Peer reviewed analysis from world leading experts

Global South rising at India’s G20 extravaganza

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Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi waves as he visits International Media Center, on the second day of the G20 summit in New Delhi, India, 10 September 2023. (Photo: Reuters/Francis Mascarenhas).

In Brief

The 9–10 September 2023 G20 summit in New Delhi showed increased buy-in to global governance from India and the Global South. It will be remembered as the moment that the G20 effectively became the G21, with the addition of the African Union as a representative of its 55 member states.


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Clearly it was India’s show. India organised more engagement events and popular mobilisation than any country before. The G20 was designed both to signal India’s greater role in global affairs and to serve Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s political agenda at home. India’s G20 presidency did demonstrate how the principle of rotating hosts can renew the G20’s entrepreneurial energy, even though actual success requires relentless diplomacy and compromise among all members.

Chinese President Xi Jinping’s surprising decision to skip this G20 summit and to send Premier Li Qiang in his stead has attracted much attention to China–India relations. But Xi missed the Rome G20 summit, at least in person, in 2021 as well, only delivering a virtual speech and dispatching Foreign Minister Wang Yi in his place. Xi may have been distracted by domestic political urgencies or he may have played for time before an expected bilateral meeting with US President Joe Biden.

Li Qiang played a low-key role and China backed the G20 declaration. The main impact of Xi’s absence was the lack of high-level bilateral meetings on the margins, as happened at the 2022 Bali summit.

The G20’s performance should be assessed on the essential issues of high-level economic cooperation, the promotion of development, its response to systemic risks and its fostering of partnerships.

The G20’s primary rationale is in reducing global financial risks and managing debt crises. Here, the New Delhi G20 summit shows very limited progress.

Article 54 of the declaration commits G20 members to continued cooperation in debt crisis management. The G20 welcomed progress in debt treatment agreements and the formation of creditor committees in Zambia, Ghana, Ethiopia and Sri Lanka. The aspiration is there, but progress has remained painfully slow. On macroeconomic cooperation, there was limited progress.

G20 countries note in Article 48 that they are working to deliver more effective multilateral development banks to help achieve a ‘quantum [financing] jump from billions to trillions of dollars for development’. The regular commitment to increasing the representation of developing countries in global institutions was included but faces the usual US Congress veto on any major change in voting rights and increase in US commitments.

The greater advances at this G20 summit were not in the G20 declaration but happened on the margins of the G20. The US and partners announced their aim to increase World Bank lending capacity by US$200 billion over the next decade, including US$25 billion of US pledges. This sends a strong signal, but doubts remain over whether Washington can deliver on increased contributions.

The declaration also includes a detailed section on the acceleration of the Sustainable Development Goals. This is welcome, given that currently only 12 per cent of targets are on track.

Also notable was the minilateral launch on the G20 sidelines of the India–Middle East–Europe Economic Corridor as part of the G7-sponsored Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment. It brings together India, the United States, Saudi Arabia, the European Union, the United Arab Emirates, France, Germany and Italy. It demonstrates a new pluralistic dynamic in international relations. In the shadow of geopolitical competition, minilateral coalitions can hopefully advance global governance on an issue-based logic.

On trade, Article 19(i) reaffirms the key principles of the rules-based trading order with the World Trade Organisation at its core. G20 leaders commit to work constructively towards a successful WTO Ministerial Conference. Yet US Trade Representative Katherine Tai made clear in a speech in September that the Biden administration is not interested in ‘restoring’ the WTO appellate body. Plus there is little concrete action to accompany the declaration.

The New Delhi G20 summit made progress on green financing and green technology acceleration. Article 38(v) encourages efforts to ‘triple renewable energy capacity globally’ by 2030. G20 countries also welcome recommendations to ‘[scale] up blended finance and risk-sharing facilities’ and call for an ‘ambitious second replenishment process of the Green Climate Fund for its upcoming 2024–2027 programming period’. Also of note is the launch of the minilateral global biofuel alliance. The summit fails to commit to fully phasing out fossil fuels but includes support in Article 38(xii) for the 2009 Pittsburgh commitment to phase out inefficient fuel subsidies.

The declaration recognises the importance of digital public infrastructure, ‘data free flow with trust’ and recognises the complex human rights and privacy considerations involved in the collection and use of data. Article 61 mentions the G20 will further discussions about international governance of artificial intelligence (AI). But given the repeated urgent pleas by leading AI scientists and CEOs in 2023 for global cooperation to deal with the ‘risk of extinction’ from AI, this section feels wholly inadequate.

In article 28(xii), the G20 leaders ‘look forward to a successful outcome of the ongoing negotiations’ for a binding World Health Organisation pandemic convention by May 2024 and ‘amendments to better implement’ the International Health Regulations. This is welcome momentum.

On security, this G20 failed to include any language on potential guardrails against the growing weaponisation of economic interdependence. The declaration notes that the G20 is not the appropriate forum for security issues, but the interplay of security and economics is fast expanding.

The New Delhi summit also saw a regression from the 2022 Bali summit on the war in Ukraine. While acknowledging the human suffering in greater detail, recommitting to protecting sovereignty and condemning the use of force and nuclear threats, the declaration failed to use the term ‘Russian aggression’. This is the result of pushback from Russia, Turkey, and China, as well as India’s determination to reach an agreement.

The consensus-based G20 cannot deliver breakthroughs on many core issues in such a difficult geopolitical environment. But the New Delhi G20 succeeded in scoring a few wins and kept global cooperation going, with new impetus from the Global South.

Yves Tiberghien is Professor of Political Science and Director Emeritus of the Institute of Asian Research at the University of British Columbia. He is also a Distinguished Fellow at the Asia-Pacific Foundation of Canada.

Alan Alexandroff is Director of the Global Summitry Project. He teaches at the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy at the University of Toronto.

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