India’s G20 Presidency: A Watershed Moment
AS INDIA gears up to assume the Group of Twenty (G20) Presidency in less than one month on December 1, it finds itself in a unique position to speak for the concerns and priorities of the world are developing nations. India stands at the centre of the Indonesia-India-Brazil G20 Troika — the first of its kind led by emerging economies in the 14-year-long history of this prestigious intergovernmental forum. As the world’s 5th largest growing economy with a population of nearly 1.4 billion, India wields considerable economic, political, and social influence to effectively guide the global narrative to better represent contemporary realities.
This G20 moment is an opportunity for the nation to carry forward, conceptualise, and pass on, an international agenda that foregrounds inclusive, equitable, and sustainable growth, with a keen focus on LiFE (lifestyle for environment), digital public infrastructure, women empowerment, and tech-enabled development.
However, to highlight these priorities in the midst of an increasingly polarised world order is no small task. India’s presidency collides with other eclipsing global concerns ranging from the fallout of the Russia-Ukraine conflict and widespread economic recession to the crippling debt crisis affecting developing nations. The Covid-19 pandemic has also heavily disrupted decades of developmental progress, backgrounding the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in favour of more immediate disaster mitigation. At this juncture, India’s vision of sustainable growth, rooted in global interconnectedness, shared responsibility, and a circular-economy, is the need of the hour.
To highlight this mission, India is adopting ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’ or ‘One Earth. One Family. One Future,’ as the theme for its G20 Presidency. Drawn from the Maha Upanishad, an ancient Sanskrit text, this philosophy finds resonance in India’s diplomatic worldview as far back as 2014, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke of “world family” at his historic UN General Assembly address. At the time, the PM was calling for a greater role for the G-4 coalition, stressing the need to stop viewing policy as a “zero sum game.” Today, this message remains more pertinent than ever, as humanity grapples with its biggest existential threat to date — the cascading impact of climate change. India’s theme hopes to remind world leaders, as well as global citizenry, of the interconnectedness of all life forms — from the smallest microorganism to the largest civilisational ecosystem — and how this shared future begets equitable responsibility and individual interventions.
India’s G20 logo speaks to a similar philosophy. The image of planet Earth cradled by the lotus — the country’s national flower that symbolises growth amid obstacles — speaks to India’s pro-planet approach to life, and the logo’s seamless blend of saffron, white, and green reflects the principles of diversity and inclusion that underpin its cultural ethos. India has long been, and continues to be, a purveyor of universal harmony and collaboration.
The concept of LiFE (lifestyle for environment) ties closely with these principles, and was introduced by the Prime Minister at COP26 at Glasgow in November 2021. Last month, the mission was officially launched by the PM in the presence of the UN Secretary General António Guterres at the Statue of Unity, Gujarat. In its essence, the movement aims to make “the fight against climate change democratic,” in which “everyone can contribute according to his or her capacity,” the PM stated in his speech. By nudging changes in consumption and production patterns both at a societal as well as an individual level, LiFE hopes to incentivise environmentally sustainable practices at a large-scale across the world. Under its G20 Presidency, India will get the opportunity to showcase its harmonious philosophy and ancient civilisational traditions that have sustained its holistic relationship with the Earth for generations. India’s rich history of sustainable practices makes it uniquely placed to talk about the integration of the climate and development agenda.
On the digital front, India is primed to lead by example. Its digital success story speaks for itself, and its core belief in a human-centric approach to technology-driven solutions can facilitate greater focus on key areas like public digital infrastructure, financial inclusion, and tech-enabled development from agriculture to education. As a country that accounts for the largest number of real-time digital transactions in the world (48 billion as of 2022), and houses the largest biometric ID system (Aadhar), India is in a pivotal position to shape conversations around digital financial inclusion, digital identities, and consent-based frameworks. Further, India is also determined to deliver outcomes in other critical areas including, but not limited to, women’s empowerment, accelerating progress towards the 2030 SDGs, tech-enabled development across multiple sectors, green hydrogen, disaster risk reduction, enhancing food security and nutrition, and multilateral reform. With Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman also having declared that debt distress will be on India’s G20 issue list, it is clear that the nation is poised to be an effective funnel for the interests of the Global South, and will not let siloed concerns of the developed world overrun or dominate the broader agenda.
With a strong political presence both in the region and across the world, India has the opportunity to leverage its significant diplomatic influence to mediate a more inclusive, peaceful, and prosperous future for the world. Together with its logo and theme of ‘One Earth. One Family. One Future,’ India’s G20 presidency hopes to deliver a singular, powerful message: It is time (for us all) to step up and take responsibility for this shared planet.
(Author is India’s G20 Sherpa. He was formerly CEO, Niti Aayog)
November 11 2022