For India’s G20 presidency, three priorities, five pillars

Updated on Dec 06, 2022 06:40 PM IST

As the world’s fastest growing major economy, with the intention of being the voice of the Global South, India is well positioned to leverage its G20 presidency to demonstrate that a different pathway is possible.

The G20 can be a wish list, but India’s presidency can grant a few key wishes. (PTI) PREMIUM
The G20 can be a wish list, but India’s presidency can grant a few key wishes. (PTI)

India has assumed the G20 presidency at a time of peril and promise. The world faces many crises — food, fuel, finance, and a continuing fever (the pandemic) — compounded by the climate crisis. At the halfway mark of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), many targets are out of reach with development metrics sliding back. Planetary boundaries are being breached, carbon space is shrinking, fiscal resources are stretched, and currency reserves dwindling. As the world’s fastest growing major economy, with the intention of being the voice of the Global South, India is well positioned to leverage its G20 presidency to demonstrate that a different pathway is possible.

The first priority is to organise a non-crisis summit. Since 2019, G20 summits have been plagued with crises, whether the Covid-19 pandemic or the Russia-Ukraine conflict. The G20 was forged in crisis in 1999, in response to the Asian financial crisis. For it to play a vital role in coordinating responses to global crises, deeper political understanding and economic cooperation are needed. Creating that constructive atmosphere of partnership is paramount for India’s presidency to succeed. The theme — One Earth, One Family, One Future — is not just reminiscent of India’s ancient cultural ethos of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam (the world is one family), but also a callout for a vision for the future. As Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi has written, the objective is to deliver a presidency of “healing, harmony and hope”.

The second priority should be that the two pillars of the G20 — finance and Sherpa tracks — cohere and complement each other. Over the years, the agenda has expanded vastly, to include trade, energy, the climate crisis, sustainable development, health, agriculture, and anti-corruption. Embedded within are numerous sub-themes, from ecosystem preservation, land restoration, ocean-based action and marine litter, to food security, fishing and nutrition, to infrastructure, innovation, supply chains, inclusive business, and green finance. For each issue, outcomes can have low, medium or high impact, from calls for further study and sharing of good practices at one end, to agreeing on high-level principles or launching targeted initiatives at the other.

Managing such a volume of issues and expectations will be challenging at the very least. To leave a legacy of action, focus and coordination will be essential. India’s presidency must aim for outcomes that are high priorities for all, the delivery of which will depend on how sectoral ambitions and financial innovations cohere.

Therefore, the third priority is for the G20 to be “ambitious, action-oriented and decisive” in the PM’s words. It must design rules, initiatives and platforms that can trigger action with requisite resources. There is a need for an alternative development pathway, which allows countries to provide for minimum needs, industrialise with the latest technologies, create opportunities for decent livelihoods, raise living standards, and become more energy secure and financially resilient. The quest is for jobs, growth and sustainability.

For this, the G20 must drive reform in multilateral institutions, so that they are more responsive to changed economic and environmental circumstances.

Against these priorities, India should aim high for a package deal on green development. Such a pact would tie together outcomes from various working groups, respond to members’ priorities, showcase innovations in inclusive and sustainable development in India, and allow India to be a voice of the Global South and a bridge to the Global North. As a leaders’ initiative, it could deliver concrete outcomes centred around five pillars.

First, sustainable lifestyles. India’s Mission LiFE (Lifestyle for Environment) forces an honest assessment of our individual and collective footprints. Technology cannot fix excessive greed. G20 members can agree on how to nudge individual behaviour and how to enable markets to deliver more sustainable products and services. By making resource efficiency a driver of new business models, G20 could create conditions for circular economy unicorns to emerge and flourish.

Second, trillions for the billions. The sustainability transition for billions of people in the Global South is capital-intensive. The cost of finance is the biggest bottleneck to unlocking trillions in private investment. The G20 can create a truly global platform to de-risk private investment and align financial regulation to trigger substantial new investment in sustainable infrastructure in developing countries.

Third, fuels of the future. At a time of growing energy insecurity, India can demonstrate far-thinking statesmanship to avoid energy crises in the future over emerging critical energy fuels and technologies. These could include, for instance, rules to govern a global green hydrogen economy; or an initiative on technology co-development to catalyse and democratise access to clean energy technologies.

Fourth, action agenda 2030. A G20 action plan on accelerating progress on SDGs must identify ways to make more resources available, especially to target SDGs that have the broadest human development benefits and underserved geographies and sectors. Equally, a global resilience reserve fund can protect the most vulnerable by providing an insurance cushion when economies are impacted by compounding shocks.

Fifth, data for development. India has a remarkable record of using advances in digital technology for development purposes. A G20 initiative to leverage data for development could expand financial inclusion, scale up access to health and education services, target subsidies better, and enable more effective monitoring and preservation of natural resources.

Together, these pillars hold up a grand bargain that delivers positive outcomes for all, including those not formally at the G20 table. The G20 can be a wish list, but India’s presidency can grant a few key wishes.

Dr Arunabha Ghosh is CEO, Council on Energy, Environment and Water. CEEW is a knowledge/strategic partner to several ministries for India’s G20 presidency

The views expressed are personal

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