The G20 India Year
The G20 India Summit held on September 9-10th saw leaders gathering in New Delhi to discuss international economic cooperation and the strengthening the architecture of global governance. India’s G20 Presidency aimed to build on the achievements of the previous 17 Leaders’ Summits. There was also a desire from the India host to promote a universal sense of one-ness. This was captured in this year’s India theme, ‘One Earth, One Family, One Future’, which speaks to the interdependence of all life on Earth and across the universe. The India theme highlighted the importance of environmentally sustainable and responsible choices in individual lifestyles and also national development, which contributes to a cleaner, greener, and bluer future. India’s agenda priorities for the India Summit included:
- Green Development, Climate Finance, and LiFE (Lifestyle for Environment)
- Accelerated, Inclusive & Resilient Growth
- Accelerating Progress on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)
- Technological Transformation & Digital Public Infrastructure
- Multilateral Institutions for the 21st century
- Women-led Development
Working Groups (WG) in the Sherpa Track focused on agriculture, anti-corruption, culture, digital economy, disaster risk reduction, development, education, employment, environment and climate sustainability, energy transitions, health, trade and investment, and tourism. Under the Indian Presidency, forty-three Sherpa Track meetings, twenty-eight Finance Track meetings, and sixteen Ministerial Meetings took place. The Ministerial Meetings consisted of meetings that included: Finance Ministers and Central Bank Deputies, Foreign Ministers, a ministerial meeting on women, and meetings between minsters overseeing education, tourism, agriculture, development, the environment and climate sustainability, energy, labour and employment, research, culture, trade and investment, and anti-corruption. The Joint Finance and Health Task Force that was established in the Rome G20 Summit in 2021 under the G20 Presidency also held its first meeting under the India’s hosting.
The agenda for the New Delhi Summit was seen as representative of the issues that affect India and the Global South, thereby giving the latter representation in discussions on global issues and a more significant role in global governance development. It has also been seen as India positioning itself as a voice for the Global South. The Africa Union’s (AU) formal inclusion as a permanent member of the G20 was confirmed at the India Summit, further strengthening Global South representation.
Volodymyr Zelenskyy, President of Ukraine, was a notable exclusion from the list of invitees by India, given that there had been an earlier invitation to the Indonesia Summit . Invitees to the G20 India Summit included Spain, Bangladesh, Nigeria, Mauritius, Egypt, the Netherlands, Oman, Singapore, and the United Arab Emirates. India’s failure to invite the President of Ukraine was justified, according to Indian officials, on the basis that conflict resolution matters were better left to be addressed at the UN Security Council rather than the G20, which is primarily focused on growth and development. India shares deep ties with Russia, with the latter being its source of cheap oil and coal and its largest weapons supplier. Ukraine’s deputy minister of foreign affairs, Nikolay Tochitsky, tried to be invited to New Delhi to discuss the challenges faced by Africa and Asia following the end of the Black Sea Grain Initiative. His efforts, however, proved unsuccessful.
In the final days before the Summit gathering in New Delhi, it was confirmed that China’s Xi and Russia’s Putin would not be attending the Leader’s Summit. Xi’s absence is notable for being the first Summit he would be missing though he failed to attend in person for the Rome Summit. No official explanation was provided. Speculation by some have attributed the absence to China’s currently tense relationship with India over territorial disputes, while others cite Xi’s “disillusionment” with the G20, or a delay tactic to buy time before an expected bilateral meeting with US President Joe Biden. Putin’s absence is a repeat of the Bali Summit, and marks his continued absences from the G20 Summits since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. In their places were Premier Li Qiang and Russia’s Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov.
G20 Summits have been considered as opportunities for leaders to meet to discuss common concerns and come to mutual understandings. This was not so much the case at the India Summit. High-level side meetings also did not take place at the Summit between US’s Biden and China and Russia representative. While the two leaders have not met since the last G20 Summit, meetings between high-level US and China representatives have taken place over the last year. With the India Summit over, attention will turn to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit in San Franciso in November as a potential opportunity for US-China leaders to meet face-to-face on the sidelines. Biden has stated that while no meeting has been set up, it is “a possibility”.
