By K.M. Seethi
The 18th G20 summit, held in New Delhi, is widely regarded as a remarkable diplomatic achievement, bringing together a select coalition of nations spanning both the Global North and Global South.
The meeting culminated in the unanimous adoption of a Joint Declaration, a pivotal moment where leaders representing these divergent global regions breathed a collective sigh of relief. To their delight, the summit deftly traversed a myriad of pressing global issues with minimal discord. At the helm of this year’s G20 leadership, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the attainment of a consensus on the delicate wording concerning Ukraine within the summit’s official statement. This breakthrough catalyzed a conspicuous moderation of the pointed criticisms directed at Russia’s actions, as witnessed during the preceding Bali summit in 2022.
G20, a group of 19 nations (Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Republic of Korea, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Türkiye, United Kingdom, and the United States), accompanied by the European Union, exerts an extraordinary degree of influence on the world stage. Collectively, these G20 member nations command an impressive 85% share of the global Gross Domestic Product (GDP), oversees more than three-quarters of international trade, and encompasses nearly two-thirds of the world’s population. With the entry of the African Union, as the New Delhi summit endorsed, G20 would become a much larger collectivity representing a cross-section of the world.
As a response to the post-Asian financial crisis landscape, the G20 emerged as a major arena for international economic collaboration, assuming an irreplaceable role in shaping and fortifying the global framework and governance structures. Consequently, expectations for its continued influence in shaping global economic and social issues remain consistently high, summit after summit.
Concerns continued to linger regarding the 18th G20’s ability to effectively tackle significant international challenges, particularly the Ukraine conflict. The absence of President Vladimir Putin of Russia and President Xi Jinping of China also sparked considerable speculation, given their central roles in various issues directly related to Moscow and Beijing.
Curiously, amid criticisms, both China and Russia felt happy with the outcome. China said that the New Delhi Summit yielded a significant outcome in the form of a joint declaration that emphasized “unity and a neutral position regarding the Ukraine crisis.” Insofar as the crisis had, over time, exacerbated divisions among member states, Chinese analysts keenly noted, that the G20 retains its fundamental importance as a key multilateral instrument for global governance, despite grappling with the complexities arising from power struggles among major nations. Yet, China aired its reservations about the U.S. role and strategy in the G20. It said the G20 was originally established to promote cooperation between advanced and developing nations, fostering global economic growth on an equal footing.
However, the U.S sees international organizations, including the IMF and the World Bank, as arenas for strategic competition. Washington aims to build alliances to counter China’s influence and contain its rise. The Global Times opinion page commentary says that “in less than 20 years since the last financial crisis, the US president is anxiously trying to occupy the leadership position of the G20. Anyone with a basic comprehension of the existing global order can detect Washington’s fears.” China’s core principle is “not seeking hegemony,” emphasizing peaceful development and common prosperity. Many emerging economies within the G20 share this stance, resisting alignment with the US and the West’s geopolitical agenda, as evidenced by their recent declaration. Within just two decades since the previous financial crisis, the US is actively seeking leadership in the G20, reflecting its concerns about the shifting global order, Beijing noted.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov characterized the outcome of the summit as a ‘significant milestone,’ emphasizing that they had not foreseen such an outcome and underscoring that countries from the Global South were no longer inclined to accept condescending advice from others. Lavrov expressed contentment with the joint declaration issued by G20 leaders during their summit in Delhi. This declaration refrained from explicitly censuring Russia for its ongoing Ukraine conflict. Lavrov noted that Russia had not expected a unanimous agreement on the issue and regarded the consensus on the wording as a positive stride forward.
While the UK and US lauded the joint statement, Ukraine, a participant in the previous year’s Bali summit but conspicuously absent this time, voiced its disillusionment, asserting that there was “nothing to be proud of in the declaration” U.S. President Joe Biden notably avoided public discourse on the war or virtually any other topic. His sole comment was an expressed desire for the presence of President Xi Jinping of China, who, along with Russian leader Vladimir V. Putin, had chosen not to attend. European officials defended their decision to support a joint declaration at the New Delhi G20 Summit, where member nations tempered their critique of Russia concerning its involvement in the Ukraine conflict.
During the summit in New Delhi, negotiations regarding the Ukrainian matter proved to be quite challenging, as stated by Svetlana Lukash, Russia’s representative at the G20 summit. Lukash credited the success of these negotiations to the unified stance of the BRICS countries. She remarked, “The discussions concerning Ukraine were particularly intricate. Primarily, it was the cohesive position of the BRICS nations and our other partners that played a pivotal role.” Lukash pointed out that a significant portion of the G20 members declined to interpret the Ukrainian situation in the manner presented by Western nations. She recalled that Moscow had endured a year of accusations asserting that the Ukrainian conflict was exacerbating global food security concerns.
Joint Declaration: Laboured Consensus?
