Can Modi seize the moment at G20? India can be the global changemaker and climate pioneer
Modi should invite as special guests the literally-sinking SIDS – Vanuatu, Maldives, Sri Lanka and Singapore – as special guests to G20 along with former Maldivian president and present Majlis (parliament) speaker Mohamed Nasheed and Erick Solheim, former environment minister of Norway, who strongly connects South Asia’s climate future to global peace.
As the first quarter of India’s presidency of G20 comes to an end, it is time to assess the grave challenges that G20 faces today and the unique opportunities it has in near future. It is the first G20 meeting to take place in South Asia. Recent global events may prove to be turning points and they should be part of that overall assessment. They are seemingly unconnected but deeply entangled like the underground web of the roots of giant trees. The slow and silent spread of the roots has the potential to uproot the massive structures on the way. These recent events have the very potential to literally encroach on the regime of stability and uproot the existing systems and cause disruption.
G20, under India’s presidency, offers a unique opportunity to make transformational changes in the world order in wake of these events. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the host of G20 by rotation, has the capacity and mandate to make a difference. G20 preparatory meetings under India’s presidency till now are well conceived and planned with creativity. Though many events are India-centric, the scene is getting set for the main summit of G20 leaders to be held later in the year. As that summit gets nearer, there is an urgent need to assess these events that are likely to have a bearing on the expected outcome of the final G20 communique.
G20 started as a wider and more inclusive group than G7 which was considered a “partitioned pack of parallel power” to the United Nations. The roots of G20 are still dipped in an economic and financial cauldron; however, to be fair it has learned the lessons from the United Nations gallant efforts on Millennium Development Goals, MDGs, and the Sustainable Development Goals, SDGs. Peace on the planet is essential for economic growth and harmony with the nature ensures financial stability needed for the business and governments were those two key lessons. Partnership with the Global South is the sine qua non for the peace process. G20 is a balanced representation of a total of 19 countries, developed and developing, plus the EU. Its members represent 85 per cent of the global GDP, 75 per cent of international trade and two-thirds of the world’s population, 80 percent of global greenhouse emissions and 80 percent of the world’s forest cover. In a way, G20 follows the 80:20 rule – 20 countries represent 80 percent of the world and 80 percent of the world’s problems are closely connected to the policies and actions of 20 per cent of the countries.
The first of these events is the intense inflection point for global negotiations on climate change. It is about much talked about ‘climate justice’ that is globally agreed upon but has remained without delivering one. Modi frequently highlights climate inequality in a number of his speeches on international fora including the UN. But it has remained a quixotic concept.
Game-changing UN resolution
A game-changing UN General Assembly resolution drafted by a group of 17 Small Island Developing States (SIDS), including four from South Asia, and pioneered by Vanuatu, a tiny Pacific Island country, has now given practical shape to that concept.
That resolution has now been formally adopted by United Nations General Assembly calling for the advice of the top UN judicial body, the International Court of Justice (ICJ). The resolution emerged out of frustration that the world is witnessing the abysmal gap between agreed action and routine rhetoric on the climate crisis and the SIDS are the worst sufferers. Disillusioned and dejected by the existential threat looming large as their territory sinks fast under rising sea waters, the SIDS are reaching their limit of patience. Climate migration has already started with a major part of their population moving to other nearby safer countries. SIDS now has decided to test the water of the UN’s ability to deliver justice. Those who have contributed the least to the climate crisis are suffering the most and the first. Those who created and contributed the most still continue to aggravate the problem and negate the ‘polluter to pay’ principle.
The resolution, co-sponsored by nearly 120 countries, the majority of the member states of UN, basically requests advisory opinion from the ICJ on the issue of climate injustice. The opinion from ICJ is non-binding, but the start of the very process of interaction with ICJ has signalled a new era of international law-making for climate justice. Giving teeth to the climate-related lawsuits around the world and empowering vulnerable nations in international climate negotiations is big leap forward. The resolution was adopted unanimously. It is interesting that four G20 countries – USA, Russia, India and China – were not part of the 120 countries that explicitly co-sponsored the resolution. However, they did not oppose its adoption by the General Assembly either, probably seeing that majority is in favour of the resolution.
Modi has the opportunity to be with the SIDS by reassuring them that issue of climate justice is not only closer to the heart of large developing countries like India. Small Island countries are also part of ‘ Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’ (the world is one family), a mantra of G20. He should proclaim that ‘Sabka Saath Sabka Vikas’ (with all, development for all) is not only a national but also a global slogan. Talk on climate justice has now been set on the right path starting with open dialogue with ICJ. Modi should catalyze inclusive cooperation by G20 in the process of seeking climate justice. Modi should invite the literally-sinking SIDS – Vanuatu, Maldives, Sri Lanka and Singapore – as special guests to G20 along with former Maldivian president and present Majlis (parliament) speaker Mohamed Nasheed and Erick Solheim, former environment minister of Norway, who strongly connects South Asia’s climate future to global peace.
