G20 ministers in Rio call for reform of international institutions

Annalena Baerbock, Germany's Foreign Minister, walks to an aircraft of the German Armed Forces Air Wing at the international airport to fly on to New York after attending the G20 Foreign Ministers meeting. Bernd von Jutrczenka/dpa
Annalena Baerbock, Germany's Foreign Minister, walks to an aircraft of the German Armed Forces Air Wing at the international airport to fly on to New York after attending the G20 Foreign Ministers meeting. Bernd von Jutrczenka/dpa

G20 foreign ministers called for comprehensive reforms of the most important international organizations as they met in Rio de Janeiro, while war continues to rage in several parts of the world.

"Everyone agreed that the most important multilateral institutions such as the UN, the World Trade Organization, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund must be reformed in order to meet the challenges of today's world," said Brazilian Foreign Minister Mauro Vieira on Thursday at the end of the meeting.

The United Nations is indispensable as an organization for peace and security, he said.

However, the UN Security Council (UNSC) in particular needs to be reformed, for example by admitting new permanent and non-permanent members, especially from Latin America, the Caribbean and Africa, he said.

"As far as the multilateral development banks and the International Monetary Fund are concerned, there was also broad agreement on the need to facilitate access to finance for the poorest countries and to improve the representation of developing countries in the governing bodies," said Vieira.

The debate on reforms comes as Russia's permanent seat - and veto power - at the UNSC since attacking Ukraine nearly two years ago has led many to question the effectiveness of the UN body.

The discussion about international financial structures is also linked to China's increasing outreach in Africa and aggressiveness in the Indo-Pacific.

"We have to have institutions that are more reflective of the world as it is today, not the world as it was when these institutions were created, most of them 80 years ago," said US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

"We're leading the effort to expand the United Nations Security Council, both in terms of permanent and non permanent members," Blinken said.

He also said work was ongoing to make international financial institutions "more responsive, more effective, more efficient."

Earlier, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock defended the G20 developed and emerging economies against critics who consider the group outdated in light of Russia's war against Ukraine.

She said the group, which represents 80% of the world's economic power and 60% of the world's population, is an important driver of reform in multilateral institutions like the United Nations.

"If we want to tackle the complex challenges of the 21st century, our multilateral institutions cannot remain stuck in the past century," Baerbock said in a debate among G20 foreign ministers on international institutional reform.

"I believe that the G20 can and has to play a crucial role in this reform process."

Institutions like the UN Security Council are under fire, with critics saying they are increasingly irrelevant.

Two years after the Russian attack on Ukraine, the UN Security Council is often blocked in its decisions due to Moscow's veto power.

In addition to Germany, France and the United States, the G20 also includes Russia and China, among others.

The G20 round "reflects the geopolitical diversity of today's world quite well," said Baerbock. This sometimes makes working in this format a challenge.

"But if we can identify common ground among ourselves, we can be an engine for change, also in forums like the United Nations," she said.

Brazil currently holds the G20 presidency. The format was originally established primarily as an economic policy platform. However, the discussions are now overshadowed by the global crises and the wars in Ukraine and the Middle East.

A reorganization of the international system is one of the declared goals of Brazil's G20 presidency.

Brazil President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva recently criticized the UN Security Council as lacking credibility and accused international financial institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank of interfering too much in the internal affairs of creditor countries.

Lula sees Brazil as the mouthpiece of the Global South and wants to give the emerging economies a stronger voice.

Baerbock called on the G20 members to participate in the "Pact for the Future," which UN member states are working on in New York under the leadership of Germany and Namibia. The aim is to develop concrete steps for a reform of the Security Council, a revitalized General Assembly and a reform of the international financial architecture.

"The pact has the potential to be a booster for multilateralism. That's why we encourage all partners to become engaged from the start," she said.

Acknowledging the financial difficulties of climate change, Baerbock noted that Germany has been at the forefront of reforming the World Bank in order to build a "better and bigger bank" that is able to tackle key challenges such as the climate crisis or pandemics.

Looking back over the past few months, the global crises and conflicts can seem overwhelming, Baerbock admitted.

"We can decide to bury our heads in the sand with resignation," she said. "Or we can try to make progress together."