Apparently, the draft of the Joint Declaration was prepared well in advance of the summit, and somewhat unusually, it received the endorsement of member countries on the very first day of the event. As anticipated, the most contentious aspect of the declaration pertained to the Ukraine conflict. China and Russia, unsurprisingly, were opposed to singling out any specific nation in the text. Consequently, the Joint Declaration emphasized that ‘all states’ should abstain from resorting to the threat or use of force to pursue territorial acquisition at the expense of the territorial integrity, sovereignty, or political independence of any state. The use or threat of the use of nuclear weapons was also firmly disavowed, as outlined in the declaration. The summit noted with deep concern the immense human suffering and the adverse impact of wars and conflicts around the world.
The declaration placed significant emphasis on the human suffering resulting from the Ukraine conflict and its far-reaching repercussions on global food and energy security, supply chains, macro-financial stability, inflation, and economic growth. This intricate web of challenges has presented a complex policy landscape for nations, particularly those in the midst of recovering from the disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and its adverse effects on progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It was evident that a multitude of perspectives and assessments of the situation were acknowledged and taken into account.
The summit issued a strong and resolute call for the complete, prompt, and effective execution of the agreements in place, with the aim of facilitating the immediate and unimpeded transportation of grains, foodstuffs, and fertilizers/inputs from both the Russian Federation and Ukraine. This action is deemed critical in addressing the urgent need for these indispensable commodities in developing and least-developed nations, especially those in the African continent.
Global South, Economic Issues and Reform
Amidst cascading crises affecting long-term growth and an uneven recovery, G20 committed itself to implementing carefully calibrated macroeconomic and structural policies. The focus should be on safeguarding vulnerable populations, promoting equitable growth, and bolstering macroeconomic and financial stability. This strategy aims to address the cost-of-living crisis and pave the way for strong, sustainable, balanced, and inclusive growth. The summit acknowledged that global economic growth remained below its historical average and was characterized by significant disparities. Elevated uncertainty, tightening global financial conditions, persistent inflation, and geopolitical tensions posed risks, tilting the balance toward downside vulnerabilities. Hence it emphasized the necessity of well-thought-out monetary, fiscal, financial, and structural policies to foster growth, reduce inequalities, and maintain macroeconomic and financial stability.
The Joint Declaration affirmed the critical importance of a rules-based, non-discriminatory, fair, open, inclusive, equitable, sustainable, and transparent multilateral trading system, with the World Trade Organization (WTO) at its core. Its commitment is unwavering in promoting policies that harness trade and investment as engines of growth and prosperity for all. G20 is expected to undertake actions that include establishing a level playing field and fair competition by discouraging protectionism and practices that distort markets. The aim is to cultivate a conducive trade and investment environment for all. The declaration reiterated the necessity of advancing WTO reform, enhancing all its functions through a process driven by its members, and ensuring the establishment of a fully operational and effective dispute settlement system accessible to all members by 2024.
The declaration underscored the imperative for a reinvigorated form of multilateralism that can effectively confront the pressing global challenges of the 21st century. The call for such revitalized multilateralism, characterized by greater representation, effectiveness, transparency, and accountability, has resonated across various forums. Within this context, an inclusive and revitalized approach to multilateralism, coupled with reforms aimed at realizing the objectives of the 2030 agenda, becomes indispensable.
The declaration emphasized the need for reforming international financial institutions to create a development finance system for the 21st century, capable of addressing the substantial needs and challenges faced by developing countries, especially the most vulnerable. Efforts are underway to enhance Multilateral Development Banks (MDBs) by improving their operations, accessibility, and financing capacity to have a greater impact on development. Strengthening MDBs is crucial for mobilizing funding from various sources, transitioning from billions to trillions of dollars for development. Additionally, the representation and voice of developing countries in global economic and financial institutions must be enhanced for increased effectiveness, credibility, accountability, and legitimacy. This international financial system should provide significantly more financing to support developing countries and emerging markets in poverty reduction, addressing global challenges, and maximizing development impact.
Acknowledging the critical importance of attaining the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), G20’s commitment is unwavering in mobilizing additional headroom and concessional finance collectively. This will bolster the World Bank’s ability to assist low and middle-income nations in addressing global challenges. This commitment entails establishing a transparent framework for allocating limited concessional resources and providing substantial support to the world’s most impoverished countries. To accomplish these objectives, G20 is actively exploring various avenues to significantly augment resources available to the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD), thereby reducing the costs associated with investments aimed at combating global challenges. Furthermore, G20 is dedicated to reinforcing the capacity of the IDA crisis response window.
G20 reaffirmed its commitment to a well-funded, quota-based International Monetary Fund (IMF) that plays a central role in global financial stability. G20 countries are dedicated to evaluating the adequacy of quotas and advancing IMF governance reform in the 16th General Review of Quotas (GRQ). This includes developing a new quota formula by December 15, 2023, and ensuring at least the current level of IMF financial resources. The declaration commended the global effort to secure USD 100 billion in voluntary contributions (in Special Drawing Rights or equivalent) and USD 2.6 billion in grants for countries in need. The summit also underscores the critical importance of effectively and comprehensively addressing debt vulnerabilities in low and middle-income countries in a systematic manner.
