With the world facing an unprecedented combination of interconnected crises, the New Delhi Summit is the most important one ever held by G20 leaders
The G20’s 18th summit, taking pace in New Delhi on 9–10 September 2023, is the most important one that G20 leaders have ever held. Indian prime minister Narendra Modi as host and his colleagues from the world’s systemically significant states confront an unprecedented combination of interconnected crises, including inflation, high interest rates and debt, energy, food and health insecurity, Russia’s war against Ukraine, and the climate emergency from record heat and resulting extreme weather events throughout the world. Amid these proliferating perils, and the deep divisions they create among G20 leaders, the New Delhi Summit promises to produce a significant performance. Leaders will transcend their divisions over Russia’s war against Ukraine to agree on a consensus communiqué, as they did at last year’s summit in Bali, Indonesia. They will make major advances on Modi’s innovative priorities, led by his Lifestyle for Environment movement, women-led development and the key demands of the Global South. They will overcome some deadlocks on clean, accessible energy and food security, digital public infrastructure and climate change. Above all, on the escalating climate emergency, they will forge a firm foundation for Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s G20 summit next year to build the transformations needed to control this truly existential threat.
Priorities and preparations
New Delhi’s promising prospects began with the pioneering priorities Modi set when he took the G20’s chair on 1 December 2022. Under the theme of One Earth, One Family, One Future – a trilogy that puts the natural environment first – he chose to focus on the priorities of increased, inclusive, sustainable economic growth, accelerated climate action, the LiFE movement, advancing the Sustainable Development Goals, women-led development, digitalisation and health security.
To make his summit work for the Global South, in January Modi gathered the leaders and foreign ministers of 125 developing countries in New Delhi to give them voice from the very start. And to produce a ‘people’s G20’ he mounted a proliferation of G20 events throughout all regions of India, which highlighted their rich distinctive history, culture, hospitality, products and cuisine.
Those events included 19 meetings of G20 ministers responsible for 16 different portfolios. The 12 meetings held by early August each produced a consensus outcome document, containing commitments on which New Delhi’s leaders can build. In February, finance ministers and central bank governors made 67 commitments covering 11 subjects, followed by the foreign ministers in March with 16 commitments. In June, development ministers made 36 commitments, agriculture ministers made 45, tourism ministers made 10, education ministers made 21 and research ministers made 25. In July, finance ministers and central bank governors made 95 commitments, labour and employment ministers made 30, energy ministers made 48, and environment and climate sustainability ministers made a new peak of 133. In August, the ministerial meeting on women’s empowerment made 28 commitments.
Further momentum came from the substantial compliance with the leaders’ priority commitments from the Bali Summit. By the end of April, members’ compliance with their leaders’ Bali commitments averaged 75%, a notable increase from the 68% for the 2021 Rome Summit commitments after six months. Bali’s compliance was led by the commitments on the environment at 90%, climate change at 85%, food security at 80%, open agricultural trade at 79% and energy access and bribery at 78% each. Compliance was led by the United Kingdom and European Union at 90%, Argentina and Korea at 87%, Germany at 86% and host India at 83%. Compliance will be higher by the time the leaders meet in New Delhi.
Propellors of New Delhi’s performance
At New Delhi itself, the final push will come from Modi himself, as the host and the leader with the G20’s fastest growing economy and population, very long experience at G20 summits, high popularity at home and abroad, and firm control of his legislature. He also stands at the hub of a growing network of global summit governance, having attended the G7 summit and the Quadrilateral summit in Hiroshima in May, having hosted the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit in July, and participating in the BRICS summit in South Africa in late August, along with bilateral visits to US president Joe Biden and French president Emmanuel Macron before the New Delhi Summit’s start. The likely absence of a rapidly weakening Russian president Vladimir Putin in person at New Delhi reduces the Russian and Chinese constraints that G20 leaders must overcome to reach ambitious agreements. G20 leaders at New Delhi will be spurred to do more by the surge in the unprecedented climate change and extreme weather shocks that struck all their countries during the months leading up to the summit. They will go beyond setting principles and frameworks and endorsing others’ work to make bolder decisions than their ministers made and even some breakthroughs too. They will thus set a firm foundation for the subsequent summits on sustainable development, climate action and health at the United Nations in September, and the G20 summit that Brazil will mount in 2024.