Nonetheless, some notable outcomes did emerge from side gatherings. The US, India, Saudi Arabia, and the EU announced the plan for a railway and shipping network that would connect India, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Jordan, Israel, and the EU together. The Partnership for Global Infrastructure Investment (PGII) is expected to increase trade between the Middle East, EU and Southeast Asia, and is an attempt to counter China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) by positioning the US as a partner and investor for developing states in the Indo-Pacific region. The US has also pushed G20 members to increase financing for concessional lending, leading with Biden’s request to Congress to unlock more than $25 billion dollars to the World Bank. This could amount to $200 billion in additional funding for multilateral development banks (MDBs). However, such a request may well go unfufilled.
The benefit of the rotating Presidency in the G20 in sustaining momentum on international corporation and driving the forum to remain relevant to changing realities was also evident with the addition of a new Engagement Group in the form of the Startup20. This group recognises start-ups and Micro-, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) as engines of growth and socioeconomic transformation because of their role in driving innovation and employment creation. The Engagement Group aims to bring innovation stakeholders together in a formal channel to support the narrative of startups as drivers of innovation and economic growth in the G20’s work.
Member states declared their commitment to accelerating sustainable, balanced and inclusive growth, implementing the SDGs and scaling up its financing; and pursuing low carbon emissions, climate-resilient and environmentally sustainable development pathways. These commitments, among others, are aimed at “better [empowering] countries to address global challenges, is human centric, and brings prosperity and wellbeing to humanity”. The Summit was successful in reaching a consensus on these commitments, despite many of its goals lacking concrete targets. However, given the divisions within the group leading up to the meeting in New Delhi, the consensus itself is considered by some to be the main success of the Summit. Reaching agreement on the the Declaration appeared to emphasize continued commitment to advancing progress on several global governance fronts.
On Ukraine, the G20’s Leader’s Declaration did not criticize Russia. It adopted the stance of recalling discussions at the Bali Summit and UN Security Council and UN General Assembly resolutions (A/RES/ES-11/1 and A/RES/ES-11/6). However, it highlighted the human suffering that was being experienced, and noted the impacts of the war on the global economy. This included negative effects on food and energy security, supply chains, macro financial stability, and inflation and economic growth. These effects have “complicated the policy environment for countries, especially developing and least developed countries which are still recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic disruption which has derailed progress towards the SDGs”. The consensus Declaration reiterated UN Charter principles that limit the use of force and uphold territorial sovereignty of interdependent states. The Ukraine position in the Leader’s Declaration was in line with the asserted view that there was a distinction between G20 functions (international economic cooperation) and other fora for geopolitical issues, but it acknowledged that “there were different views and assessments of the situation”.
The G20’s stance on the war in Ukraine came after much negotiation and compromise, and represented a hard-fought moment of consensus that avoided a split in the group in a Summit that was marked with major differences among its Members. This had resulted in the group failing to agree on a single communique at G20 ministerial meetings earlier in the year due to the Members’ respective positions on the war; it fuelled beliefs that the group would be unable to reach a consensus on the Leader’s Declaration. Member states that included the G7 states wanted the group to call out Moscow’s actions in Ukraine, while Russia and China opposed references to the war. Russia’s G20 government negotiator, Svetlana Lukash stated that reaching consensus on the statement on Ukraine and other issues such as low-carbon transitions and the role of multilateral development banks (MDBs), required 25 days of negotiations. Britain, Germany, and the US were happy with the outcome statement, with US national security advisor, Jake Sullivan, calling it “a vote of confidence that the G20 can come together to address a pressing range of issues”.
Ukrainian sentiments, on the other hand, were less enthusiastic. Official communication from Ukraine’s foreign ministry spokesperson Oleg Nikolenko, said the consensus was “nothing to be proud of”, particularly in light of Ukraine’s absence from the Summit. While Russia avoided direct criticism, in contrast to the Bali Declaration, French President Emmanuel Macron stated that this is not a diplomatic victory for Russia, and this G20 was confirmation of its isolation.
States from the Global South were heavily involved in the New Delhi Summit. The work of diplomats from G20 members, Indonesia, Brazil, and South Africa were considered crucial to bridging differences and driving the consensus in the Summit through their roles in drafting the document and liaising with the blocs that had different views. Substantive issues relating to states in the Global South were also highlighted in the New Delhi Declaration, including debt treatment for Ghana and Sri Lanka, and specific reference to low-income countries and Africa when highlighting the impacts of the failed implementation of the Black Sea Grain Deal.
