Author : Lakshmi Puri

Expert Speak Raisina Debates
Published on Dec 03, 2023

As India's Presidency of the G20 ends and the baton passes to Brazil, we evaluate the successes of the past year culminating in the New Delhi Leaders' Declaration.

What made India’s G20 Presidency so successful? —A deep dive into the New Delhi Leaders’ Declaration

By any yardstick, India that is Bharat’s G20 Presidency will go down as an outstanding achievement in the history of this preeminent global forum for economic and financial governance, and North-South development dialogue, cooperation, and decision-making. In its nearly one-year journey as well as in the destination reached, it set extraordinary benchmarks, which other presidencies will find difficult to match but an honour to follow.

As a multilateralist and development professional who has tracked the North-South institutional discourse and evolution over decades rarely has the author seen the host of a G20 Summit invest so much capital—political, financial, human, and diplomatic—in its once-in-20-years presidency. It has done so to great effect by charting new territory and creating an enduring legacy—for itself as a major, consequential power; for the Global South; and the world. Never had there been so many substantive outcomes, documents, and initiatives—some 112—on a vast variety of important, urgent, new, and emergent issues of global concern.  

Bringing India centrestage 

India’s G20 stewardship came at a time when it has been lauded for its remarkable recovery and for the rebuilding that happened after the calamitous COVID-19 pandemic. It had performed a “vaccine miracle” and generously provided 300 million vaccines to over 100 countries, mostly from the Global South. This “Vaccine Maitri” created enormous goodwill, with some foreign leaders referring to the Indian vaccine as having saved their lives and still coursing through their veins.

As a multilateralist and development professional who has tracked the North-South institutional discourse and evolution over decades rarely has the author seen the host of a G20 Summit invest so much capital—political, financial, human, and diplomatic—in its once-in-20-years presidency.

India’s G20 presidency was a celebration of a Bharat that has reclaimed its 5,000-year-old “civilisational state” heritage in all its cultural, intellectual and spiritual depth, diversity and grandeur. Whether it was the Konark Temple, the Nalanda University backdrop, or the towering Nataraja at the Bharat Mandapam, 300 cultural events involving 18,000 artists, classical and folk dances, ancient Rudraveena music, interactive art exhibits, and gourmet cuisine including Shree anna—India’s enormous soft power, in all its efflorescence, made its presence felt.

An exemplary New India was brought to the centre stage of global attention too. Both Indians and foreigners got to recognise the economic and technological progress that India has made, including in Tech 4.0 and frontier areas like Artificial Intelligence (AI), robotics, and space. The triumph of Chandrayaan-3 landing on Shiv Shakti Point was still fresh in the Indian and global memory. India’s prodigious sustainable development—Sabka Vikas Sabka Saath (Development for all, with all)—efforts and impressive social transformation projects shone as lighthouses with possibilities of their replicability and scaling up in the Global South and even the North.

India could wield the “argument of power’, rather than just the ‘power of argument’ to drive multisectoral and meaningful outcomes, moving beyond Prime Minister (PM) Modi’s charisma and personal relationships. This is because India has become the fastest-growing, fifth-largest, and soon-to-be third-largest economy in the world. New Bharat’s “everything is possible” confidence and its being in a geopolitical sweet spot—with the prognosis of this being India’s decade, if not India’s century—created a positive aura.

This was also reflected in the full attendance at the Summit—43 heads of countries and international organisations were present. All G20 leaders attended, barring President Putin and President Xi, each for their own “compelling reasons and preoccupations.” but were represented by seasoned Foreign Minister Lavrov and Prime Minister Li Qiang, respectively.

India’s prodigious sustainable development—Sabka Vikas Sabka Saath (Development for all, with all)—efforts and impressive social transformation projects shone as lighthouses with possibilities of their replicability and scaling up in the Global South and even the North.

