradigms.

It raised concerns over the Declaration’s omission of critical issues such as the erosion of civic space and the global decline in democracy. “This alarming trend is especially pertinent in several G20 countries, including China, Saudi Arabia, Russia, Türkiye, Mexico, and India, as highlighted by CIVICUS’s Civic Space Monitor,” it said.

Also read: Five Keys Takeaways From the G20 Summit in Delhi


The text of the full statement is reproduced below:

G20 Falls Short in Addressing Global Challenges, Promises Abound but Impact Lacks

  1. Civil society organizations (CSOs) are raising their voices in dissent as they criticize the G20 Leaders’ Declaration for its inability to confront the most critical global issues. Despite its grandiose language, the Declaration falls short in offering concrete commitments and a clear roadmap to tackle the pressing concerns of rising economic inequality, climate crisis, hunger, and the energy crisis.
  2. The G20 New Delhi Summit unfolded amid controversy, marked by a contentious “beautification drive” for the event. This drive resulted in the displacement of numerous slum residents as their homes were bulldozed. Additionally, there was a crackdown on civil society gatherings critical of the G20 summit, and troubling incidents of ethnic violence against the Christian minority in Northeast India were reported.
  3. The G20 Summit took place amidst one of the most polarized periods in its history, harkening back to the turbulence of 2008. The Declaration, adopted on the first day of the Summit, represents the outcome of extensive negotiations among member nations grappling with divergent interests, including the ongoing conflict in Ukraine.
  4. We extend our congratulations to the Indian government for skillfully facilitating the negotiation process that culminated in the consensus document, a product of compromise among the 20 member states grappling with conflicting priorities.
  5. Comprising over 14,000 words, the Declaration delves into a wide spectrum of global economic, social, and environmental issues. In comparison to the 2022 Bali Declaration, it provides a more substantial treatment of topics such as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), gender equality, women’s empowerment, and digital technology, including Artificial Intelligence issues.
  6. Nevertheless, beneath its eloquent rhetoric, the Declaration falls short in providing substantial analysis and tangible solutions for the pressing global crises. These crises, including escalating social, economic, political and ecological inequalities and climate and biodiversity  threats, have far-reaching consequences affecting not only G20 nations but also non-G20 countries, particularly those in the developing world and countries in conflict, which are highly susceptible to external economic and ecological shocks.
  7. In the New Delhi Declaration of the PEOPLES’ 20 Assembly held on August 23-24, 2023, we fervently called upon G20 leaders to display resolute collective determination in reshaping the existing political and economic framework. This framework has contributed to the global crisis by prioritizing narrow national and elite interests, exploitative extractive industry, fossil fuel and carbon-based growth models, global value chains that disrespect human and labour rights, and military security considerations.
  8. The G20 Leaders’ Declaration fails to conduct a thorough reassessment of neoliberal market-driven economies and the GDP-centric growth paradigm. It offers little indication of genuine efforts to explore alternative paradigms rooted in ecological sustainability, inclusive human development, human security, positive peace, gender equality, and social justice.
  9. Much to their dismay, we perceive a perpetuation of the status quo and a business-as-usual approach in the G20’s actions, ignoring the deepening global crisis. While the G20 leaders managed to reach a consensus on the Declaration, the unprecedented fragmentation and division within the G20 cast significant doubt on its normative and political legitimacy and effectiveness.
  10. While we appreciate the Declaration’s inclusion of an extensive list of commitments, we cannot help but harbor doubts about its practical effectiveness. These doubts stem from the absence of concrete, time-bound action plans and the lack of an independent accountability and monitoring mechanism to assess their implementation.
  11. There has been an undue emphasis on the role of the private sector in economic development. We are concerned about the potential for corporate influence on government policies and multilateral organizations such as the UN. We notice the absence to a reference on ongoing efforts in several G20 countries and regions (EU and AU) for due diligence laws for global value chains and the ongoing negotiations for a binding treaty on business and human rights.
  12. Notably, there has been insufficient progress on critical issues such as the waiving of patent rights, which obstructs access to vital COVID-19 and other life-saving medications. The Declaration also falls short in addressing global taxation and a UN-based tax body, and reform of the international financial architecture, guided by principles of global equality and justice.
  13. It is deeply disappointing to witness a lack of commitment to debt cancellation for the 60 countries that are most severely burdened by their debt obligations.
  14. We are deeply concerned that the Declaration has largely disregarded policy recommendations presented by Civil Society Organizations (CSOs), despite the dedicated efforts of engagement groups and independent CSOs. Furthermore, the process has denied access to human rights-based civil society and trade union movements, which is equally troubling.
  15. We express profound concern over the Declaration’s omission of critical issues such as the erosion of civic space and the global decline in democracy. This alarming trend is especially pertinent in several G20 countries, including China, Saudi Arabia, Russia, Türkiye, Mexico, and India, as highlighted by CIVICUS’s Civic Space Monitor.
  16. Furthermore, it was disappointing to note that the Declaration made no reference to vital concepts such as democracy, civil society, and youth, despite the host country, India, proudly proclaiming itself as the mother of democracy.

