On 1st December 2022, India formally took over the Presidency – which rotates annually between members – of the Group of Twenty countries constituting the most potent intergovernmental forum, G20. The Presidency for the year 2023 was handed over to India by Indonesia in the recently concluded Bali summit. The illustrious group accounts for over 80% of the global GDP, 75% of international trade and 60% of the world’s population. G20 is enormous, and its mandate could re-establish institutional credibility.
The G20 is a unique global institution for countries like India, where developed and developing countries have equal stature. Here, the latter can display their global political, economic, and intellectual leadership on par with the world’s most powerful nations. Thus, heading this world’s most influential multilateral forum is an occasion for national rejoicing and is projected as a symbol of India’s growing global stature and prestige, capable of straddling the North-South divide. In its first-ever global leadership role, India’s long-awaited moment to lead and spearhead new policies at the negotiating table has arrived. It uses its unique position to secure green investment and shift global governance to benefit the “Global South,” a grouping that broadly includes lower-income nations in Latin America, Asia, Africa, and Oceania.
However, the Presidency came at a time of geopolitical tumult, uncertainty over post-pandemic economic recovery and the looming crisis of climate change. The Russia-Ukraine conflict has vitiated the relationship between Russia and the industrialized Western countries, most of which are members of the G20. The competition and the resulting unilateral sanctions imposed by the West have upset the post-pandemic global recovery and sharply impacted oil and gas prices and food availability. The impact of rising unemployment and increasing inflation is felt most sharply by the most vulnerable, the developing countries, LDCs.
According to the World Bank, global growth is estimated to slow considerably from 5.5 % in 2021 to 4.1 % in 2022, and 3.2% in 2023 as backlogged demand fritters and fiscal and monetary support are phased worldwide. Because of its impressive performance in handling the shocks of the Covid-19 pandemic and the Russia-Ukraine conflict, India has emerged as a beacon of hope in an otherwise dark and gloomy global scenario. The world is looking out to the G20 and India’s Presidency to come up with some short and immediate solutions, shock absorbers, and regain and maintain focus on medium and longer-term issues.
Presiding G20 Forum in 2023 is a fitting aspiration and a welcome challenge for India. India should use its G20 Presidency to pursue its thought leadership role and the broader goal of reducing polarization, inclusively channelling resources, and firming up optics in favour of developmental priorities. India is committed to focusing on issues of critical importance to the world. The theme identified by India for its Presidency is “One Earth, One Family, One Future.” This flows from the philosophy of “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam” (The World Is One Family), which appears in our ancient scriptures and forms the foundation of our foreign policy. During its term, India will hold more than 200 meetings across some 50 cities involving ministers, officials, and civil society, leading to a marquee summit in the capital, New Delhi, in September 2023. The meeting will be attended by about 30 heads of state and government from G20 members and invited countries. Against this backdrop, New Delhi is expected to highlight the need for unity and cooperation to resolve the significant global challenges.
A major economy and a developing nation with an evolving democracy, holding its head high into the 76th year of its independence, India has the unique opportunity to set ‘Agenda 2023’ with a focus on equitable, green, and resilient recovery. India will set the global economic governance agenda for the year, a unique opportunity to shape the international policy discourse and align its national priorities with its global aspirations.
According to the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), under the G20 Presidency, India plans to focus on the following areas: “women’s empowerment, digital public infrastructure, health, agriculture, education, culture, tourism, climate financing, circular economy, global food security, energy security, green hydrogen, disaster risk reduction and resilience, fight against economic crime and multilateral reform. As we further narrow down the agenda, it becomes clear that India’s Presidency will focus on climate finance, energy security and green hydrogen in the energy sector. India’s G20 Sherpa Amitabh Kant reiterated that the developed world had taken limited climate action, including on climate finance, which will be a key discussion point during India’s G20 Presidency. Further, India must pivot discussions around knowledge and technology exchange, standardization, and political neutrality in energy.
India figured among the top 10 high performers in the Climate Change Performance Index in 2020, whereas big polluters such as China and the United States (US) figured much below in the list. The issue of climate change and the action plan will deepen India’s position in G20 and beyond. India will aspire to deliver outcomes in critical interest, such as integrating the climate and development agenda and accelerating progress towards achieving the SDG 2030 mandate.
The quest for sustainable development is fundamental. India’s net zero targets of 2070, reducing the projected carbon emissions by one billion and meeting 50 per cent of its energy requirements from renewable energy by 2030, is most welcome. India would also like to promote the outreach and potential of its initiatives in the climate change and disaster risk reduction spheres as envisaged in the International Solar Alliance and Coalition for Disaster Risk Initiative projects. As chair of the G20, India will discernibly push for the provision of finance and technology as critical enablers for achieving the climate goals set by the Paris Accord. Sustainability, a personal mantra promoted by PM Modi, and reflected in the G20 declaration on sustainable consumption and responsible production patterns, should also see emphasis. The recently concluded COP27 announced a ‘loss and damage fund’ to support vulnerable countries with limited resources to fight climate change. Carrying this forward, under India’s Presidency, the emphasis on more effective targeting of financials to keep a clean economy is expected to be reaffirmed at the G20.
It is an unprecedented opportunity to shape the global narrative in favour of reducing the carbon footprint and encouraging green energy and digitalization as significant components of transformational changes. India has set a good example by taking several measures to meet its climate commitments: these aim to reach a non-fossil energy capacity of 500 GW and meet 50 per cent of its electricity requirements from renewable energy by 2030. A continuing expansion of its indigenous nuclear power programme and a rapid move towards using solar and wind energy for electricity generation steps in this direction. India’s ability to forge partnerships and friendships across today’s polarised world can bring energy transition issues into sharper focus. Many will depend on how ideas trickle down to action and finally impact the world.
New Delhi’s traditional conservation and responsible consumption approach can be demonstrated to foreign visitors during its G20 Presidency as insight into sustainable lifestyles. The prime minister, too, has encouraged all citizens down this path as part of his call for LIFE or “lifestyle for the environment” during the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference of Parties (COP26) in Glasgow, 2021. The Presidency could drive the climate and energy transition agenda by instituting concrete domestic and global initiatives that bring real change on the ground.
As the world’s largest democracy, the third largest economy in Public-private partnership terms and 2nd most populous country, India will make a meaningful contribution to the G20 to support faster, sustainable, and inclusive growth. The G20 Presidency would place India on the global stage and allow India to establish its priorities and narratives on the international agenda. It would also offer a unique opportunity to showcase India’s progress and developments, rich cultural heritage, and diversity. India’s G20 Presidency is the best hope for the world in its fight against the climate crisis and works towards acquiring sustainable goals. While India must negotiate its vital interests in highly complex climate negotiations, the world is now ready to listen and follow India’s strategic and vision-led initiatives. There is a vacuum in the thought leadership space, and this is the best opportunity for India to take the lead.
(The author is Dean, Students’ Welfare, Central University of Jammu.)