There was a happy conjunction of state-of-the-art infrastructure, logistics, and excellent organisation—as evidenced in the 220 meetings in 60 cities, as well as the Delhi Summit at the newly built Bharat Mandapam. This was managed by the very able G20 Secretariat powered by India’s Ministry of External Affairs and led by the dynamic G20 Sherpa Amitabh Kant. At the same time, it was an all-of-government project in terms of departments and ministries involved. It set an example of cooperative federalism—there was an event in every state and Union Territory of India—with BJP and non-BJP state governments participating.

People’s G20—Justice and solidarity  

As PM Modi had promised, it was a People’s G20 in every way, quite unlike the elitist, official enterprise as usual. The voice and participation of “We the people” of the United Nations (UN) Charter (Jan Bhagidari) were very much at play with officials, corporates, civil society and grassroot community leaders, women, youth and even school children—altogether some 67 million people—engaging. The Civil 20 engagement group alone touched 4.5 million worldwide.

It’s becoming a Jan Andolan or people’s movement which is a welcome evolution, in contrast to the time when, during the G7 Summits, a parallel “people’s summit” used to be organised to protest against the leaders’ summit by social movements as part of the ‘Alter Globalization Movement’. G20 now embodies much of the ideals of that movement, including increased representation of the Global South in setting the global rules of the game, especially in multilateral institutions.

This equity quotient is necessary for providing critical global public goods of peace and security, including countering terrorism, promoting sustainable development and climate change, upholding democracy and human rights, coordinating humanitarian and crisis response, and bringing the technology dividend to all countries and people. PM Modi’s focus on “human-centric development” and the ethos of global solidarity for ensuring a more just financial, economic, social and environmental order, reinforced the objectives of “people summiteering.”

G20 now embodies much of the ideals of that movement, including increased representation of the Global South in setting the global rules of the game, especially in multilateral institutions.

India inscribed the unique vision of the“Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam”—the G20 theme, which translates into “One Earth, One Family, One Future”—into the New Delhi Leaders Declaration (NDLD). This was against the opposition of some who don’t see the world that way. As the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres put it, “this phrase finds profound resonance in today’s world, not just as a timeless ideal but as an indictment of our times.” He lauded the Indian presidency‘s efforts towards the kind of transformative change that the world so desperately needs, which is in line with India’s commitment to act on behalf of the Global South and to pursue the development agenda.  

Democratisation and inclusivity  

That India, as the most populous and youth abundant country in the world, is poised to reap the demographic dividend was also brought home. As a resounding retort to motivated and ill-intentioned critics here and abroad, India’s credentials as the flourishing, largest, oldest, most variegated and vibrant democracy was reaffirmed even further. This democratic spirit was reflected in India’s G20 by being perhaps the largest and most inclusive one in terms of participation and networking of countries, governments, as well as economic, financial, and social actors, especially from the Global South.

The numbers are awe-inspiring—21 Ministerial meetings; 4 Sherpa Meetings, 75 Working Group meetings, altogether 50 meetings of the 11 Engagement Groups and 6 Initiatives—MACS, Empower, Space, Cybersecurity, RIIG, CSAR; 13 Sherpa Track Working Group meetingseight Finance Track workstreams; 70 Side Events attended by 100,000 participants, 30,000 delegates from 125 nationalities40 Mechanisms (largest ever); and Standalone Ministerial meetings of Foreign Ministers and Women’s Affairs Ministers.

Before the Delhi Summit and at the start of its presidency, India convened the first-ever Voice of the Global South Summit with 125 countries participating. India made the Delhi Summit most inclusive by inviting the largest number of guest countries from the Global South. Forty-three countries and international organisations—one of the largest ever in geographical reach with 125 nationalities represented—were in attendance, with 31 Leaders and 11 heads of international organisations attending the G20 Summit. It witnessed Africa's largest-ever participation—South Africa plus Nigeria, Mauritius, Egypt (including as NEPAD Chair) and the AU Chair, Comoros.

India made the Delhi Summit most inclusive by inviting the largest number of guest countries from the Global South.

