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India’s G20 win hides bitter divisions between the West and Global South

Host India succeeded in getting together a joint Group of 20 declaration, but it hides fractious relationships and bitter divisions among G20 member states.

New Delhi, India – Prime Minister Narendra Modi may have succeeded in getting together a joint G20 declaration, but the façade of “one earth, one family, one future” – the theme of the Group of 20 summit held in the Indian capital – hides fractious relationships and bitter disputes that divide the Global South from the West.

Leading up to the two-day summit of the world’s wealthiest economies that concluded on Sunday, India projected itself as the champion of the developing nations amid divisions over issues ranging from the Ukraine war to climate change and global food and energy security.

In his opening comments, French President Emmanuel Macron said it had become too easy for some developing nations to say that work on climate change is only the responsibility of the West. “I am concerned by this rising state of mind,” he said, referring to the demands that Western nations should take more responsibility for emissions.

French President Emmanuel Macron
French President Emmanuel Macron addresses a press conference at the end of the G20 Summit in New Delhi on Sunday. [Manish Swarup/AP Photo]

Macron’s comments reflect some of the behind-the-scenes tensions that have taken place in recent weeks as host India and other countries have raced to see if they could get a joint declaration, necessary for the summit to be deemed a “success”.

Climate was one of the critical areas, with some sticking points being the phasing down of all fossil fuels, the increase of renewable energy targets and the reduction of emissions by 43 percent globally by 2030 from 2019 levels.

Many of the emerging countries were resisting language on all those points. Indian representatives berated their Western counterparts for being responsible for the state of the planet’s pollution and expecting nations in the Global South to rein in their fossil fuel use even though they need that to create growth. This debate divided the room.

European nations got the brunt of the criticism as India remained respectful with the United States and Russia, people familiar with the matter told Al Jazeera.

But it was ultimately India’s representatives who also managed to move the needle on the debate. New Delhi cited its own commitment to renewable energy and managed to include language in the final declaration that would triple renewable capacity globally.

And while the declaration also said that global greenhouse gas emissions need to be reduced to 43 percent by 2030 relative to the 2019 levels, it failed to include language on fossil fuel phase-out.

“That’s really the compromise,” said one of the people familiar with the matter. “Everyone can claim to be active on climate change, but have their respective red lines.”

One of the other areas of tense discussions – and another sore point between the Global South and the West – was the conversation around the role of multilateral development banks and their role in today’s world.

“That was so, so painful,” said one of the sources familiar with the matter, noting that everyone had different views on what these institutions should be as they all aired their grievances.

The biggest point – for the outside world – was the language on the war in Ukraine. The final declaration said that “all states” should “refrain from the threat or use of force to seek territorial acquisition against the territorial integrity and sovereignty or political independence of any state”.

There was no explicit reference to Russian aggression, unlike in the G20 statement in Bali last year that cited a United Nations resolution condemning “in the strongest terms the aggression by the Russian Federation against Ukraine”.

The language on the war had been left to the very end, said one of the persons cited above, as New Delhi took a “big gamble” and worked to hammer out consensus on the other areas first.

The statement also left out deliberations from invited G20 member nations and global institutions to prepare the final communique, a big difference from the Bali summit, which had kept them in until almost the very end.

India and its northern neighbour China were not on the same page on several issues, including the reduction of emissions and the language on the Ukraine war.

“They followed Russia on everything – if Russia recommended deletion of this or that, they supported it. I don’t know if it was planned,” the source said.

But ultimately Indian negotiators did manage to pull together a final declaration, no matter how many points from the wish list it may have had to leave it out. Modi, who hogged the limelight during the two-day summit, will no doubt tout these wins in India’s upcoming state and national elections.

And Modi, not done yet, is now planning another international platform. In his closing speech on Sunday, the Indian prime minister proposed hosting a virtual summit in November before passing the G20 baton to Brazil.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi waves during his visit to the International Media Center at the end of the G20 Summit
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi waves during his visit to the International Media Center at the end of the G20 Summit in New Delhi on Sunday. [Dar Yasin/AP Photo]

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