Some analysts, however, have found the Summit outcomes to be wanting at least with respect to tangibly achieving the actual mandate of the G20. Climate commitments included agreements to triple renewable energy capacity and phase-down coal use, failed to achieve concrete targets. Previous Sherpa Level meetings were unable to agree on targets, such as that proposed by Western countries that included tripling renewable energy by 2030, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 60 percent by 2035. This proposal was rejected by Russia, China, Saudi Arabia, and India and remained an issue that divided Western states and Global South emerging economies. Without mentioning any fixed targets, the final Declaration mentioned the pursuit of tripling renewable energy capacity while “demonstrating similar ambition” to abatement and removal technologies, “in line with national circumstances by 2030”. No mention was made on phasing out fossil fuels. As G20 states account for over 80 percent of global emissions, a greater commitment to emissions reduction would have a significant role in addressing climate change.
Climate action was not the only issue where commitments were believed to have fallen short in New Delhi. Taking stock of the SDGs, the Declaration noted that progress had only been made on 12 percent of the goals, but little action was established on how to accelerate progress on these goals. Another major issue is the debt crisis and development financing faced by many developing states, which was addressed in the Declaration with a call to step up the implementation the Common Framework agreed upon at the 2020 G20 Summit. Progress on this front has been slow. Reform of the MDBs to address development financing issues will likely also see little change. Major reform would require changes in voting rights which, for the US’s case, would face vetoes from its Congress.
Limited commitments have been attributed to negotiations on the question of the G20’s stance on Ukraine overshadowing to discussions regarding on broader economic cooperation.
The G20 in the changing global system
The stakes of the outcomes in the G20 Summits lie not only in the goals it sets for itself, but in the continued commitment to the forum as an institution of international cooperation and shared commitment to global governance issues. A failed consensus at the Summit would have fuelled suggestions of a growing fragmentation of cooperation between major powers. The G20 took place shortly after the BRICS Summit in Johannesburg, which saw its expansion with six new members: Saudi Arabia, Iran, Ethiopia, the United Arab Emirates, Argentina, and Egypt. As countries outside the West continue to experience economic growth, geopolitical power redistributions will occur, giving states, particularly those in the Global South, more options to decide how to align themselves, which they sometimes do to advance their own interests. A continued consensus on advancing global governance to address common issues through the G20 is then ‘no small feat’.
For India and its G20 Presidency, failure to reach a consensus would have also undermined its aspirations at of being a significant economic power in the global system. According to some analysts this is something that Western states want in order for the state to serve as a counterweight to China.
This means that the consensus reached on the Leaders’ Declaration represents its own kind of success, for both India and the G20 group, even as advocacy groups such as Oxfam and Greenpeace deemed the Summit “uninspiring and underwhelming” and “disappointing”. The Summit was deemed a success and the Declaration was praised by the US and Russia. Prime Minister Modi pushed for a follow up meeting in November to review the progress on the goals that were announced in the Summit before India hands over the Presidency to Brazil on December 1st. The significant presence of Global South states in both the substantial work done to push forward negotiations, and in the formal recognition of their specific economic issues, marked a continued commitment to the G20 as an institution for cooperation with “new impetus from the Global South”.
This trend, its is hoped, may continue for the next G20 cycle. For Brazil’s part, President Lula, in his speech at the closing of the G20 Summit, listed three priorities for Brazil’s G20 Presidency: i) social inclusions and the fight against hunger; ii) energy transition and sustainable development in its three aspects (social, economic and environmental) and; iii) reform of global governance institutions. These priorities inform the motto for Brazil’s Presidency, which is “Building a fair world and a sustainable planet”. President Lula also proposed creation of two task forces: one on the Global Alliance against Hunger and Poverty, and the other on Global Mobilization against Climate Change. Brazil aims for the work under its term to be guided by greater coordination between the Sherpa and Finance Tracks; increased inclusion of Engagement Groups; and limiting geopolitical issues from “hijacking” G20 bodies’ discussion agendas. “We need peace and cooperation instead of conflict”, Lula commented, before welcoming G20 members to Brazil.