Prime Minister Modi of India has made some bold statements upon his ascension to the Chairmanship of G20, which accounts for two-thirds of the global population, 85% of the world’s economic output, and 75% of world trade. While the position is rotated annually among the 20 leaders, it offers a platform at a critical inflection point in world history merely by being able to set the agenda for the meetings during its tenure. PM Modi has already declared that the agenda would be “ambitious, action-oriented and decisive”, and would include promoting environment-friendly lifestyles and “depoliticisation” of the global supply chain of food, fertilisers and medical products, which will remain priorities.
Reflecting India’s ancient philosophy, which is thousands of years old, Modi announced that the theme of his chairmanship is ‘One Earth, One Family, One Future’, based on the Sanskrit Upanishadic aphorism Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam – the World is One Family. In that philosophy, the “world” includes all living beings and the world itself. As such, global warming and its consequent climate change, which are demonstrating the devastation that could threaten the very existence of that world, would loom large in the coming year. According to Modi, “Today, the greatest challenges we face – climate change, terrorism, and pandemics – can be solved not by fighting each other, but only by acting together.”
In a statement published as an editorial in the Indian newspapers, Modi stated that he views his remit as going far beyond the exclusive G20 conclave. “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.” This should be good news for smaller countries like ours in the Caribbean, whose concerns are usually brushed aside, as G20 usually focuses on global financial challenges.
Last month, India played a major role in having the U.N. adopt a specific fund to help poorer countries pay for the “loss and damage” from a climate crisis they did little to cause. The details of this fund should be high on the G20 agenda during Modi’s presidency, even as he has argued that “loss and damage” compensation is only a salve. Like other “South” leaders, he has called for US$1 trillion annually to fund decarbonisation projects in the developing world. In 2015, at the Paris UNCCC, the rich countries had committed to spending $100 billion per year by 2020 — and to increase that annually through 2025. They never achieved that goal.
Representing India, which will soon surpass China as the most populous country in the world, Modi would be certain to receive strong backing from the G20 institutional “Troika”, which comprises the incumbent president’s immediate predecessor and successor, to ensure continuity. Fortuitously, this coming year, India will be joined by its predecessor, Indonesia, and its successor, Brazil. Lula has already said, “The world has changed. Continents want to be represented…The world needs new global governance on the climate issue.”
The War in Ukraine would also inevitably be on the G20 radar, and Modi can play an important role, since, up to now, he has resisted being drawn into giving support to any “side”. India has yet to remain very close to the Western countries, and, from this perspective, has a good opportunity to become a conduit for the global South, which has not reflexively supported the West on the sanctions they have imposed on Russia. With India having its own challenges with China, Modi would obviously be forced to tread a very narrow path as the tensions between the latter mount with the US, as China will soon displace the US as the number one economy.
Finally, with India facing its own internal challenges in dealing with energy supplies, to lift a large percentage of its population out of poverty while championing Global Warming mitigation efforts, Modi’s own domestic policies would be relevant to large swaths of the erstwhile “Third World” – including Guyana – that also face such challenges.
India’s G20 priorities: of inclusive, equitable and sustainable growth; women’s empowerment; digital public infrastructure, and tech-enabled development; climate financing; global food security, and energy security, resonate.