India assumed the presidency of the G-20 on December 1 in the midst of one of the most uncertain periods in human history, with political tensions escalating especially since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, under whose impact the post-pandemic recoveries in most economies have, at best, been choppy. Worse still, these uncertainties could adversely affect the realisation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030 unless the major economies in the G-20 can commit to working in tandem to improve the implementation of SDGs.
While unveiling his government’s priorities as the leader of the group of the largest and the most powerful countries, PM Narendra Modi underlined the imperative of collective action. India’s agenda, he said, would strengthen cooperation and coordination between the G-20 countries by depoliticising the “global supply of food, fertilisers and medical products, so that geopolitical tensions do not lead to humanitarian crises”. He argued that the “greatest challenges” humanity faces, including those arising from climate change, “can be solved not by fighting each other, but only by acting together”.
This imperative of “acting together” cannot be emphasised more in the engagements of the G-20 countries in two critical areas for humanity. One, the G-20 must collectively address the chronic problems of hunger and food insecurity in developing countries, which requires more resilient and sustainable agriculture and food supply systems. Secondly, G-20 countries must take steps for expedited energy transition, without which one cannot realise the target of preventing the earth’s temperature from rising above 1.5°C over the pre-industrial levels.
One of the key objectives of the SDGs is to “end hunger, achieve food security and [provide] improved nutrition”. While adopting the SDGs, it was recognised that these objectives could be achieved by ensuring “sustainable food production systems” and implementing “resilient agricultural practices that increase productivity and production”. These targets encapsulated the essence of Goal 2, namely, “Zero Hunger” by 2030.
However, the Food and Agriculture Organisation has reported that as many as 828 million people were undernourished in 2021, reversing more than a decade’s progress in tackling hunger. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine dealt another severe blow as wheat supply shortages emerged.
This rising threat posed by food insecurity needs a collective response from the G-20, the countries most equipped to do so, especially due to the rich experiences they can bring to the fore. India is in a unique position to contribute to these efforts, for it has the experience of turning around from being a chronic food-insecure country in the past.
The G-20 countries are in a position to respond promptly to growing food insecurity since the grouping has an agreed Food Security and Nutrition Framework (FSN), which seeks to increase responsible investment in food systems that can contribute to the sustainable expansion of the food supply. Besides focusing on the need to introduce structural changes in agriculture, the FSN Framework underlined the importance of “an open, transparent and efficient food and agriculture trade that allows developing countries to consider their policy space, subject to WTO rules and obligations” that can help boost sustainable agricultural growth and increase diversity and resilience of a country’s food supply while reducing the cost of food and excessive food price volatility. Among the issues prioritised in the FSN Framework, reforming the global agricultural trade regime must be considered as a low-hanging fruit for effectively operationalising the Framework.
The advantage of the Indian presidency is that it can build upon the important decisions taken by the past two presidencies to reform agricultural trade. The Matera Declaration during the Italian presidency had called for an “open, transparent, predictable and non-discriminatory multilateral trading system, consistent with [WTO] rules”, while at the conclusion of the Bali Summit in 2022, the Leaders Declaration reiterated their “support for open, transparent, inclusive, predictable, and non-discriminatory, rules-based agricultural trade based on WTO rules”. The Bali Declaration is especially significant as Indonesia, along with its developing country partners like India, has been trying to force changes in WTO rules, particularly those related to farm subsidies granted by several advanced countries to provide better equity in the markets for agricultural products can be ensured.
In this context, it is essential to recognise that re-purposing farm subsidies is vital for developing resilient and sustainable agricultural systems. Thus, subsidies that can help in realising the target set by the G-20 Leaders in Bali, of “sustained supply, in part based on local food sources, as well as diversified production of food” that can protect the “vulnerable from the disruptions in food trade supply chain” should be encouraged. This is an outcome that the Indian presidency must seek to realise.
Energy transitions have emerged as a key component of the global responses to climate change, identified by PM Modi as one of the greatest challenges for the global community. Central to undertaking meaningful energy transitions would be the ability of the G-20 members to show directions on reducing their continued dependence on fossil fuels.
In the recently concluded G-20 Summit under Indonesia’s presidency in Bali, the leaders endorsed the Bali Energy Transitions Roadmap through to 2030 (the ‘Bali Roadmap’), which would reflect on national circumstances, needs and priorities of G-20 members in their low emission transition pathways towards net zero emissions. The first element of the Bali Roadmap is the ‘Bali Compact’, a set of inclusive voluntary principles for both members and non-members that could ensure smooth and effective energy transitions per national circumstances and priorities. Financing clean energy projects have been a vexing issue. On this issue, the Bali Roadmap calls upon the developed countries to provide enhanced support, including financial resources, to assist developing countries.
India could play a vital role in stimulating a speedy energy transition as it has set for itself an ambitious target for moving towards clean energy power generation to reduce its carbon footprint. The government expects that the country will have 50% cumulative electric power installed capacity from non-fossil fuel-based energy resources and reduce the emissions intensity of its GDP by 45% by 2030, compared to 2005 levels. With the Bali Roadmap setting the framework for effective energy transitions and India’s commitment in this area, engagements between the G-20 countries could result in meaningful outcomes during the Indian Presidency.
Professor, Centre for Economic Studies and Planning, School of Social Sciences, JNU