The G20 also reaffirmed its unwavering commitment to gender equality, recognizing its fundamental importance. It acknowledged that investing in the empowerment of all women and girls profoundly advances the objectives of the 2030 Agenda. The declaration pledged to champion the full, equal, effective, and meaningful participation of women in decision-making processes related to global challenges and to encourage their active involvement in every facet of society, across all sectors, and at all levels of the economy. This commitment is not only pivotal for achieving gender equality but also plays a substantial role in driving global GDP growth.
G20 achieved unanimous consensus on the ambitious goal of tripling global renewable energy capacity, building upon existing targets and policies. This commitment is significant in combatting climate change, given that the G20 nations account for over 75% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Additionally, India, in collaboration with the United States and Brazil, launched a global biofuel alliance. This alliance aims to promote cleaner fuels and accelerate efforts to achieve net-zero emissions by facilitating the trade of biofuels produced from diverse sources, including plant and animal waste. This initiative contributes to a more sustainable and environmentally friendly energy landscape on a global scale.
The declaration noted that to align with the Paris Agreement’s climate goals, there’s a need to transition from billions to trillions of dollars in global investments, covering all relevant financial flows. Key commitments include: implementing COP27 decisions to fund loss and damage, establishing a fund, and supporting a Transitional Committee; establishing a clear, traceable climate finance goal of at least USD 100 billion annually by 2024, tailored to developing countries’ needs; and urging developed nations to double adaptation finance by 2025, in line with the Glasgow Climate Pact.
The G20 welcomed the African Union as a permanent member, recognizing its potential to address global challenges. This accession was made possible through joint efforts during India’s G20 Presidency. Africa’s significance in the global economy is acknowledged, and there is a commitment to strengthen ties and support the African Union in realizing Agenda 2063. Additionally, the G20 reaffirms support for Africa through initiatives like the Compact with Africa and promoting industrialization. Further discussions on enhancing cooperation with regional partners are also encouraged.
The declaration stated that G20 is steadfast in its commitment to supporting migrants, including workers and refugees, for a more inclusive world. Its support aligns with national policies and individual circumstances, emphasizing human rights regardless of migration status. G20 also prioritizes preventing irregular migration and migrant smuggling in pursuit of safe and orderly migration. It also aims to address humanitarian needs and root causes of displacement, fostering cooperation among countries of origin, transit, and destination. The dialogue on migration and forced displacement will persist in upcoming Presidencies, the declaration added.
Culture, A Transformative Driver of SDGs?
India as a host nation used culture as a major ingredient of summit diplomacy. Prime Minister Modi already faced serious domestic allegations of resorting to use the BJP’s cultural agenda by changing even the country’s name as ‘Bharat’ in some of its communications and display boards at the summit. Anyhow, the Joint Declaration stated that culture plays a crucial role in achieving the SDGs, driving transformative change. It advocated for recognizing and preserving culture, even as an independent goal in the post-2030 development agenda discussions. The grouping is expected to remain committed to combating the illicit trafficking of cultural property and seek their return to their places of origin. G20 is expected to promote cultural diplomacy, intercultural exchanges, and compliance with national laws and UNESCO Conventions. Preserving living cultural heritage and addressing issues like commercialization and misappropriation are acknowledged, with a focus on sustainability and the well-being of practitioners, community bearers, and Indigenous Peoples.
Curiously, even as many criticisms persisted with regard to India’s policy towards minorities, the joint declaration referred to a UN resolution that emphasizes the promotion of respect for religious and cultural diversity, dialogue, and tolerance. The declaration emphasized the interdependence, interrelatedness, and mutual reinforcement of rights such as freedom of religion or belief, freedom of opinion or expression, the right to peaceful assembly, and the right to freedom of association. It also highlighted the role these rights can play in combating all forms of intolerance and discrimination based on religion or belief. In this context, the G20 strongly condemned all acts of religious hatred against individuals and any symbolic acts, while respecting domestic legal frameworks, including those involving religious symbols and holy books. This part of the joint declaration appears to be a major international commitment of India amid criticisms of violence and hatred, reported frequently within the country during the last decade.
Though there were many criticisms on the domestic front—amid the ruling party’s preparations for the forthcoming parliament elections—there was a general feeling that the New Delhi summit was well-managed with the South Block playing a crucial role in setting the stage for a major event. India also used the occasion to explore several agreements with the G20 countries on the sidelines of the summit, including the U.S., France, Saudi Arabia, Brazil etc. Alongside the summit, a major multinational agreement was also forged, aiming to establish rail and port infrastructure linking the Middle East and South Asia. This strategic move is seen as a response to China’s Belt and Road Initiative, a vast global infrastructure development project. The agreement symbolized a collaborative effort among several nations to bolster regional connectivity and potentially lessen China’s influence in this specific segment of global infrastructure development.
Even as Brazil is set to take over the next presidency, it appears that BRICS member countries are destined to play a major role in G20 in the forthcoming years.