India has taken up the leadership of the G-20 at a time when the world faces multi-dimensional challenges ranging from insufficient progress towards Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), climate change, pollution and biodiversity loss, to economic slowdown, debt distress, uneven pandemic recovery, growing poverty and inequality, food and energy insecurity and global supply chain disruptions, aggravated by geo-political tensions and conflicts … writes Dr Rakesh Sharma
G20 Foreign Ministers met on March 1-2 in New Delhi under India’s G20 Presidency, with the theme ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’ – ‘One Earth, One Family, One Future’ in which India successfully calibrated the competing interests of all the members and peddled the idea of resolving the global problems with conversation, cooperation and mutual trust. The G20 Foreign Ministers deliberated upon current global challenges and showed consensus to find solutions despite differences persisting in the Russia-Ukraine war.
Given that at the centre stage in the global discourse at present is UkraineRussia war and different positions taken by the US and its European allies vis a vis Russia and its supposed and alleged ally China, as expected there were voices against the Russian invasion of Ukraine and two opposing positions from both the sides. But eventually, other important issues were given due place keeping in view the fact that the G-20 is a platform to foster global cooperation for economic development and not a platform to discuss security issues.
Amid differences of different sides on the Russia-Ukraine war and obdurate positions taken by Russia and China, the G-20 Foreign Ministers’ Meeting could not rich a joint statement as the two countries did not agree to sign it on the reference to Russian aggression against Ukraine which the other Western countries wanted. The lack of consensus on differing perceptions, claims and counterclaims on the Ukraine-Russia war of Russia and China and the Western alliance has been countenanced on almost all the global fora. However, the Russian and Chinese counterpart’s denial to sign the language of last year’s joint communiqué in Bali could only be seen as their own bid to defend their perceptions and national position rather than a setback to the G-20 Chair.
Despite an appeal from Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi to “rise above (their) differences”, a sharp exchange of words was witnessed between US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and a number of Foreign Ministers. Nevertheless, the Prime Minister of India helped in finding the space for a meaningful discussion on all other issues than the Russia-Ukraine war saying that “we should not allow issues that we cannot resolve together to come in the way of those we can.” Underlining that the meeting was taking place in the land of Gandhi and the Buddha, the Prime Minister of India urged the Excellencies to draw inspiration from India’s civilizational ethos of focusing not on what divides us but on what unites us all. Later, this was the spirit of the meeting which reverberated in deliberations on all other issues.
In fact what needs to be celebrated is the fact that amid adrenalin running so high on the Russia-Ukraine war, India as chair was able to achieve consensus on all issues of concern to the Global South, including strengthening multilateralism, food, fuel and energy security, climate change, and other issues. The issues discussed ranged from post-pandemic and post-conflict economic challenges and economic recovery to global food, energy and health security and the use and misuse of emerging technologies and the threat of terrorism as clear from the G-20 Chair’s Summary and Outcome Document issued by India on March 2 instead of a joint statement.
India has taken up the leadership of the G-20 at a time when the world faces multi-dimensional challenges ranging from insufficient progress towards Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), climate change, pollution and biodiversity loss, to economic slowdown, debt distress, uneven pandemic recovery, growing poverty and inequality, food and energy insecurity and global supply chain disruptions, aggravated by geo-political tensions and conflicts.
The meeting assumes its importance as G20 deliberations and macro policy cooperation provides a valuable opportunity for bringing fresh perspectives and forging durable solutions to collectively respond to contemporary global challenges. The Prime Minister of India said at the outset, the world looks upon the G-20 to ease challenges of growth, development, economic resilience, financial stability, transnational crime, corruption, terrorism and food and energy security.”
The members unequivocally felt that the existing international governance architecture which has played a key role in promoting international cooperation on global issues needs to respond to dramatic changes since the Second World War due to economic growth and prosperity, decolonization, demographic dividends, technological achievements, the emergence of new economic powers and deeper international cooperation.
A major part of the discussion in the G-20 FMM was devoted to sustainable agriculture for global food security which has come under increasing threat due to current conflict and tensions as well Covid-19 pandemic-led disruption of supply chains. Eliminating hunger and malnutrition in the world was felt urgent and described as the need of the hour. The statement emphasised that food security could be achieved by promoting the availability, accessibility, affordability, sustainability, equity and transparent flow of food and agricultural products including fertilizers in all corners of the globe.
The OD also laid out a vision for global energy security. In this regard, it said that “undisrupted, sustainable, and resilient supply chains are important to ensure affordable, reliable and sustainable access to energy for all.
Strengthening sustainable supply chains as well as circular approaches and promoting inclusive investments are necessary to meet growing energy demand. It is essential to advance and improve energy security and sustainable, clean, affordable, inclusive and just energy transitions; promote universal, affordable energy access; accelerate the adoption of renewable and clean energy sources; promote smart and clean energy technologies; increase energy efficiency; enhance transnational and regional grid connectivity, and support impacted workers and communities.”
On much-expected lines, the participating members also strongly agreed on the importance of multilateral cooperation. In this regard, the G-20 statement also highlighted the importance of multilateralism and global cooperation for achieving the SDGs of the 2030 Agenda as well as inclusive economic growth. On global health, the OD on G-20 FMM underscored that the threat of future pandemics is very real, and “we must work collectively to institutionalize and operationalise the multi-sectoral actions needed for health emergencies prevention, preparedness, and response.” It highlighted the necessity of strengthening key aspects of global health architecture, with the leading and coordination role of the WHO, including our support for the process to negotiate and adopt a new pandemic instrument/accord and amendments to the International Health Regulations (2005), support for the Pandemic Fund, improving digital health, and working together with relevant international, regional and local organizations.
India is a global leader in the digital economy the G-20 meet was expected to include a statement on digitalisation and the knowledge economy. In this regard, the OD highlighted that the digital economy and green transitions are fundamentally changing the nature of work and leading to new jobs and tasks. Skilling, re-skilling and upskilling of the workforce, particularly under-represented workers, including women, youth and persons with disabilities, is essential for reaping the benefits of the knowledge economy and technological progress and for ensuring a just transition.
Other issues discussed included misuse of emerging technology and the need for strengthening international cooperation, through the exchange of best practices, sharing of information and effective mutual legal assistance to curb such misuse. The OD on G-20 FMM strongly condemned all terrorist acts against critical infrastructure, including critical energy facilities, and against other vulnerable targets and described all acts of terrorism as criminal and unjustifiable, regardless of their motivation, wherever, whenever and by whomsoever committed. It also called for effective counterterrorism measures, support for the victims of terrorism and the protection of human rights.
In all India could achieve all that G-20 could do amid a challenging global environment especially when the global powers are irreconcilably divided. Although G-20 Chair did not succeed in getting a signed G-20 joint statement due to differences between Russia and China on the language of the Bali communiqué, Anthony Blinken, the US Secretary of State insisted that if the majority of the members has reaffirmed their commitment to the Bali declaration, it does not matter much if a few members decline to sign. However, India would try its diplomatic efforts to find a meeting ground and if possible find a way to convince the global powers to stop the Russia-Ukraine war as the suffering from the war is not confined to the warring and supporting countries, but the whole world, especially the Global South. But G-20 is not the appropriate platform for the same and therefore, the effort should also be made on other fora and through other mechanisms.