The G20 Leaders’ Summit that recently concluded in New Delhi released its much-anticipated G20 New Delhi Leaders’ Declaration, recognizing climate change, energy transition, and food and nutrition security as some of the key points of discussion under its preamble, For the Planet, People, Peace and Prosperity, indicating its perspectives and priorities. The G20, comprising the world’s most powerful economies, enjoys tremendous influence in matters of development. Therefore, given the summit’s largely economic remit, the declaration’s pronouncements on environmental and sustainability issues are significant on a variety of counts.
For instance, John Kirton, the Director of the G20 Research Group, has emphasized the impact of the summit, referring to the New Delhi declaration as a “significant step forward in global governance.” This is important in converting lofty ideals to pragmatic action. The G20 declaration, consensually arrived at by the world’s most powerful economic cohort, has the potential to become a prime mover for advancing climate action involving governments, businesses, civil society and communities.
The G20 declaration comes soon after the release of the first UN global stocktake last week. The assessment, which monitors the implementation of the Paris Agreement and evaluates the collective progress on meeting its goals, has indicated that the world is not on track to meet the 1.5 °C goal, and escalated ambition and action are urgently needed on all fronts. In recognition of the economic and development implications of climate change, the G20 Leaders’ Summit offered an important opportunity to move the needle on climate action and commitments.
India’s consensual leadership in reconciling multiple perspectives and priorities, successfully, and arriving at this declaration covering a wide range of issues is commendable. Some of the key initiatives of the New Delhi declaration demonstrate requisite intent. Of course, their deployment will require the navigation of geopolitical challenges and the challenges of execution in sub-national contexts.
The G20 nations, responsible for 80% of global emissions, agreed to triple the global renewable energy capacity by 2030. They also reached an agreement on India’s proposal for a Voluntary Action Plan on Doubling the Rate of Energy Efficiency.
The decision to reform the processes of Multilateral Development Banks (MDBs) to mobilize climate finance for developing countries at G20, a forum of economic importance, shows great promise.
The G20 Declaration has reaffirmed the climate finance commitments of developed countries. Further, it suggests a revision of the finance requirement from USD 4 trillion to USD 5.8 - 5.9 trillion.
The G20 Declaration included the launch of the Resource Efficiency and Circular Economy Industry Coalition (RECEIC) which seeks to promote resource efficiency and circular economy practices within industries across the world. This followed the global reception of India’s initiative Lifestyle for Environment Mission (Mission LiFE) that the member states aimed to mainstream under the Green Development Pact.
India also launched the Global Biofuel Alliance to expedite the global uptake of biofuels with the declaration recognizing the importance of sustainable biofuels in zero and low-emission development strategies.
The G20 leadership summit saw the establishment of the Green Hydrogen Innovation Centre for “promoting the adoption and advancement of green hydrogen as a key driver in the transition to a low-carbon, renewable energy economy”; steered by the International Solar Alliance (ISA), launched by India and France in 2015.
The G20 Leaders’ Summit has been noted for its visibility, presence and emerging coalitions of influence and leadership. India is being seen as a leader of the Global South, a perception that it seeks to underline with a whole bunch of initiatives. For instance, India’s signature initiative, the Digital Public Infrastructure (DPI) project may well become a real lever of international cooperation in the Global South; DPI projects are designed to unlock the economic value residing at the junction of identity, payments and authentication when unleased at population scale.
Even the World Bank’s G20 Global partnership for financial inclusion has endorsed the transformative impact of DPIs in India and highlighted their enormous potential for the Global South. It may be useful to place the declaration’s pronouncements on climate action in this wider context of international cooperation and alliances with the backing of the G20’s economic power and geopolitical influence.
The summit offered India an opportunity to take up a leadership role in consolidating the Global South, launching initiatives for green energy and sustainability, and building consensus on several important issues pertaining to global climate action.
In this context, some of India’s initiatives are significant:
India has been championing inclusivity at the summit by representing the Global South on issues of major concern, including climate change and a just transition.
Gender Inclusive Climate Action has been made a part of the declaration along with an emphasis on women’s food security and financial inclusion of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs), that are particularly vulnerable to climate risks.
India officially welcomed the African Union (AU) to the G20 group, further consolidating the voices of developing countries that have historically struggled to be heard at multilateral forums, particularly during climate negotiations.
The scale of the climate and developmental challenges that the world faces is massive. The UN global stocktake serves as yet another reality check that climate action has been far from sufficient and there is a need to phase out all unabated fossil fuels. Trillions of dollars need to be mobilized for developing countries to meet their NDCs. The G20 Leaders’ Summit did see some success in building consensus on many relevant issues and specific steps have been taken that are significant and are in the right direction. However, these are small steps given the sheer scale of the climate and developmental challenge. It is time for large-scale, concrete and dramatic action on climate change. As we head towards COP28, set to be held in November-December, it remains to be seen whether the reaffirmation of climate commitments at G20 and the reverberations of the global stocktake will help translate commitments and calls to action into actual changes on the ground.
All views expressed by the author are personal.