PM Modi securing the African Union’s admission into the G20 as a permanent member, over the reluctance of some usual suspects, was a masterstroke in the democratisation of the G20, adding credibility without making it unwieldy. With 33 least developed countries amongst the 54 African countries, the G20 is enabled to reach the farthest behind first in a Sarvodaya to Antodaya spirit. It solidified India’s credentials as a true champion and trusted partner of Africa, paving the way for further deepening of bilateral and multilateral strategic and economic cooperation, including on the shared agenda of reforming the UN Security Council itself. It was a major strategic win for Africa, as it got to join the high table and shape decisions that most affect their sustainable development needs, all the while helping to tap their enormous potential.

Unifier and bridge builder 

India passed the test of being a unifier and the third pole in the division between East and West and North and South. Geopolitically, the world has, perhaps, never been so riven and fragmented and so haunted by the spectre of a World War III or even of a nuclear Armageddon and a Cold War 2.0 to boot. The Russia-Ukraine conflict had entered the 80th week with no negotiated end in sight and positions only hardening between NATO and Russia. Though G20 Summits are not meant to resolve conflicts, there was justified apprehension that either side could block the consensus on NDLD unless they got their political imprint on it, thus derailing India’s presidency and harming G20 itself.

In a diplomatic victory, India built trust, and drawing upon its “multi-alignment” stance, convinced both sides. Russia was satisfied that it was not mentioned, with the terminology “the war in Ukraine” used instead. The West got affirmation that consistent with the UN Charter principles, all states were asked to refrain from the threat or use of force to seek territorial acquisition against the territorial integrity and sovereignty or political independence of any state. This was as much a signal to India’s aggressive neighbours. The inadmissibility of the threat of the use of nuclear weapons was also reiterated.

The West got affirmation that consistent with the UN Charter principles, all states were asked to refrain from the threat or use of force to seek territorial acquisition against the territorial integrity and sovereignty or political independence of any state.

India’s advancing the Global South’s interests were not done in a confrontational way to the Global North but in a bridge-building way—in the spirit of Vishvamitra and Vishwaguru. It sought support and concessions for developing countries from the Global North, but also took care to keep policy space for developing countries to make contributions to the global public goods, each according to their capacity and needs.

G20 as Economic Security Council  

India remarkably steered the G20 as a veritable Economic Security Council to revive the UN-brokered Black Sea Grain Deal—a deal among Russia, Ukraine, and Türkiyé to address the rising food crisis—and address “the negative added impacts of the war,” and the pressing issues of post COVID socio-economic meltdown and polycrisis—simultaneous and overlapping—of food, fuel, financial, debt, climate crisis, and SDG regression most affecting the Global South.

It also got the G20 to grapple with the broader issues of global economic and financial management and governance, including terrorist funding and money laundering, regulating crypto assets, combating corruption, preparing for future of work, “One Health” and pandemic preparedness and response, finance-health collaboration, Goa Roadmap for tourism, higher education and quality education collaboration, ocean-based blue economy, financing cities of tomorrow, and establishing a globally fair, sustainable and modern international taxation system for the 21st century.

India as global system shaper 

The New Delhi Summit marked India’s true emergence as a global system shaper, from being a conscientious objector or a system taker. From being on the periphery, it came to the centre of global economic and sustainable development decision-making. It took on responsibilities and made contributions and down payments in climate change and environment, digital public infrastructure and disaster risk reduction and response including the historic setting up of a working group on it.

The New Delhi Summit marked India’s true emergence as a global system shaper, from being a conscientious objector or a system taker.

PM Modi had vowed that India’s voice and priorities would be the voice of the Global South. The New Delhi Summit gave direction, set templates and targets, adopted principles and standards, and stimulated actions by governments and global institutions to deliver “inclusive, decisive, action-oriented and ambitious” results in the Indian presidency’s seven thematic priorities, especially to benefit the Global South. 

Accelerating the SDGs 

Recognising slow progress in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)—88 percent of targets are off track—the Delhi Summit recommitted to important deliverables. These include the adoption of G20 High-Level Principles to Accelerate Progress on SDGs to guide the next seven years of action; Data for DevelopmentAnalytical framework for SDG Aligned FinancingUNSG’s proposal on SDG Stimulus of US $500 billion per year,and acknowledging the need to provide US $1.2 Trillion (ex-China) by 2030 in SDG funding with Multilateral Financial Institutions to provide US $260 billion a year.

