In the lead-up to the G20 summit on Saturday, and even through a large part of the day, the question on everyone’s mind was whether India, as the G20 president, would manage to bring together a consensus document given the rift between Russia and the West over the continuing war in Ukraine and the fact that China’s President Xi Jinping skipped the summit.
But in a major diplomatic breakthrough, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday announced that world leaders had agreed on a joint declaration.
“It is a most remarkable achievement in a fractured world,” said Ashok Kantha, a former secretary in India’s foreign ministry where he oversaw relations with 65 countries.
“It is amazing that G20 2023 Leaders’ Declaration could be finalised on day one of the summit itself, belying all doubts and apprehensions,” he told Al Jazeera.
Moscow welcomed the declaration saying it was “balanced” but Ukraine’s foreign ministry criticised the final statement for not mentioning Russia’s invasion, adding that the communique was “nothing to be proud of”.
New Delhi has been walking a diplomatic tightrope between the West and its traditional defence ally Russia over the Ukraine war and has resisted Western efforts to condemn Russia. Last September, Modi told Russian President Vladimir Putin that “today’s era is not an era of war.”
Hari Seshasayee, a visiting fellow at the Observer Research Foundation, a New Delhi-based think tank, said the reference to the war was “far more neutral” than the G20 Bali Leaders’ Declaration as there was no mention of Russia in the context of war in the New Delhi declaration.
Instead, the final statement referred to language used in UN bodies when it said, “all states must refrain from the threat or use of force to seek territorial acquisition against the territorial integrity and sovereignty or political independence of any state.”
Seshasayee, who is an Asia-Latin America expert, added that the statement also explicitly stated that the G20 “is not the platform to resolve geopolitical and security issues” and that it is primarily an economic platform.
“This dilutes the geopolitical import that New Delhi has so far placed on the group,” he continued.
But there were other geopolitical wins. A big one was the African Union’s entry into the G20 as a full member.
“India has done really, really well to ensure that this summit is a lot more inclusive compared to previous summits,” said Vincent Magwenya, spokesperson to the president of South Africa, while speaking to the media at the summit.
The admission of the AU “signals a very positive step towards the kind of reforms we have always advocated for with respect to the reform of the United Nations Security Council, the reform of various global multilateral financial institutions,” he stated.
Climate has been another area of focus for the G20. While there was no new language on the phasing down of coal from the previous Bali summit, the New Delhi declaration did announce the establishment of a Green Hydrogen Innovation Centre, the tripling of renewable energy by 2030, setting up a global biofuels alliance and moves the language on finance from billions to trillions.
These were a “critical component” in making the New Delhi declaration a “historic moment,” said Arunabha Ghosh, chief executive of the Council on Energy, Environment and Water, a New Delhi climate think tank. The developments came at a time when many parts of the world have been shaken up by climate-related disasters, he added.
Madhura Joshi, India Lead, E3G, a Climate think tank, noted that increasing renewables must be backed by phasing down of fossil fuels.
“Both are indispensable for just transitions and a net-zero world. There’s also far too much talk about expensive, unproven abatement technologies, which cannot be used as an excuse to delay action. We need stronger bolder action from leaders on both sides.”
“All eyes now on COP28 – can the leaders deliver?” she asked.