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India's G20 Presidency

India has the chance to push for more climate action through its G20 Presidency

7 September 2023, 5:08 UTC 4 min read

Altaf Azam

At the recently held G20 Environment and Climate Sustainability Ministerial Meeting, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi reiterated that the country was leading by example on its pledged net zero targets. The G20 Presidency has provided India with a significant opportunity to bolster its global standing and steer multilateral cooperation towards stronger climate action. Through its Presidency, it can emerge as a climate leader: championing cooperation between the global north and the global south to reflect climate justice and equity.  

Economic growth and the path to sustainable development 

India is set to outperform all other major economies in 2023, with an annual GDP growth rate of 6.6%. According to these projections by the World Bank, India is expected to be one of only three countries globally (apart from USA and China) with an annual GDP of over USD10 trillion by 2035.  

Although such projections tell a great success story for a developing nation, they could come at a great environmental cost. We should adopt sustainable and green ways of doing things at a pace that is needed. Emerging markets and developing economies account for two-thirds of global greenhouse gas emissions and at the same time are significantly more vulnerable to climate hazards than their counterparts in the global north. For example, one way in which it can emerge as a leader is through shifting the energy agenda. A look at India’s energy demand trajectory is revealing. 

Between 2005 and 2022, electricity consumption in India doubled from 631 kWH units to 1,255 kWH units per capita, primarily driven by rapid economic growth making India the third largest electricity market in the world. Although renewable energy accounted for over 40% of overall installed power generation capacity in 2022, 73% of India’s power was still sourced from coal in 2022-23.  

On the sidelines of the 3rd ETWG meeting, a Seminar on the Just Transition Roadmap was organised by the Union Ministry of Coal which focused on key challenges and opportunities associated with Just Transition and shone a light on aspects such as renewable energy roll-out, energy access, job creation, and social inclusion. The Indian presidency-led Energy Transitions Working Group will feature the release of 13 global studies focusing on advancing energy transitions, providing valuable insights and guidance for collective efforts in achieving transition goals. India’s example can thus offer invaluable lessons for other countries looking to foster net zero energy transition pathways.  

India’s global climate action and alliances 

 India has also begun various global climate action initiatives, such as: 

  • Establishing the International Solar Alliance (ISA) in 2015 which has emerged as a coalition of 121 countries promoting solar energy globally. 
  • It established the Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure (CDRI) in 2019 which is an international coalition of countries, United Nations (UN) agencies, multilateral development banks, the private sector, and academic institutions. CDRI aims to promote disaster-resilient infrastructure through research and knowledge sharing on infrastructure risk management, standards, financing, and post-disaster recovery mechanisms. 
  • Mission ‘LiFE’– ‘Lifestyle for Environment’ is a unique initiative which seeks to protect and preserve the environment by nudging individual and community action towards sustainable living. The intent is to base actions on the values of conservation and moderation. G20 members Argentina, France and the United Kingdom have already expressed support, and India can use its Presidency to begin developing the institutional, financial, regulatory, and technical conditions needed to make Mission LiFE a success. 

India is also using its G20 Presidency to pitch for an International Biofuels Alliance to help reduce its dependence and that of others on fossil fuels. India is the world's third largest consumer and importer of petroleum, and this Alliance involves major biofuel-producing nations such as Brazil and the US. It aims to develop fuel standards and foster technological innovations, among other aspects. 

Focusing G20 discussions on topical priorities 

Apart from finding net zero energy pathways and convening alliances that have the potential to speed up decarbonisation and just transition, the Presidency is focusing on topical priorities.   

The G20 Climate Sustainability Working Group (CSWG) has drawn attention to crucial environmental issues including land degradation, ecosystem restoration, biodiversity loss, the need for a sustainable and climate-resilient blue economy. The Working Group is also looking into the sustainable use of natural resources through the circular economy.  

Separately, India’s Presidency has, for the first time, introduced a working group on Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR). This has mainstreamed disaster risk reduction into sustainable development planning and policy discussions in the G20.  

A cross-cutting challenge identified across G20 working groups, however, has been the lack of sustainable financing options for energy transition, climate action and disaster risk reduction. Finance is key. The Reserve Bank of India’s Report on Currency and Finance estimates that the cost of adapting to climate change in India will reach a cumulative INR 85.6 lakh crore (USD 1.065 trillion) by 2030

Many other countries face the threat of climate hazards and similar challenges. The G20 can help the countries strengthen their financial risk management capabilities by rallying multilateral financial institutions and private sector institutions to direct capital flow towards climate action in developing economies. While mitigation financing gets significant investment from the private sector, adaptation and resilience will require more innovative thinking. 

India’s G20 Presidency is best encapsulated in its motto of One Earth, One Family, One Future. This emphasises the interconnectedness of the global community while calling for just transition and greater inclusion. India has taken substantial steps towards this. Now, with the G20 Leaders’ Summit, through its Presidency, India is uniquely positioned to accelerate effective climate action.