This year saw many challenging developments: global temperatures shattering records, conflicts raging around the world, growing food insecurity, and the proliferation of artificial intelligence (AI) technologies. In 2024, global summits will continue to play a crucial role in bringing world leaders together to drive commitments and coordinate responses to these and other pressing issues.
Many of the most consequential summits in the coming year will seek to build off of and implement ambitious targets, pledges, and goals that have already been agreed upon. Unfortunately, rising geopolitical tensions threaten to scupper these efforts when they are needed the most, and it remains to be seen if cooperation can win out. Here’s what to look for at the ten most important summits of 2024.
WTO Ministerial Conference, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates (February 26–29)
There is much at stake for the thirteenth World Trade Organization (WTO) Ministerial Conference (MC13), which some experts have said will be the first of a series of summits grappling with difficult reform issues. MC13 will also seek to fulfill a litany of promises agreed to at previous summits. WTO Director General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has identified [PDF] a long list of priorities: reforming the WTO’s dispute settlement system, securing the entry into force of the Fisheries Subsidies Agreement and concluding the second part of that deal’s negotiations, delivering on the WTO’s development agenda, and continuing progress on intellectual property rights and e-commerce. WTO members have also called for discussions on industrial policy, food and health security, and climate change.
MC13 takes place in an era when the liberal trading order is increasingly under siege by the weaponization of trade. WTO members are complicating matters, with the United States continuing to block appointments to the WTO’s Appellate Body and India threatening to block agreements on all other issues over its controversial public food stockholding program. While there is little hope that the summit will produce meaningful outcomes, possible bright spots could include the accession of Timor-Leste and Comoros and the potential conclusion of a more limited e-commerce agreement.
AI for Good Summit, Geneva, Switzerland (May 30–31)
The AI for Good Summit comes at a moment of heightened uncertainty surrounding the prospect of rapidly advancing AI technologies. This summit will bring together governments, nonprofit research institutions, corporations, and international organizations to discuss how to navigate an age in which technology is advancing at an exponential, unprecedented rate. Given the development of public-facing AI technologies such as generative AI and large language models, the opportunity to discuss how to make these innovations equitable, safe, responsible, and beneficial for sustainable development is more important than ever. The summit will also consider how best to use AI to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030, a target the world is drastically off track to meet. Governments and private companies alike are recognizing the need for common-sense guardrails and governance to make sure that AI’s remarkable abilities are used for the betterment of humans, especially marginalized groups, rather than for repressive purposes.
G7, Puglia, Italy (June 13–15)
Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s decision to host the fiftieth Group of Seven (G7) summit in Puglia, Italy, carries symbolic significance. The location has been a geographical and cultural crossroads between Eastern and Western civilizations for centuries. Meloni has made clear that she wants the summit to focus on the lower-income countries often collectively referred to as the Global South, which fits her broader aim of rejecting the narrative that the world is split between the West and “the rest.”
Meloni has anticipated that the summit’s priorities will include the defense of Ukraine and respect for international rules, economic and energy security, migration, and more equal partnership with Africa. The summit will also work on implementing the Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment, the G7’s response to China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). As a further sign of alignment within the G7, Italy officially informed China in December 2023 that it is not renewing its membership in the BRI. It had previously become the only G7 member to join. The G7 is also expected to discuss further specifics of de-risking and diversifying approaches toward economic relations with China.
NATO Summit, Washington, DC, United States (July 9–11)
The 2024 North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Summit will mark the alliance’s seventy-fifth anniversary. This diamond jubilee will also be Sweden’s first summit as a NATO member—so long as Hungary and Turkey successfully ratify Sweden’s accession beforehand. Meanwhile, Ukraine’s potential NATO membership will continue to be a major agenda item: Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said recently that “Ukraine is closer to NATO than ever before.” However, while all NATO allies are aligned on Ukraine’s eventual admission, there is no agreement on a timeline, and full membership still looks unrealistic for the foreseeable future. Still, the summit will be an opportunity for members to reaffirm their continued military support for Ukraine in its fight to defend its sovereignty.
The summit will also focus on managing the threat of instability in the Western Balkans, providing humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip, bolstering transatlantic security, and navigating geostrategic competition with China. In addition, NATO members will seek consensus on selecting a successor to Stoltenberg—whose term was extended a fourth time at the 2023 summit in Vilnius, Lithuania—but a variety of conflicting interests will make this difficult.
Opening of the UN General Assembly/Summit of the Future, New York City, United States (September 22–23)
Every September, heads of state and other world leaders gather in New York City to open the new session of the world’s largest multilateral gathering, the UN General Assembly (UNGA). A major highlight of UNGA’s seventy-ninth session in 2024 will include the long-anticipated Summit of the Future. Proposed in the Our Common Agenda report in 2021, the Summit of the Future hopes to chart a course for UN reform, especially regarding how to more effectively implement existing international agreements and goals, such as the SDGs. Hot-button issues at the summit will include responsibly managing digital technology, creating a safe information ecosystem, facilitating the sustainable use of outer space, and developing an improved international response playbook for dealing with emerging challenges, such as cyberwarfare or the worsening effects of climate change. The summit will also look at improving best practices for metrics and measurement, management and storage of data, and performance assessment, measures that Our Common Agenda describes as necessary to upgrade the United Nations to a “UN 2.0.” The Summit for the Future will culminate in an action-oriented Pact for the Future, the goal being for it to be agreed upon and endorsed by all UN member states.