IPCC guiding posts
The second event that should matter to G20 is the 6th Assessment of IPCC ( Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) called AR6. ‘Final bell’, ‘Shrill warnings’, ‘Battle lines are drawn’, and ‘Can we really be back on track?’, were the messages flashed after AR6 was released. It is the last report before the planetary scale catastrophe is likely to set in by 2030, if the world does not bend down the rising curve of greenhouse gas emission. By 2030 global emissions should be reduced by 45 per cent as compared to the 2010 level as per AR6.
The limit of global warming by 1.5 deg C above the pre-industry level is now about to be breached. AR6 clearly states that warming is already reaching 1.2 deg C. That limit was pledged in Paris Climate Agreement at the insistence of the very SIDs that are now seeking the opinion from ICG to deliver climate justice for setting the new world order. The world is hanging on a cliff and G20 must now go beyond the debates and conferences on energy transition, carbon trading and climate resilience. They must now start accelerating energy transformation, renewable-energy trading and climate justice. The agreed promises of financial assistance to the developing countries, initiate massive mitigation of emissions along with stringent penal non-compliance measures are needed. G20 should even propose to become the implementation arm of COPs under UNFCCC.
G20 is coming just before the UN climate conference COP28 in the UAE. The window of opportunity to limit global warming to 1.5 deg C is a crack open as per AR6. Though the climate time-bomb is ticking, the IPCC’s report could serve as a how-to manual for defusing the climate time bomb. IPCC has not stopped just by blowing the emergency siren. It has laid out the milestones and guiding posts to achieve the targets of the Paris Climate Agreement as a matter of emergency. The dire message from AR6 is arrow-straight. We must start a massive mitigation drive literally, NOW! G20 needs to send that message not by stating how India is contributing to the emission reduction but by proposing systemic changes by inducting rigorous implementation mechanisms in the process of COP and UNFCCC, introducing the compliance provisions in the Green Climate Fund, which has a miserable record till now, having failed to replenish even 1 per cent of the agreed climate fund. There is a need to carry out financial reforms in World Bank, funding from which still includes aid and loans for electricity generation by fossil fuels.
In March 2023, International Energy Agency (IEA) hosted the COP28 president-designate Dr Sultan Al-Jaber for a roundtable discussion at its headquarters in Paris on ways to accelerate climate action. COP28 will mark the first global stocktake of emissions, enhanced NDCs (Nationally Determined Contributions) pledges, and plans since the Paris Agreement. The world is way off track in emission reduction as per the 2022 emission gap report of UNEP.
Dr Ali Jaber should be invited
“The bottom line is: the world needs to cut emissions by 43 per cent in the next seven years to keep (hope for limiting global warming to) 1.5 alive,” said Dr Al-Jaber at the IEA conference in Paris. “In the course of those same 7 years, the global population will exceed 8.5 billion and is on its way to 10 billion by 2050. Meeting the scale of the world’s fast-growing energy needs, while dramatically reducing emissions is one of the most complex challenges humanity has ever faced. Nothing short of transformational progress will do across mitigation, adaptation, climate finance and loss and damage.” added Al Jabar.
Modi should invite Dr Al Jaber to G20 as president-elect of COP28 not only to lay out his vision but to also engage him in a global programme of climate action as a legacy of his presidency. Masdar Solar venture was Al Jabar’s master stroke just like International Solar Alliance was promoted by Modi. Al Jabar as a visionary business leader sees the future in energy transformation by reducing the role of the oil and gas industry through ‘system-wide transformation’ and by recanalization of profits from the oil and gas industry for a GHG-free world. He has already achieved that to a certain extent through the Masdar Solar project in UAE and in other countries through investments there. That vision of transformation resonates well with the message of the UN Secretary-General that “massively fast-track climate efforts by every country and every sector and on every timeframe are needed. Our world needs climate action on all fronts — everything, everywhere, all at once.”
Is ‘system transformation’ possible?
Indeed, such a transformation of mindset and lifestyle is needed considering the fast-closing window of opportunity and cracking open main doors of solutions to win the battle against the climate crisis.
The words, “system transformation”, by Dr Al Jabar is the clarion call for the revolution in waiting. When the CEO of an oil company and Minister of Industry and Innovation of the country whose prosperity has emerged from the oil and gas, gives a call that “we need to step up efforts to hit net-zero emissions by adopting renewable and zero-carbon energies, decarbonising the current energy system and investing in proven and new mitigation technologies”, one gets the intense feeling that the revolution of “system transformation” has already begun.
(The writer is the Former director of Green TERRE Foundation and former Director UNEP. Views are personal. He can be contacted at email@example.com)