It further committed to mobilising affordable, adequate, and accessible financing from all sources to close the financing gap and scale up sustainable finance in line with the G20 Roadmap. Significantly, it clarified that climate finance would not displace SDG finance but complement it. On SDG2—the zero hunger goal—adopted the Deccan High-level Principles on Food Security and Nutrition; undertook to advance resilient, climate-smart, sustainable agriculture; addressed effects of food and energy price volatility, and enhanced the International Fund for Agricultural Development resources.

Green Development Pact

The agreement on a robust Green Development Pact for a Sustainable Future was a major win. PM Modi’s LiFE mission was turned into G20 High-Level Principles on Lifestyles for Sustainable Development. An ambitious second replenishment of the Green Climate Fund was called for, along with private finance and a strong commitment to developed countries’ sharing, deploying and financing of climate-friendly technologies and implementing the Multiyear Technical Assistance Plan (TAAP).

The biggest achievement was affirming the necessity of climate financing for the Global South to go from billions to trillions—US$ 5.9 trillion for the Global South before 2030 to implement their Nationally Determined Contributions and set ambitious climate adaptation targets, US$ 4 trillion for clean energy technologies alone, and annual incremental investment of US $1.8 trillion, and scaling up of blended finance.

The biggest achievement was affirming the necessity of climate financing for the Global South to go from billions to trillions—US$ 5.9 trillion for the Global South before 2030 to implement their Nationally Determined Contributions and set ambitious climate adaptation targets.

The NDLD called for implementation of the US $100-billion Paris Commitment and set an ambitious, traceable, transparent New Collective Quantifiable Goal—NCQG—with developed countries and Multilateral Development Banks (MDBs) to raise their game on this; agreed on peaking of emissions by 2025 on a differential basis for developing countries; acceleration of progress on early warning systems on climate-triggered disasters and agreed to peg the global net-zero target by 2050 with Common but differentiated responsibilities (CBDR) and national capacity determined policy space retained for developing countries. 

Just Energy transitions

The NDLD committed to accelerating clean, sustainable, affordable, just and inclusive energy transitions; maintaining uninterrupted flow of energy sources, suppliers and routes for enhanced energy security and market stability; low-cost financing for developing countries; doubling renewable energy targets by 2030adopted an action plan for doubling rate of energy efficiency; provided necessary policy space for developing countries on inefficient fossil fuel subsidies; and green-signalled cooperation in small to medium nuclear reactors—a breakthrough for India and the Global South. Three concrete initiatives included establishing the Green Hydrogen Innovation Centre steered by the International Solar Alliance (ISA); High-Level Principles for Collaboration on Critical Minerals for Energy Transitions, and the launch of the Global Bio Fuels Alliance. 

Digital Public Infrastructure (DPI)

The Delhi Summit initiated the ‘evolving concept of technological transformation and DPI for ending digital divides. Recognising India’s JAM (Jan Dhan, Aadhaar, and Mobile) trinity for financial inclusion, it adopted a G20 Framework for Systems of DPI, welcomed India’s plan to build and maintain a Global DPI Repository for sharing with the G20 and beyond, and acknowledged the Indian proposal of “One Future Alliance” for assistance to developing countries.  

Reform of multilateral institutions 

Many of India and the Global South's objectives on the reform of multilateral institutions, which as UNSG Guterres admitted, “are gridlocked in dysfunction”, were achieved. The G20, for the first time, collectively recalled the UNGA Resolution 75/1 for reinvigorated multilateralism and reforms, thus bringing UNSC reform to the forefront and strengthening India and the Global South’s hand.

On MDBs, it committed to pursuing reforms for bigger and more effective MDBs so they can make a quantum jump from billions to trillions of dollars in development assistance with improved operating models and substantial increase in financial capacity, which should enable faster and robust mobilisation of funds for developing countries.

