The Leaders’ Summit of India’s presidency of the G-20 grouping, held over the weekend, resulted in major success with the unanimous adoption of the New Delhi Declaration — especially significant as there was little hope of one. Experts, diplomats and officials had downplayed expectations of India’s negotiators being able to pull off what few have achieved thus far: a détente between the “western” G-7-EU axis and the Russia-China combine over the issue of the Ukraine war. At the UN Security Council, not a single statement has been passed so far as a result of vetoes by both sides. While Indonesian G-20 negotiators in 2022 were able to pull off a joint statement with references critical of Russia (the G-7 pushed for these), the consensus did not last, and Russia and China refused to have them repeated this year. As every Indian ministerial meeting ended without success in a joint statement, India’s negotiating team took the more considered approach — to achieve consensus on other issues, before tackling the paragraphs on Ukraine. There was a breakthrough after the G-7 compromised on its insistence of language critical of Russia by having more neutral paragraphs. The Declaration statement achieved what is truly impossible in today’s global polarisation. In that, India’s “middle path” policy has been its biggest strength, along with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s personal outreach to many G-20 leaders over the year. Another key initiative was enlisting the “Global South”, including many G-20 members, who were reluctant to take sides in the tussle, and wanted instead to shift priorities to global development issues. As a result, the 83-paragraph Declaration made progress on cryptocurrency regulation, and crystallised a figure of nearly $10 trillion needed for climate change adaptation and mitigation projects for the Global South, although it failed to agree on any fossil fuel “phase-out” deadlines.
There were several other initiatives too: the admission of the 55-member African Union has corrected an imbalance that so far only allowed the EU in as a regional grouping in the G-20. The Global Biofuel Alliance was an important step towards more research and delivery of alternative energy sources for a world still dependent on fossil fuels. Finally, an India-Middle East-Europe Corridor with the promise of U.S. investment has dazzling possibilities, but details of its funding and execution still need to be drawn out. India’s attempt to take the G-20 outside of the ordinary, single-venue template, to hold 200 meetings in over 60 cities, drawing more than 1,00,000 official visitors from 125 countries, has been noted as a unique initiative, albeit at considerable extra cost; it remains to be seen whether future G-20s will find it a viable example to follow. Above all, India’s G-20 leaves an indelible mark in its attempt to “popularise” an organisation seen till now as a staid and boring event bringing world leaders to a high table where arcane subjects are discussed, decisions made are not scrutinised, and without bringing real change to the lives of the wider global population. To that end, Mr. Modi’s decision to hold a virtual “review” meeting in November, before India gives up its presidency, is a chance to ensure implementation and scrutiny of the decisions made over the weekend, that has been dubbed “India’s G-20 moment”.