Image Credits: PIB

The official announcement for India’s G20 presidency reads, ‘India’s G20 Presidency will work to promote this universal sense of one-ness. Hence our theme – One Earth, One Family, One Future.’

The theme of one-ness and India’s stint to chair the G20 cohort for 2022-23 could not have come at a more crucial stage in global relations than this. The post-pandemic hiccups and the Ukraine-Russia war cast a somewhat unruly shadow on Indonesia’s presidency. However, India will have to steer the conversation along its official theme through the approximately 200 meetings planned during its presidency.

G20 countries comprise over 80% of the global GDP, 75% of international trade, and 60% of the world population. Since its inception, it has discussed multiple issues, including trade, climate change, sustainable development, energy, and the environment. The presidency is an opportunity for India to highlight the promising Global South and its rising stake in global affairs. It will also have to ensure cooperation amongst member participants from the Global South and other G20 participating countries.  

Concerns around the global economy, climate change mitigation, and sustainable development are no longer limited to developing countries or specific regions. These issues and their spill-over effects have been felt equally in developed economies. A Financial Times report stated that the UK economy is now 0.2% smaller than in February 2020. JP Morgan claims China’s central bank reserves declined more than $500 billion last year, increasing the stakes of developed economies in these gatherings.

While global deliberations require a multilateral approach, it is no secret that the zeal amongst countries has declined

With India being a part of ‘The Troika’ (comprising the previous, current, and incoming chair), let us understand India’s approach amidst the ongoing global chaos and how it can be a challenge to India’s G20 presidency:  

  1. ‘Our G20 priorities will be shaped in consultation with not just our G20 partners, but also our fellow-travellers in the global South, whose voice often goes unheard.’

Global South broadly refers to Latin America, Asia, Africa, and Oceania. The countries of these regions faced historical neglect by the developed countries of North America and Europe. For instance, no African nation is part of the G20 cohort. However, the perception is seeing a significant shift with groups such as QUAD, BRICS, ASEAN, and I2U2, including the recently concluded US-Africa Leaders’ Summit in Washington, DC.

India has invited Bangladesh, Egypt, Mauritius, Nigeria, Oman, Singapore, Spain, and UAE as guest countries, an impressive list representing the Global South. It is not simply an invitation to India’s prominent trade partners but will ensure a global shift to listen, deliberate, and discuss the potential future and collective growth of the Global South. For instance, Nigeria is India’s largest trading partner in Africa, and bilateral trade between Oman and India rose by 82% to $9.94 billion in 2021-22. Additionally, Oman is the only country in the Gulf region with which Indian defence services conduct regular bilateral exercises. Oman also provides critical operational support to Indian naval deployments in the Arabian sea for anti-piracy missions. Therefore it is an essential player in a sustainable security roadmap.

India is engaging as the ‘Voice of Global South’. The hope to commence ‘One Future’ will require involving big and small countries to ensure a seat on the decision-making table and appropriate representation of their action plan for the coming decades. That will also mean getting China, the world’s second-largest economy, on board with its maiden plans.

  1. ‘For healing our planet, we will encourage sustainable and environment-friendly lifestyles based on India’s tradition of trusteeship towards nature.’

With a growing energy demand from its fast-developing economy, India ranked third in the Renewable Energy Country Attractive Index in 2021. The ranking is based on a country’s renewable energy investments and deployments. India is also the world’s third-largest energy-consuming country. India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also launched the Mission Lifestyle For Environment initiative, an India-led global movement to nudge individual and collective action to protect and preserve the environment based on the P3 model of Pro-Planet People.

In its efforts to continue advocating for sustainable and environment-friendly development, India has invited International Solar Alliance, Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure, and Asian Development Bank as international guest organisations.

India will engage as a stern stakeholder in voicing the concerns of the developing nations. As the presiding chair, India will lead these conversations to deliberate on sustainable development solutions without expecting the developing countries to take on the environmental deterrents from developed economies. For instance, COP27’s loss and damage fund, the details of which are still awaited, is a step towards ensuring ‘climate justice’ for the developing countries.

  1. ‘For promoting harmony within the human family, we will seek to depoliticise the global supply of food, fertilizers and medical products so that geo-political tensions do not lead to humanitarian crises.’

The Ukraine-Russia war has been a quintessence of the failure of the concerned stakeholders to unite themselves on the global food supply. It has also caused the age-old confrontation on the politicisation of food supply and essential commodities like vaccines and fertilisers.

India’s efforts through ‘vaccine (during the pandemic) and wheat diplomacy (post the Ukraine-Russia war)’ was appreciated by its immediate neighbours and the Caribbean. However, the ‘wheat diplomacy’ soon came under criticism during India’s wheat export ban amidst the soaring local food prices.

Russia’s temporary suspension of the grain export deal politicisation in October 2022 risked an increase in the global hunger rate while directly threatening 7.6 to 13.1 million people. Amongst other direct implications, this trend will also curtail the minimal achievements made within Sustainable Development Goal 2 of Zero Hunger in the last decade.

India’s stance on the war has ruffled a few feathers in North America and Europe. However, its G20 presidency will ensure a fresh dialogue on separating geopolitical tensions from humanitarian crises without sharing an obligation to align with either side.

  1. ‘For imbuing hope in our future generations, we will encourage an honest conversation among the most powerful countries – on mitigating risks posed by weapons of mass destruction and enhancing global security.’

G20 has lost its enigma over the years, given the simmering tensions between its member countries (West and Russia, US and China, India and China) and the need for further direction to their agenda. With its renewed position as a representative of the Global South, India will have an additional responsibility to synergise the forum with an intent that serves the global population.

Global security is evolving in its form and approach with cyber security, artificial intelligence, data breaches, and the like. It requires an evolved intent to tackle these issues. With India’s no-tolerance approach towards terrorism of all kinds, the conversation and discussions may create a difference in the global discourse and develop a much-needed stance against the proliferation of the same.

Global forums tend to astray in the charm and frenzy of their locations (Davos Summit) or the host country’s history (COP26 in Egypt), and India will be the same. With international attention on its internal and international policies, India is responsible for proving itself as the emerging leader in global affairs.

India’s G20 presidency will also trigger the much-anticipated debate of interest versus intent, given the imminent backlash amidst increasing exports from Russia, while trying to balance the scales with the war running in its tenth month.

It is a proud moment for the country to chair the G20 cohort for 2023. Hence, while the country is preparing to tackle the apparent challenges and host international delegates, every move of the voice of the Global South will be under the watchful eye, and rightly so!

Read more: The story told and made by Kantara

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The opinions expressed in this essay are those of the authors. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of CCS.