Pursuit of Climate Change Under India’s G20 Presidency

Representing two-thirds of the world’s population, and 85% of its GDP, the G20 is a platform of convergence between Global North and South, unlike other mini or multi-laterals. Envisaged as a platform primarily for economic cooperation, it has continuously widened its arena of deliberations to remain relevant in a consistently dynamic world order. A burning issue that has recently gained traction among the members is Climate Change. 

The G20 nations represent 99% of historical CO2 emissions from 1850-2013. The Germanwatch Global Climate Risk Index lists two G20 members (Japan and India) as among the worst affected nations by the onslaught of climate change. UNEP’s Adaptation Gap Report warns that the impacts of climate change are set to increase in frequency and intensity in the coming years. It was evident in 2021 which witnessed the ravages of extreme weather events, like heat waves in the USA and India, flood in Europe and forest fires in California and Australia, accompanied by a triple-dip La Nina. As per estimates, in the absence of requisite action, approximately 3 billion people globally (45% of the total population) could experience irreversible adverse consequences and the loss of around 18% of GDP by 2050. The G20 nations are thus more awake than ever about the seriousness of climate change and its existential threat to the biosphere.

G20 and Climate Change — Opportunity Among Tribulations

Since its inception in 2008, the G20 nations have time and again addressed this issue. In the first Summit, in 2008 in Washington DC, climate change merely found a passing mention in the joint statement. The second summit in 2009 in London witnessed for the first time the declaration mentioning ‘Common But Differentiated Responsibility’ and pushed for agreement at UNFCCC later in the year in Copenhagen. Finally, the Los Cabos Summit in 2012 provided some substance to climate finance and access to green technology. Carrying the spirit forward, the Italian Presidency of 2021 delivered the most comprehensible statement on climate change and touched upon the issues of climate mitigation, circular economy, green technologies, and finance. 

Among the G20 members, India has unequivocally taken the lead to decarbonise its economy.  Indian ambitions in climate diplomacy can be seen as considerable policy incubation. There has been evidence wherein we see a rapid change in India’s industries that have been coal-dependent to renewable energy endowed. When it comes to teething vehicular pollution, India is promoting not only electric vehicles but also hydrogen-enabled vehicles, under the National Hydrogen Mission. Being sufficiently available in the environment, hydrogen is rightly seen as the ‘futuristic fuel’ for both heavy industries and vehicles

The Emissions Gap Report 2022 mentions that there is no credible pathway to a 1.5 degree Celsius future unless we also undergo a rapid societal transformation. India thereby recently launched ‘LiFE- Lifestyle for Environment’ that keeps individual behavioural changes at the center, by popularising the approach of Pro-Planet People (P3). 

India’s climate policies also take into consideration the needs of vulnerable economies. For instance, through Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure (CDRI), the climate policies are directed towards climate change ‘preparedness’ in support of small island states.

G20 and Global Churnings 

The lofty assurances of G20 have remained a shadow rather than a substance. One such issue is that of Climate Finance, which remains in limbo. UN Secretary-General has gone ahead in revealing that the world would require $3.1 billion over the next four years to prevent any climate change-induced disasters. However, since 2009, no material progress has been made in delivering $100 billion to developing countries and the present structure of multilateral Finance Institutions (MFIs) is inadequate to address these gaps and countries like the USA (the largest historical emitter along with the EU) needs the approval of the Senate to disburse these funds, which have been often stalling such proposals. 

The G20 deliberations are also sometimes marred by geopolitical tensions like the Russia-Ukraine war during the Indonesian President ship. The Global Powers have also failed to fulfil their Climate pledges like attaining their INDCs, and technology and finance transfer to the Global South, which disregards the principle of CBDR-RC. 

These issues will continue to plague the present Indian Presidency, along with other challenges of a looming global recession, lack of trust between Global North and South, and a renewed focus on energy security rather than decarbonization post-Ukraine war. 