Reducing the cost of investments and increasing the capacity of the International Development Association crisis response window and concessional lending overall were important plusses.

It made an insistent call for enhanced representation and voice of developing countries in decision-making in international financial and economic institutions, not merely as beneficiaries but as decision-makers and urged that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) quota reform be completed by December 2023. The US$ 200 billion to provide additional lending headroom for the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) through a review of the capital adequacy framework marked the first important step, especially for developing countries which are highly reliant on IBRD's concessional window.

It signalled that voluntary channelling of Special Drawing Rights through MDBs could pave the way for the implementation of the Bridgetown Initiative to support more vulnerable countries. Reducing the cost of investments and increasing the capacity of the International Development Association crisis response window and concessional lending overall were important plusses. There was a commitment to complement the strengthening of innovative and sustainable financing pathways including pension funds, asset management companies, and blended finance with support from the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA) and International Finance Corporation (IFC) for private sector mobilisation.  

Debt crisis 

The Delhi Summit addressed the unprecedented and crippling US $9-trillion dollar debt burden faced by some 70 developing countries, 30 percent of which is owed to China. It called for more effective, speedier implementation of the Debt Suspension Initiative of G20 and agreed to go beyond the Common Framework for Debt restructuring and, for the first time, India set up a coordinated mechanism for Sri Lanka, paving the way for non-Common Framework countries to join. It asked to address the debt vulnerabilities of low- and middle-income countries in a comprehensive manner, addressing policy issues for the effective implementation of the Common Framework.  

Women-led development

The concept of women-led development, pioneered by PM Modi, was consecrated for the first time in the G20. The New Delhi Leaders’ Declaration had the most comprehensive and elaborate commitment to women’s socio-economic empowerment—two-and-a-half pages. It included driving gender-responsive climate action; securing women’s food security, nutrition and well-being; and ending violence and bias. It set a new target of reducing the gender digital gap by half by 2030 and reaching the target of reducing the labour force participation gap by 25 percent by 2025. The creation of a separate Working Group on women’s empowerment is an enduring legacy enabling systematic focus and gender mainstreaming, monitoring and accountability from now on.  

Sharing the success 

The concluding paragraph of the New Delhi Declaration signals India having ensured that the G20 will “remain the premier forum for global economic cooperation and is determined to steer the world out of its current challenges and build a safer, stronger, more resilient, inclusive and healthier future for our people and planet.”

The success is a shared one too, with the Global South leaders joining and lauding India’s stewardship in championing their causes in the G20. The unprecedented and fortuitous  conjunction of the G20  Presidencies being held by four major economies of the Global South—Indonesia (2022), India (2023), Brazil (2024) and South Africa (2025) demands that the Delhi Summit outcomes be taken to their logical, transformative progression. It could then signal a shift in the balance of power towards developing countries within the G20, their causes and their shaping of global governance systems. Brazil and South Africa will need to follow up assiduously on this.

The success is a shared one too, with the Global South leaders joining and lauding India’s stewardship in championing their causes in the G20.

The United States (US)and other G7 countries too, demonstrated their commitment to strategic partnerships with India and the high stakes they have in the vitality of this forum. President Biden praised the PM Modi-led G20 for “demonstrating that it can still drive solutions to our most pressing issues” and referred to “its ground-breaking achievements” in his UNGA address. Even China expressed satisfaction with the outcome. All in all, it was a resounding success for India’s foreign policy and national mobilisation and reinvention and marked one of the proudest moments of Bharat’s centring in the emerging global order.


Amb. Lakshmi Puri was the Former Assistant Secretary General of, the United Nations, Deputy Executive Director of UN WOMEN, Director and Acting Deputy Secretary General, UNCTAD Indian Foreign Service officer and Ambassador of India.

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Lakshmi Puri

Lakshmi Puri

Amb. Lakshmi Puri was Former Assistant Secretary General United Nations Deputy Executive Director UN WOMEN Director and Acting Deputy Secretary General UNCTAD Indian Foreign Service ...

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