This is a pivotal moment in the history of India’s diplomatic relations. India assumes the presidency of the Group of Twenty (G20); an intergovernmental forum comprising the world’s largest economies. Established in 1999, this grouping constitutes two-thirds of the world’s population, 75 % of global trade, and over 80 percent of the global Gross Domestic Product (GDP). To put it simply, the G20 wields the strongest political influence in terms of global policy in the world, making it the premier platform to deliberate on the foremost pressing issues of our time — sustainable development goals, climate action, food security, public health systems, and digital transformation to name just a few.
With the G20 presidency, India has the opportunity to set the agenda, rather than respond to it; acting as the de facto representative for the interests of the Global South and developing world. As a nation with a rich history of alliance-building and the greatest youth population in the world — as of May, over half the population (52%) was below 30 — India possesses considerable demographic and geopolitical leverage, making the presidency an opportune moment to centre its priorities, as well as share its best practices with the world. 43 Heads of Delegations — the largest ever in G20 — will be participating in the final New Delhi Summit in September next year; indicating that India’s leadership has every intention to be “inclusive, ambitious, decisive, and action-oriented,” as Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced in Bali this year.
The opportunity to lead G20 comes at a time of compounding existential threat, with the COVID-19 pandemic having exposed the fragility of our systems under the disastrous cascading impacts of climate change. In this regard, climate action is a key priority for India’s presidential agenda, with a particular focus towards not only climate finance and technology, but ensuring just energy transitions for developing nations across the world. With the unique challenge of needing to industrialize without carbonizing, India’s massive expansion of Green Hydrogen, presently aimed at an annual production capacity of 25 million tons by 2047, will make it an exporter of clean energy technology in the years to come. Understanding that the issue of climate change cuts across industry, society, and sectors, India offers the world LiFE (Lifestyle for Environment) — a behaviour-based movement that draws from our nation’s rich, ancient sustainable traditions to nudge consumers, and in-turn markets, to adopt environmentally-conscious practices.
The COVID-19 pandemic has also severely set-back years of developmental progress, as the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were backgrounded in favour of more immediate public-health and food crises. As a collective of leaders, the G20 must reinforce and accelerate its commitment to achieving the SDGs — that promises its people a better, cleaner, healthier, and more prosperous planet. To address contemporary challenges, the world needs contemporary institutions that equitably and effectively reflect modern realities of a diverse, dynamic world. India’s G20 priority will be to continue pressing for reformed multilateralism that creates more accountable and inclusive international organisations.
The Indian government continues to effectively use digital technology to overcome social and economic barriers. This G20 presidency is India’s chance to share its knowledge with the world. Having successfully implemented the world’s largest biometric ID system (Aadhar), and enabled 50x more direct transfer of benefits between 2014 and 2022, India is in a pivotal position to shape conversations around digital public goods and the use of data for development. In October 2022, India’s Unified Payments Interface (UPI) processed 7 billion transactions — the equivalent of 230 million transactions a day, showing that it is possible to undertake and successfully implement a financial inclusion model at this scale. As G20 lead, India can foreground its belief in a human-centric approach to technology, and facilitate greater knowledge-sharing in priority areas like public digital infrastructure, financial inclusion, and tech-enabled development in sectors ranging from agriculture to education. In particular, India’s programs aimed at financial inclusion, like the JAM Trinity, have granted significant financial autonomy to Indian women, making them active stakeholders in the decision-making of their households — 56% of account holders are now women, with 23 crore previously un-banked women now having accounts.
While 2023 is set to be a golden year for India’s global reputation, the mandate of facilitating consensus-driven policy frameworks is not an easy one. The nation is inheriting the G20 presidency in midst of an increasingly polarised world order, with the Russia-Ukraine conflict threatening to eclipse broader developmental agendas and geopolitical relations between the world’s leading superpowers continuing to grow more tense. The global economy is now staring at an impending recession and an all-time high global-debt, while countries continue to grapple with worsening food security and disrupted supply chains. In this environment, India has the opportunity to emerge as a unifier and purveyor of harmony. The country, led by PM Modi in the Group of 20 summit in Bali, played an indispensable role in forging a consensus on the draft G20 communique. The PM’s words “Today’s era must not be of war” were reflected directly in the Leader’s Declaration, breaking the decision deadlock and cementing India’s position as a broker of peace.
As old centres of power give way to young, vibrant nations on the brink of exponential economic and social growth, India’s ambitious, action-oriented presidency has the potential to reorient this high-level coalition towards the interests and needs of the less privileged. During its presidency, India will continue to turn global challenges into opportunities for change, by remembering that our efforts must be directed towards our One Earth, One Family, One Future.
(Author is G20 Sherpa, Government of India. He is Ex- CEO, Niti Aayog)