India’s presidency must leave the grouping with the agility and energy to respond to new realities, and it must create a future-ready multilateralism through a novel and robust institutional architecture
India takes over the presidency of the group in December. To live up to the potential of this opportunity, it must choose a policy direction to focus on continuity, incorporate green and digital transitions, and recognise the realities of a post-pandemic world
India’s presidency of the G20 grouping next year — arguably the sole remaining effective forum for global governance — presents an enormous opportunity to accelerate sustainable growth within India, in the emerging world, and beyond.
For India’s presidency to live up to this potential, it must recognise the constraints of the grouping and the crises — from the pandemic to the Ukraine war — that it must confront. But there should also be a clear understanding of the levers that a G20 president has to affect global policy action.
Next year, the troika of the preceding, current, and succeeding presidents will be three developing countries: Indonesia, India, and Brazil. This fortuitous alignment must inform India’s strategy as it designs its G20 agenda.
Three broad principles should underline India’s planning. First, it must recognise the value of the emerging-world troika and choose policy directions that emphasise continuity. Second, it must incorporate the concerns of its dual development transitions — green and digital — into the G20’s agenda. And third, it must recognise the realities of the post-pandemic world and prioritise action on those sectors that have, since 2020, been revealed to be under-capitalised.
India’s agenda must resonate beyond the one year it holds the presidency. This requires it to set its priorities alongside those of the two other members of the troika. The G20 under Indonesia has articulated three priority issues — global health architecture, digital transformation, and sustainable energy transition. Reinterpreting these will be key to building continuity, and, thus, sustained action. It is also important to keep in mind that having too many priorities is the same as having none at all. Indeed, India must prevent the G20 from suffering — as other multilateral forums such as the World Trade Organization do — from an over-expansion of its mandate.
Two major transformations will define our economies and societies going forward: Digital transition and green transition. Both are key to addressing the development challenge as well. These transitions are the meeting point of geopolitical and youth aspirations that will dictate our political, economic and social well-being.
On the digital front, India, to a large extent, has been a first mover. India’s youth aspirations are digital-first; the government has responded, and the digital economy is at the centre of its aim for a $5-trillion economy by the second half of the 2020s. The Observer Research Foundation’s youth survey on tech policy found that 83% of respondents want India to adopt a policy that prioritises its domestic technology industry. At the same time, 80% welcome greater cooperation with international partners on technology.
Clearly, a fine balance is needed where technological multilateralism does not come at the cost of developing countries’ needs. The Think Tank 20 (T20) engagement process has identified the internet as a basic right and technology access as vital to reducing inequalities. Cooperation at the G20 would be a good testing ground for pioneering tech regulation that balances the interests of the private sector with sovereignty and the security needs of States, and the growth demands of the economy.
India’s G20 must also recognise the unprecedented, carbon-constrained nature of future growth. Arguments for a green transition can no longer be limited to the moral high ground of saving the planet. A commitment on sustainable consumption must be placed front and centre. International financial regulation and the mandates of multilateral development banks must also ensure that adequate finance incentivises a business case for rapid change with adequate global flows subpoenaed for the developing world. Can the Indian presidency help to architect this new global arrangement?
A third focus must necessarily be the post-pandemic world order. Covid-19 has proved that health, nutrition, and livelihoods all remain fragile despite commitments made under Agenda 2030. The United Nations has warned that the Covid crisis could result in a lost decade for development. It has sharpened inequalities and widened development gaps. The United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund has also cautioned that the pandemic could lead to a “lost generation” of children in terms of education, nutrition, and overall well-being. These conversations have become more complex due to the crisis in Ukraine. The weaponisation of trade and the international banking system during this war has exacerbated uncertainties. The surge in prices of energy and essential staple foods has added a disturbing dimension to an already stressed economic recovery. By putting nutrition, food security, and health at the heart of its G20 agenda, India can ensure the success of the Decade of Action on Sustainable Development. The clincher will be to facilitate greater funding towards these efforts.
India’s presidency is an opportunity to reinvigorate, reinvent and re-centre the multilateral order. The G20 cannot be distracted or undermined by the bilateral relations of specific members, even as we acknowledge the gravity of the humanitarian crisis that is unfolding in Europe. India must leave the G20 with the agility and energy to respond to new realities, and it must create a future-ready multilateralism through a novel and robust institutional architecture.