2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the SDGs

  1. The 2023 G20 Summit was a timely opportunity, situated midway to 2030, for taking stock and assessing global progress on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). We welcome the G20 leaders’ acknowledgment that “global progress on SDGs is off-track, with only 12 percent of the targets on track.”.
  2. We also recognize the G20 leaders’ commitment to leveraging the G20’s convening power and collective determination to fully implement the 2030 Agenda and expedite progress towards the SDGs.
  3. It is worth noting that while much was discussed regarding the SDGs, there was a lack of concrete commitment to the 500 billion SDG Stimulus Fund. While the G20 commits to supporting the full and effective implementation of the SDGs, it fails to propose strategies that can effectively realize these targets for vulnerable populations that are at risk of being left behind.
  4. The principle of “leave no one behind” was not effectively implemented, as the Declaration lacked specific policies catering to the rights and needs of vulnerable and marginalized groups, including migrants, indigenous peoples, social and ethnic minorities like Dalits, persons with disabilities, and small-scale farmers.
  5. We urgently call upon all G20 countries, particularly the United States, to engage more actively in the Voluntary National Review (VNR) process as a demonstration of their commitment to aligning their policies with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and and reporting on their progress and challenges.
  6. While we acknowledge the G20’s commitment to quality and cyber education, we emphasize the paramount importance of universal basic education for all, alongside the significant challenges posed by the digital divide both within and among countries.
  7. We wholeheartedly applaud the decision to grant permanent membership to the African Union (AU) within the G20, signifying a pivotal step towards greater inclusivity and representation.
  8. While the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) aim for universalizing 12 years of schooling, the G20 discusses foundational learning and does not commit to the SDG targets, marking a step backward. The G20 also places significant emphasis on technical and vocational education and digital education. However, without access to secondary education, these initiatives become dead ends and do not adequately foster youth development.
  9. The Declaration discusses facilitating migration for skilled workers, mapping skills gaps, and providing skills training, among other topics. However, it notably excludes the large majority of unskilled workers from the global south who migrate to developed countries, such as construction workers, domestic workers, and plantation workers. It is crucial that facilitation and protection measures also encompass these workers, as they play a vital role by sending valuable remittances to their home countries and serving as the mainstay for their impoverished families.

Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment

  1. The declaration instrumentalizes gender equality for economic growth instead of recognizing it as a fundamental human right. It fails to acknowledge intersectionality and the diversity among women.
  2. The establishment of a new Working Group on the Empowerment of Women is a positive development. We hope it will significantly contribute to expediting progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by adopting a gender-equal, transformative, and inclusive approach across all dimensions of the 2030 Agenda. We also hope that this effort will complement the work of UN Women, Women 20, and collaborate with the Women’s Major Group and the Women and Gender Constituency, rather than creating another parallel process that consumes additional time and resources.
  3. We warmly welcome the commitment to respect religious diversity and tolerance (paragraph 78), which highlights the significance of both freedom of religion or belief and the rights to peaceful assembly and freedom of association. Once more, we emphasize the crucial need for an explicit reference to human rights and labor rights conventions.

Security and Nuclear Weapons

  1. Furthermore, the emphasis on international security was notable, but there was a glaring absence of attention to the escalating military expenditures, arms proliferation, and the military-industrial complex among G20 member states. We strongly urge G20 countries to redirect currently exploding military spending towards climate loss and damage funds and the SDG stimulus fund.
  2. We appreciate the reaffirmation of the inadmissibility of the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons, as previously expressed in the Bali 2022 Declaration. However, it is essential to establish effective implementation mechanisms, such as a No First Use policy or a multilateral mutual non-use and non-threat commitment.
  3. Regrettably, the Declaration does not include any mention of the ratification of the Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW). We call upon all six nuclear-armed G20 nations, namely China, France, Russia, India, the United States, and the UK, to demonstrate their responsibility for global human security by taking meaningful action on this matter.

Follow-up and Next G20 Summit

  1. We recognize the G20’s commitment to “provide full support to the UN 2023 SDGs Summit and the UN 2024 Summit of the Future.” As G20 countries are also UN members, they have the opportunity to showcase their leadership by fulfilling their obligations and commitments.
  2. With Brazil set to host the G20 Summit in 2024 and South Africa in 2025, it is imperative that the G20 takes immediate, radical action on the climate crisis. Time is of the essence.
  3. CSOs strongly urge G20 leaders, especially those of Brazil and South Africa, to delve deeper into the root causes of these global crises and challenges, working proactively to prevent their recurrence in partnership with civil society.

About PEOPLES; 20

PEOPLES’ 20 is a worldwide network and initiative composed of civil society actors and organizations that willingly participate in the G20 summit and associated processes. This initiative was formally inaugurated on March 1, 2023, following a series of consultation meetings involving CSOs in India and from around the world who have been actively engaged with the G20 since 2010.

PEOPLES’ 20 convened its own Assembly in New Delhi on August 23-24, 2023, during which it adopted the New Delhi Declaration and the Policy Pack on the G20 Summit. This package encapsulates the policy recommendations put forth by CSOs and citizens hailing from both G20 and non-G20 countries.