India G20

India at the helm of the G20

By Ambassador Dr. Mohan Kumar, Former Indian Ambassador to France and Dean/Professor, OP Jindal Global University, Sonipat, India

On 1 December, India assumed the presidency of the G20 for the first time.  This is a momentous event for India and for the G20, at a crucial time in the world.

The presidency offers both opportunities and challenges. Opportunities, because India can help set the global agenda, push for reconciliation/resolution of at least some of the global issues and finally, offer solutions to problems based on its own experience. Challenges, because the world is polarised, there are intractable problems at hand and unexpected ‘black swan’ events may emerge. 

The theme of India’s presidency is ‘One Earth, One Family and One Future’. This is an enunciation of the old Indian belief, Vasudaiva Kutumbakam or “the world is one family”. But it also emphasises that there is only one Earth for us to share, that we are all in this together and that the future lies in our hands. 

Prime Minister Modi has stated that India wishes its presidency of the G20 to be inclusive, ambitious, decisive and action-oriented. This is a tall order given the “polycrisis” that characterises the world order and the polarisation that prevails in international relations. Be that as it may, India has a lot of credibility and some agency that will help it play a key role in achieving the above markers. 

Specifically, India will strive for the following objectives: 

  • Be the voice of the Global South, also leveraging the sequencing of G20 “southern” presidencies: Indonesia in 2022, India in 2023, Brazil and South Africa in 2024 and 2025.
  • Stress international co-operation rather than confrontation, promoting dialogue and emphasising this is not the era of war!
  • Showcase India’s developmental experience as a possible model for other countries, including its various anti-poverty programmes.
  • Leverage technology and innovation as a means to provide solutions to global problems, also replicating some of India’s successful experiences (for example with digital identity and transfers), and unleashing the power of data and digital transformation for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
  • Stress climate change as a serious issue where poor countries are the most vulnerable. India wishes the G20 to embark on a Green Development Deal that can reconcile “climate” and “development” agendas. India wants to highlight countries’ different starting positions and the need for climate action to advance the SDGs. Specific emphasis will be placed on promoting sustainable consumption and sustainable production models – at local, national and international levels, building on the Prime Minster’s Lifestyles for Environment (LiFE) initiative
  • Depoliticise the global supply of food, fertilizer and medical products. 
  • Outline ways to overcome the digital divide, including by advancing the infrastructure and models for digital public goods and building the necessary skills to take advantage of digital transformation. 
  • Reform the multilateral system to reflect contemporary realities, ensuring greater voice for the Global South.
  • Act to accelerate the achievement of the SDGs such as the elimination of extreme poverty and hunger. 
  • Ensure geopolitical issues such as the war in Ukraine and its ramifications do not disproportionately affect developing countries. 

India is placing strong emphasis on bringing a stronger “sustainable development dimension” into the G20’s overall agenda. This timely objective can have several implications for the G20, as the premier forum for economic co-operation.

First, a possible rethink of “strong growth”, placing equal emphasis on the “quality” of growth. Second, and related, aligning the whole G20 agenda to the SDGs, as the key objectives for G20 action across its multiple work streams and groups – from finance to digital economy, from employment to climate and energy, to name a few. Third, it could also mean greater attention is placed on the countries that are falling behind with the SDGs, fostering a global enabling environment, advancing the provision of global public goods, and fostering international co-operation to support developing countries in realising their development ambitions.

Some of these critical issues were discussed in Paris a few days before the beginning of the Indian presidency, at the 7th OECD-UNDP-G20 workshop on the G20 development agenda. Delegations from G20 and invited countries engaged with a wide range of experts to reflect on India’s proposed sustainable development priorities. On that occasion, Amitabh Kant, India’s G20 Sherpa, made a passionate call to elevate the sustainable development agenda in the G20 and tackle the looming development crisis. The tragic consequences of the pandemic and multiple crises in developing countries are more worrying by the day. Poverty is on the rise. For the first time on record, the value of the UNDP global Human Development Index has declined two years in a row, erasing the gains of the preceding five years.

Putting sustainable development at the core of the G20 agenda is welcome and urgent. Progress on the SDGs will not be possible or sustainable without addressing the multiple crises that are affecting the world. Conversely, realising the promise of Agenda 2030, putting the world on a more sustainable production and consumption path, and tackling the asymmetries in the global governance architecture are equally crucial to address the deep-rooted drivers of many of these crises.

India’s resolve to change the conversation in the G20 to advance on these global priorities is welcome. Its intention to work in close co-ordination with the future Presidencies from the Global South will help maintain the focus.

The task is certainly not easy but if there is a country well suited to talk to all sides and find co-operative solutions, perhaps it is India!