India at G20: Smart diplomacy in a world on fire

ROME: In Eternal City, winter has set in, with radiant mornings and sun-filled cafes buzzing with chatter of casual conviviality after a long night of pandemic darkness. But behind that serene exterior, the world is burning, with a host of combustible issues such as aggravating global warming that can literally set the world on fire, if not handled deftly. It is this sense of urgency and existential crisis that will permeate the 16th edition of the two-day G20 summit of the world’s wealthiest nations in Rome on October 30-31.

Rome’s airspace is jammed, with a horde of world leaders descending on the city that was once the nerve centre of the Holy Roman Empire. Prime Minister Narendra Modi was one of the first world leaders to touch down in this historic city in the early hours on October 29.  In barely a couple of hours after his special flight landed, PM Modi, a natural workaholic, was up and running, with his first meeting with EU leaders, followed by a homage to Mahatma Gandhi, a living presence who continue to inspire Italians with his message of non-violence in a country that has known wars, violence and power games on an unimaginable scale.

Why G20 matters

The major highlights of PM Modi’s first visit to Italy includes his first bilateral meeting with Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi and bilateral meetings with world leaders, including the Saudi King and his first-ever meeting with the Holy See. The main course of a diverse menu will, needless to say, be the G20 summit, which has acquired an added traction and resonance in the aftermath of the virulent coronavirus pandemic, derailing the global economy and making very survival a game of radical uncertainty.

P3 mantra 

Against this backdrop of a world stricken with multiple crises, the triple P mantra of Italian presidency of G20 – People, Planet and Prosperity –  will dominate the agenda of the 20-nation grouping, which represents around 80% of the world’s GDP, 75% of global trade, and 60% of the world’s population.

Vaccine equity: The central thrust of the G20 leaders’ meeting in Rome will be to bring a swift closure to the malignant coronavirus pandemic that has devastated people’s lives and wrecked the world economy. One can notice green shoots of recovery amid gloom and doom in some parts of the world, but vaccine equity is becoming increasingly glaring. To date, 61 percent of people in wealthy nations have received at least one vaccine dose, compared to just under 4 percent in poor ones. Vaccine inequity is disrupting supply chains and delaying recovery in low- and middle-income countries.

In his intervention at the G20 summit, PM Modi is expected to call for global vaccine equity and underline the urgency for enhancing international cooperation to solve the Covid-19 crisis. According to India’s Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla, India will vigorously support equitable and affordable access to COVID-19 disease control tools, including vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics, through technology transfer, diversification of supply chains and production hubs. The central point of PM Modi’s address will be that extensive vaccination is a global public good, a singular contribution of India to the emerging post-pandemic global lexicon.  PM Modi is also expected to make a strong case to strengthen and reform the WHO led global health governance architecture.

Senior officials said that PM Modi will renew the pitch for the India-South Africa proposal to increase large-scale manufacturing of vaccines by waiving some parts of the intellectual property rules under the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS Agreement).

Sustained global economic recovery: The post-Covid global economic recovery in 2021 continues to be uneven, with stark divergences in growth trajectories of rich and poor countries. The IMF recently lowered its expectations for growth in 2021 and warned of a dangerous divergence in economic prospects across countries.  Against this backdrop, India, which chairs the G20 framework working group, will play a pivotal role in formulating the G20’s economic response to the pandemic. PM Modi is likely to argue for continuing the G20’s financial support for poor and developing countries through extension of mechanisms such as Debt Service Suspension Initiative (DSSI). He will also caution the G20 countries to avoid any premature withdrawal of support measures and argue for extension of DSSI to middle-income countries, said officials involved with shaping India’s G20 agenda. India has supported the extension of the Debt Service Suspension Initiative until the end of December this year.

Another important part of PM Modi’s remarks at G20 will be to highlight the link between ensuring equitable vaccines for all with the global economic recovery. In his remarks, PM Modi will also underscore the importance of broadening global economic recovery to make it more inclusive and pitch for enhancing intra-G20 macro-economic coordination to address issues relating to economic growth, said officials.

Climate Change: The G20 summit in Rome will set the agenda for COP26 – the global climate summit – in Glasgow, which will take place soon after the conclusion of the G20 leaders’ meeting. PM Modi will also participate in the high-level segment of COP-26, titled the World Leaders’ Summit (WLS), on November 1-2.

One can expect intense negotiations on climate change, especially on the contentious issue of net zero emissions. Currently, the Group of 20 rich countries are split over phasing out coal and committing to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.  Curbing emissions will figure prominently on the agenda of the G20 leaders’ summit in Rome on Oct. 30-31. The G20, which accounts for 80% of global emissions, will be crucial for achieving success in Glasgow, but the real action on climate change front will be in Glasgow, said officials.

At the G20, PM Modi will highlight many steps taken by his government to decarbonise the economy, including eliminating single-use plastics, expanding forest cover and popularising LED lights. PM Modi will expound India’s latest position and strategy to reduce carbon footprint in greater detail at the COP26 summit, said officials. In Rome as well as in Glasgow, PM Modi is likely to make a strong pitch to developed countries to honour their promise of providing $100 billion climate finance to enable G20 countries to transition to low-carbon economy.

The Road Ahead

The  16th edition of the G20 summit is special and will be tracked around the world as it is the first major in-person multilateral summit bringing together 20 of the world’s most powerful economies on the same plarform to address a wide range of cross-cutting issues. As the leader of the world’s most populous democracy, who has set new benchmark by enabling India to achieve the landmark goal of 1 billion anti-corona vaccines, all eyes will be on the Indian leader who enjoys enormous credibility and popularity after over seven years of being at the helm.

The timing of the summit provides PM Modi a unique opportunity for shaping the global agenda to accelerate India’s rise as a global power with a unique voice and vision, standing in not only for India’s interests but also for that of the developing and emerging world. The next four days in Rome and Glasgow will provide the world a fresh glimpse into India’s emergence as a smart power, which is not aligned with any vested interests or power centres, but with aspirations of humanity and those of more than 1 billion people of India.

(Manish Chand is Founder-CEO of India Writes Network and Centre for Global India Insights, a think tank focused on global affairs.)

Author Profile

Manish Chand
Manish Chand
Manish Chand is Founder-CEO and Editor-in-Chief of India Writes Network ( and India and World, a pioneering magazine focused on international affairs. He is CEO/Director of TGII Media Private Limited, an India-based media, publishing, research and consultancy company.