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The G20 New Delhi Summit's Partial Performance

John Kirton, G20 Research Group, September 9, 2023

At the halfway mark of the G20's New Delhi Summit, on the afternoon of its first day, its leaders finally agreed on a full consensus outcome document, and immediately released this G20 New Delhi Leaders' Declaration in the glow of a seemingly great success. It did indeed show significant progress on a broad range of important issues. But a close examination reveals the great gaps on some critical subjects, above all controlling the now existential threat of climate change.

Significant Progress

The first achievement was the production of a fully consensus communiqué, including on the three paragraphs addressing Russia's aggression against Ukraine. To secure Russia's agreement, the other G20 leaders weakened the language from the Bali Summit last November, by removing the words "Russia" and "aggression," and simply referring to the specific United Nations resolutions that had described Russia's actions in this way. This was enough to satisfy Russian president Vladimir Putin, who again skipped the summit to stay at home to cope with a war he had started, but was now steadily losing, and an economy in a steep decline. By giving him this face-saving gesture, and with China's President Xi Jinping also staying home, all the other G20 leaders were free to address the many other issues they had to address, and show the world that they could produce effective global governance without the Russian and Chinese dictators there.

This they did, at great length, in a declaration of 34 pages and 376 paragraphs – much longer than the 28 pages and 110 paragraphs of the declaration from the Bali Summit last year. Its 14,290 words exceeded the 10,402 from Bali too, and the 12,871 average from all G20 summits from 2008 to 2022. It contained 244 commitments, more than the 223 made at the Bali Summit. The New Delhi declaration and its commitments did address all of the priorities Indian prime minister Narednra Modi, as host, had set, including his most innovative ones.

The leaders opened by proclaiming "We are One Earth … it is with the philosophy of living in harmony with our surrounding ecosystem that we commit to concrete actions to address global challenges." They thus put the natural environment first and, prospectively, throughout.

They then made several clear, if general, commitments to accelerate economic growth, implement the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), pursue low greenhouse gas/low carbon emissions, improve medical countermeasures, address debt vulnerabilities, scale up SDG finance, accelerate efforts to achieve the Paris Agreement on climate change, reform the multilateral development banks (MDBs), improve digitalization, promote employment, close gender gaps, and strengthen developing countries' voice in the G20 and global decision making.

They then followed with eight paragraphs on Russia's war against Ukraine, far more than at Bali last year. This made the G20 much more of a peace and security club.

On health the leaders committed to "strengthening the global health architecture, with the World Health Organization (WHO) at the core, and affirmed the WHO's centrality in new measures on pandemic preparedness and response, traditional and complementary medicine in health, and medical countermeasures.

The leaders ended by promising to meet again, not only in Brazil in 2024 and South Africa in 2025 but also "the United States in 2026 at the beginning of the next cycle." This ensured that the democratic powers of the Global North and the Global South would host the G20 continuously for at least six years or even longer, as the "cycle" suggested that the United Kingdom would host in 2027, Canada in 2028, and then three democracies before Russia hosts. By then Russia will have had enough time to rejoin the democratizing club.

The Great Gaps

Between the strong start and the hopeful finish, there were several great gaps. There was little new money mobilized for debt relief for developing countries, for reform of the MDBs and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), for global health, or for food security, education or other social needs.

Most of the commitments were weak, with G20 leaders promising to keep doing what they have already committed to do or to explore options, endorse or support others' work or commission studies.

The greatest gap came on the most serious and urgent challenges – climate change and its companions of clean energy, biodiversity loss and environmental pollution. To be sure, the declaration's section on "Green Development Pact for a Sustainable Future" contained 53 commitments – the same number as Bali produced on the environment, climate change and energy. But none of New Delhi's were an ambitious advance on the Bali ones and none were nearly ambitious enough to contain the climate emergency the world now faces.

The G20 leaders' new promise on renewable energy read only "We … will pursue and encourage efforts to triple renewable energy capacity globally through existing targets and policies … by 2030." And on fossil fuel subsidies it simply repeated, for the 15th time, to "increase our efforts to implement the commitment made in 2009 in Pittsburgh to phase-out and rationalize, over the medium term, inefficient fossil fuel subsidies that encourage wasteful consumption and commit to achieve this objective, while providing targeted support for the poorest and the most vulnerable." But they added nothing on how they would finally keep their long overdue promise, which, the IMF says, would save the world the $7 trillion every year needed to contain climate change.

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