BRICS Summit, Kazan, Russia (October)
The five countries that gave their name to the BRICS bloc (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) will welcome six new members—Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates—at the next summit in Kazan, Russia. The theme will be “Strengthening Multilateralism for Justice in Global Development and Security.” The new members, the bloc’s first in thirteen years, reflect changing geopolitics due to the rise of these more assertive “middle powers.” The bloc now accounts for nearly half of the world’s population and almost a third of economic output.
Given the BRICS’ heterogenous membership—including some leaders who condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and do not envision the group’s purpose as serving as a counterweight to the West—it will be difficult to leave Kazan with any major outcomes. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s main priority for his BRICS presidency will be to establish a framework for developing relationships with new and potential members. His administration has also called for creating new sustainable and safe transport routes, including by establishing a permanent BRICS transport commission; increasing ties between the BRICS in science, innovation, and healthcare; promoting innovation; and establishing funds for an international infrastructure network.
COP29, Baku, Azerbaijan (November)
The location of the twenty-ninth Conference of the Parties (COP29) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was only selected in December 2023, giving the host, Azerbaijan, just eleven months to prepare for the annual gathering. The drama surrounding the selection of Baku was largely reflective of growing geopolitical tensions, with Armenia’s and Azerbaijan’s bids at odds with one another and Russia vetoing any bid from a European Union country.
COP29 will inherit some significant progress from COP28, where participants for the first time explicitly called for a transition away from all fossil fuels. But the unfortunate reality is that making further progress will be daunting, as COP28 deferred a record number of agenda items to COP29. The summit will particularly have to grapple with ways to improve financing for climate adaptation, which remains a large hurdle for low- and middle-income countries in dealing with the effects of climate change.
UN Convention on Biological Diversity, Colombia (October 21–November 1)
Colombia will host the sixteenth meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP16) to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) after Turkey withdrew its offer due to devastating earthquakes early last year. Colombia is a fitting host, as it is home to almost 10 percent of the planet’s biodiversity. Last year, the parties agreed to the landmark Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF), which seeks to guide global action on conservation through 2030. Discussions in Colombia will focus on evaluating how well governments are meeting the framework’s goals of protecting 30 percent of the Earth’s lands, oceans, coastal areas, and inland waters; reforming $500 billion worth of of global environmental subsidies; and cutting food waste in half. COP16 will be an important test of translating ambitious international commitments into action on the ground. Signatories to the GBF are also expected to come to the summit with national biodiversity strategies and action plans.
G20 Summit, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (November 18–19)
Brazil’s presidency of the Group of Twenty (G20) is emblematic of the country’s return to the international stage after the Jair Bolsonaro administration. For Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, popularly known as Lula, the G20 presidency represents an opportunity to position himself as a global leader. Lula will certainly get the chance to shape the global agenda over the next two years, with Brazil presiding over the G20, the UN Security Council, the Mercosur trade alliance, the BRICS, and the COP30 climate summit. Brazil’s motto for its G20 presidency is “building a fair world and a sustainable planet,” reflecting an emphasis on climate change and an overlapping agenda with the COP29 summit scheduled around the same time. Lula’s main priorities for the G20 summit include fighting hunger, poverty, and inequality; economic, social, and environmentally sustainable development; and global governance reform.
The year 2024 will mark the third in a row that a major emerging economy will host the G20, with a fourth, South Africa, hosting the year after. Brazil is likely to carry over many of the issues from Indonesia in 2022 and India in 2023, including reducing debt distress, ameliorating climate impacts, and addressing geopolitical challenges.
ASEAN Summit and East Asia Summit, Laos (Date TBD)
Laos plans to bring economic and digital development, as well as improving the external relations, to the forefront of the 2024 Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit agenda through the theme “Enhancing Connectivity and Resilience.” The summit, in addition to touching on economic issues, will likely address geopolitics. The chair of the previous ASEAN gathering, Indonesia, created a troika consisting of the previous, current, and next ASEAN chairs—Indonesia, Laos, and Malaysia, respectively—for the express purpose of navigating the ongoing conflict in Myanmar, which has escalated since the country’s 2021 military coup. As current chair, Laos is expected to call for a cease-fire and pursue a settlement to prevent further escalation of the humanitarian crisis, especially because Laos and other ASEAN states have felt the repercussions of the conflict, including an influx of refugees and an increase in drug trafficking. Laos also hopes to be able to effectively balance Chinese and ASEAN interests in the South China Sea.
The East Asia Summit (EAS) that customarily follows the ASEAN summit will provide ASEAN members the opportunity to meet with a broader range of nations, including China and the United States, and potentially discuss the newly adopted EAS Plan of Action [PDF] for 2024 to 2028.