The G20 summit will meet for the fifteenth time, albeit virtually, under the Saudi Arabian presidency this November to discuss the post-pandemic future and address vulnerabilities. With the long shadow cast by the pandemic, there is a necessity for such strong multilateral action as advocated by the G20. This forum serves as a platform to treat the imminent development crisis induced by the pandemic. The post-Covid-19 world presents several challenges that will evince a slew of unprecedented repercussions. The most conspicuous of these is the economic fallout. There is no debate that the rapid spread of the pandemic and subsequent shutdown measures has contracted the global economy — the World Bank predicts a 5.2% shrinkage. The looming recession of even larger egregious proportions than the global financial crisis will affect most of the G20 countries. The G20, being the guardians of international economic prosperity, has sworn its commitment to supporting the global economy and fostering cooperation to build resilient financial stability. Amidst this backdrop, experts fear a strong emphasis on economic recovery, will lead to the dismissal of climate and sustainability goals to the periphery. However, the economic effects of Covid-19 will be further complicated by the protracting phenomenon of climate change that stands as potentially the most dangerous impediment to development. The costs of climate change manifest as lower agricultural productivity, infrastructure inefficiency, and lower public health increasing disease vulnerability and productivity. The economic impacts of climate change affect poverty, aggregate investments, and overall economic development and productivity. Climate action, therefore, remains critical in the decades to come and can improve economic and environmental resilience.
The economic effects of Covid-19 will be further complicated by the protracting phenomenon of climate change that stands as potentially the most dangerous impediment to development.
It is therefore in the interests of the G20, to promote climate action in its efforts to redeem the economy. In the summits to come India’s upcoming position in the troika and its crucial standing amongst developing countries could serve as opportunities to drive the SDGs with a strong focus on climate action. With India given a chance to be at the helm of discussion, it could guide a section of nations with major economic clout to realign their financial and developmental goals within the purview of the Paris Agreement.
The G20 countries account for around 80% of current greenhouses gas (GHG) emissions with an annual average of 7 tCO2e per capita. Furthermore, they are responsible for about 99% of the historic carbon emissions, with China and the US being the biggest current total emitters, and India and Indonesia having the lowest per capita emissions. Climate change maligns the meticulously nurtured global development gains and causes livelihood insecurity, which ultimately affects growth. An investment in climate change is synonymous with an investment in growth and the G20 platform has the potential to drive cooperation and coordinated global response to the disparate phenomenon of climate change. The large mobilisation of stimulus funds (on average of 4% of GDP) combined with near-zero interest rates provides a rare occasion to drive a socially and environmentally optimised recovery, rather than only an economic one. The current pandemic has thus brought the world to a crossroads, prompting a chance for immediate action to take place. Any further delay can be unquestionably expensive, considering that the climate crisis can cause disruptions of greater magnitude and duration than the present pandemic and can also lead to tremendous non-linear impacts on financial and economic systems. This makes a comprehensive mitigation policy a top priority. Delayed climate action can lead to final tipping points, lock economics into carbon-intensive infrastructure, and reduce future flexibility to adaptation. Finally, at a time when most countries are looking inwards to recuperate their respective economies, a reinvigoration of multilateralism is required for climate change adaptation. Therefore, the onus of emissions, the strong climate change economy nexus, and the need for global leadership provide the prerequisite for legitimate attention of the G20 on climate action.
The current pandemic has thus brought the world to a crossroads, prompting a chance for immediate action to take place. Any further delay can be unquestionably expensive.
Apart from having the most ambitious Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC), The Brown to Green 2019
report compiled by Climate Transparency indicates that India is one of the few G20 countries set to meet its 2030 targets. Furthermore, India falls among those countries (Germany, China, Mexico, and South Africa to name a few) that have taken the most steps towards climate action, having one fourth the per capita GHG emission as the average of the G20 nations. The realisation of its targets can be attributed to increased efforts in the area of renewable energy. While the situation in India (as with other G20 countries) still needs significant improvement, it’s commitment towards sustainability has been signaled distinctly. This provides India with the necessary leverage to influence climate talks and galvanise solidarity, especially in the Global South.
Investment in climate change is synonymous with investment in growth — the G20 has the potential to drive a coordinated global response. © Sanja Baljkas/Getty
Firstly, as a future troika member and at its subsequent seat of presidency, India can push for comprehensive and accelerated low carbon transition in post-Covid recovery. Apart from eliciting strong and realistic commitments from member states towards a shift in carbon deficient alternatives, India could also identify and acknowledge challenges to low carbon transitions. The creation of an implementable action plan for tackling challenges such as lack of infrastructure capacity, funding of renewable sources, or sectoral inefficiencies could be addressed at a macro level of the G20 nations, to ensure effective acceleration of low carbon transition. This would set the tone for climate priorities with the G20 agenda under the Indian presidency.
Secondly, technology and innovation play a crucial role in climate adaptation and mitigation. Following the Japan presidency which called for disruptive innovation in climate action, India could lead efforts towards harnessing the potential of the Fourth Industrial Revolution to provide a solutions-based approach to climate change drivers. It could propose a discussion on a framework to develop responsible AI, for data collection, mitigation strategies, and to be adopted in companies, by governments, and in research institutes. Leadership by India in the promotion of green technologies will be essential.
India falls among those countries (Germany, China, Mexico, and South Africa to name a few) that have taken the most steps towards climate action, having one fourth the per capita GHG emission as the average of the G20 nations.
Third, the 2022 presidency offers a unique position for India to drive appropriate collaboration and synergy between the Global South and the North. India can direct discussion and action plans for financial flows and assistance from richer nations. The unequal distribution of resources (financial and otherwise) warrants the need for financial assistance to ensure sustainable strategies for climate change. This provides an opportunity to discuss disparate issues related to the characteristics and mobilisation of finance for different types of climate sustainability activities. Furthermore, it promotes burden-sharing as fruitful results require that economic powers work in a coordinated yet ambitious manner.
Finally, there is no dearth of research and development activities within the G20 countries, that currently account for 92% of the spending on R&D. In line with this, India can highlight the necessity for continued research activity in the field of climate change among the member nations. This also involves knowledge sharing, such as exchange of development experiences among regions and contributions towards adoption and adaptation of sustainability solutions. Collaborative actions with multisectoral and multistakeholder participation among the G20 nations can be strongly espoused under the Indian presidency.
In conclusion, India is poised in a unique position to influence the climate action discussion to ensure comprehensive mitigation, adaptation, and restoration. While climate issues and challenges have long seeped into the G20 consciousness, as seen in the earlier presidencies of the G20 such as China, Germany, and Japan (to name a few), India could provide a fresh perspective and pave a novel pathway for representing developing countries and the Global South to achieve the SDGs and fulfill the Paris 2030 goals. This nevertheless prerequisites a coherent stance on its own climate priorities as well open and cooperative approach to relations in the Global South.
The author is research intern at ORF.
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