Thus, India is standing at a critical juncture to harness its potential in leadership to advocate not only the voice of the global south but also to provide a platform for vulnerable economies on transnational issues like climate change.  

Indian Presidency: A Beacon of Hope

Taking over the G20 Presidency on December 1, 2022, India will be hosting world leaders and delegates in 200+ events organized across the country. The First Sherpa set the stage with a spotlight on climate change as one of the priorities that India will be addressing during her Presidency

As part of Sherpa Track, different working groups will be addressing the issue of climate change, including ‘Environment and Climate Sustainability’, ‘Energy Transition’, and ‘Development’. Similarly, different engagement groups, like the B20 (setting the stage for private investment in climate finance), T20 (collaboration among think tanks across the world to produce relevant data to act upon), and U20 (promoting sustainable urbanization) have been formed to ideate on the relevant issues.

Furthermore, the inauguration of the Global South Summit by India in January 2023 has set the stage for a more cohesive and stronger voice of the Global South at the G20 platform. India aims to bring together new and creative ideas at this forum that can form the basis for India to represent the collective voice of the Global South at the G20 platform.  

Considering India’s track record in taking the lead to address climate change, the world looks up to India for greater participation in global rules making to mark policies that favour a sustainable planet. Since it is the only G20 country that is on the path to achieving its INDCs, India must push for the member states to update their NDCs before CoP28, later this year. It must take this opportunity to gather support for initiatives like the ISA and CDRI, and adopt sharing of ‘best practices

The issue of Climate Finance also needs an impetus. India must also create a consensus among the countries to materialize the flow of finance to the Green Climate fund and the Santiago Framework. Alongside this, India must use the platform to explore innovative financing ways like Blended Finance and ESG in renewable energy infrastructure from the private sector, friend-shoring the manufacturing of green technology to create green jobs, and transparent sovereign borrowings from MFIs. As the host country, India can also leverage this opportunity to spearhead bilateral and triangular cooperation with other member states like Indonesia’s Just Energy Transition Partnership (JET-P) and drive in the required sovereign and private investments. As mentioned by the Ministry of Environment, Forests, and Climate Change (MoEFCC), India would require $2.5 trillion in investments over the next 15 years to build the required green infrastructure and attain its Net-Zero Goal by 2070. 

Another set of reforms that requires due attention is to build consistent definitions, similar languages, and a common framework for green taxonomy. With each country adopting its own set of rules to classify businesses, it becomes a hurdle for companies to undertake cross-border investment in green technologies and ESG projects, often leading to greenwashing and information asymmetry. 

Towards a Sustainable Future

India must ensure that its Presidency avoids mere lofty promises, but rather an action plan that elaborates on the inconsistencies of the present system and simultaneously jots down a consensus-driven policy course of action. The global agenda must focus on the 4Rs — Respond, Recognize, Respect, and Reform, as deliberated by the Hon’ble Prime Minister of India.  

After India, the Presidency will be taken over by Brazil, followed by South Africa, and this will be the first time that four simultaneous G20 sessions are hosted by developing nations. Thus, India must assume the responsibility of laying the seed of action that can be followed by others. The upcoming CoP28 under the leadership of the United Arab Emirates is another beacon of hope for a country belonging to the emerging economy. Under the garb of Voices of the South, this is a case that represents unheard territories, in which India has a huge stake at hand.     

In the Bali Summit, the Indian PM mentioned “As in our own families, those whose needs are the greatest must always be our first concern”. Thus, upholding its principle of ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’, it is a crucial time for vulnerable economies to voice their concern under India which has been called a voice of the Global South.

[Image credit: G20 Secretariat, Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India]

*Manvi Sherawat is currently a research coordinator at the Global Counter Terrorism Council, New Delhi. Her research areas include Geopolitics and Energy Security. 
*Sankalp Singh is a Young Professional (Independent Consultant) at the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, Government of India. Views expressed are personal.

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