India’s assumption of the Presidency of the G-20 group of countries from 1 December 2022 till 30 November 2023 coincides with the celebration of 75 years of India’s independence. The theme of India’s Presidency of the G-20 is “One Earth, One Family, One Future”, which is anchored in India’s civilizational vision of seeing the world as one family or “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam”. India will host the G-20 Summit on 9-10 September 2023. The Summit would have been preceded by over 200 G-20 sectoral meetings hosted in more than 50 venues across India.
Within the G-20, India is positioned as the voice of what analysts have called the developing countries of the “Global South”. The broad framework of issues of direct interest to developing country members of the G-20 are reflected in the UN’s Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development. This holistic, negotiated, global blueprint for nationally-owned action was unanimously adopted by the UN General Assembly by world leaders, including Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi, in September 2015 at New York. Agenda 2030 converges the twin priorities of development and environmental protection. It is based on 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including health, education, gender, energy, employment, infrastructure, inequalities, urban growth, consumption, and the environment on land, sea, and air. In a vindication of India’s perspective that “poverty is the biggest polluter”, the eradication of poverty or SDG 1 was made the “overarching” objective of Agenda 2030.
India has aligned its national development priorities with Agenda 2030 with a focus on human-centric development. As Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi wrote in a blog post on 1 December 2022, India’s “citizen-centric governance model takes care of even our most marginalised citizens, while nurturing the creative genius of our talented youth. We have tried to make national development not an exercise in top-down governance, but rather a citizen-led ‘people’s movement’. We have leveraged technology to create digital public goods that are open, inclusive and inter-operable. These have delivered revolutionary progress in fields as varied as social protection, financial inclusion, and electronic payments.” A special focus for India is on women’s empowerment to achieve sustainable development, building on the process of gender equality initiated 75 years ago by India’s Hansa Mehta during the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and brought so vividly to life in different provinces of neighbouring Afghanistan by the late Ela Bhatt and her Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) scheme.
Since her independence from British rule in 1947, India has emerged into the ranks of one of the world’s major emerging economies. In the closing months of 2022, India overtook its former colonial power the United Kingdom to become the world’s fifth largest economy based on its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of $3.53 trillion. Economic analysts expect India to be among the top three global economies, along with the United States and China, within a decade.
The G-20 brings together 19 countries and one regional economic organization (the European Union). Its members are Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Republic of Korea, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Türkiye, United Kingdom and United States. The G-20 members represent around 85% of the global GDP, over 75% of the global trade, and about two-thirds of the world population. Created as an international response by a group of finance ministers to the Asian financial crisis of 1997, the G-20 took its current political shape after the 2008 financial crisis that overwhelmed the major Western economies. President George W. Bush hosted the first G-20 Summit in November 2008 in Washington D.C.
Since the G-20 does not have a charter or a permanent secretariat, its impact on global financial, economic, and political events has depended on the focus and capability of its President. The President is assisted in a “troika” format by the country which has been the immediate past President, and the country designated at the incoming President. India has been a part of the G-20 “troika” since 2022, when Indonesia assumed the Presidency. It is significant that between 2022 and 2025, the G-20 will have been led by major developing country economies – Indonesia (2022), India (2023), Brazil (2024), and South Africa (2025). This is expected to consolidate the consideration of issues of priority interest to developing country members of the G-20 on the agenda of the grouping.
The Preamble to Agenda 2030 had affirmed that there “can be no sustainable development without peace and no peace without sustainable development.” In this context, three specific challenges are visible on the ground to achieving the goals of sustainable development today. First, the failure of bodies like the UN Security Council (UNSC) to maintain international peace and security. Second, the ineffectiveness of international cooperation through UN specialized agencies like the World Health Organization (WHO) to counter the Covid pandemic. Third, a growing imbalance in international financial and trade relations, calling into question the roles of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Trade Organization (WTO). People living in developing countries have felt the impact of these challenges the most, with more than 100 million people across countries being pushed back into poverty in recent years.
To respond to these challenges, Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi called for “reformed multilateralism” at the 75th anniversary Summit of the UN in 2020. This objective prioritized reforms of the UNSC, reforms of the UN and its specialized agencies, as well as reforms of the major multilateral institutions like the IMF and WTO. The objective of “reformed multilateralism” is to restore a “human-centric” focus for international cooperation, keeping in mind the unanimous international commitment in Agenda 2030’s SDG 16.8 to reform multilateral institutions to “broaden and strengthen the participation of developing countries in the institutions of global governance”.
After taking over the Presidency of the G-20, Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi had emphasized that India’s “G-20 priorities will be shaped in consultation with not just our G-20 partners, but also our fellow-travellers in the global South, whose voice often goes unheard.” He had set out the key areas of healing, harmony, and hope that India would focus on during its Presidency:
“For healing our planet, we will encourage sustainable and environment-friendly lifestyles, based on India’s tradition of trusteeship towards nature.
For promoting harmony within the human family, we will seek to depoliticise the global supply of food, fertilizers and medical products, so that geo-political tensions do not lead to humanitarian crises. As in our own families, those whose needs are the greatest must always be our first concern.
For imbuing hope in our future generations, we will encourage an honest conversation among the most powerful countries – on mitigating risks posed by weapons of mass destruction and enhancing global security.”
On 12-13 January 2023, India hosted a virtual “Voice of the Global South for Human-centric Development” Summit. A measure of the importance of India’s initiative can be gauged from the fact that 125 countries responded to this initiative, including 47 from Africa, 31 from Asia, 29 from Latin America and the Caribbean, 11 from Oceania, and 7 from Europe. Participating countries were linked by common concerns regarding issues of sustainable development of priority to them, on which existing multilateral institutions have failed to provide significant outcomes.
The outcomes of the New Delhi Global South Summit will be integrated into the G-20 process by India, and carried forward by the next two chairs of the G-20 (Brazil and South Africa), which were also among the prominent participants at the New Delhi Global South Summit. In parallel, the Global South Summit provides a major input into the preparations for the UN’s “Summit of the Future”, planned to be held in New York in September 2024.
Achieving “reformed multilateralism” through these processes would require world leaders to review the international situation after the disruptions caused by natural and manmade causes over the past three years, which have set back the momentum of constructive international cooperation. In this context, a decision by the UN’s “Summit of the Future” to convene a General Conference of the UN in 2025, when the organization marks its 80th anniversary, would be appropriate. As a leading voice for diplomacy, dialogue, and development, India would play a major role in ensuring this objective.
Ambassador Asoke Mukerji retired as India’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations in New York in December 2015. He is a Distinguished Fellow of the Vivekananda International Foundation, New Delhi and an elected Member of the USI Council, New Delhi.
 Press Information Bureau, Government of India, 8 February 2002. Text of Prime Minister Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s speech at the Delhi Sustainable Development Summit. https://archive.pib.gov.in/archive/releases98/lyr2002/rfeb2002/08022002/r0802200217.html
 Press Information Bureau, Government of India, 1 December 2022. https://pib.gov.in/PressReleseDetail.aspx?PRID=1880141
 World Economic Forum, 26 September 2022. https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2022/09/india-uk-fifth-largest-economy-world
 Financial Times, 8 November 2022. https://www.ft.com/content/489cc92c-c950-47de-ad5f-586b9da33b70
 See note 2.