Image: Poetra.RH/ - Photo: 2023

India’s G20 Presidency: Can It Reshape International Climate Politics?

By Robert Mizo*

This article was issued by the Toda Peace Institute and is being republished with their permission.

NEW DELHI 5 July 2023 (IDN) — India’s presidency of the G20 for 2023 has been hailed with much fanfare and national pride in India. The G20, being a club of leading economies, accounts for 74 per cent of the world’s total GDP according to the World Bank data for 2020. It therefore carries immense political and economic power to address global issues such as climate change, if it wills.

Climate change has been a consistent issue of concern for the group; it acknowledges how it impacts the global economy and human populations. India, as its current president, has the platform and the responsibility to direct the collective energies of the group towards not only addressing the climate crisis but also potentially reshape the ideological contours of international climate politics.

Ever since India took up the presidency, the Environment and Climate Sustainability Working Group (ECSWG) under the G20 has convened three times in different cities in India. The working group laid out three priority areas at its first meeting, which all parties agreed to work towards. These were:

1. arresting land degradation, accelerating ecosystem restoration and enriching biodiversity;

2. promoting a sustainable and climate resilient blue economy;

3. encouraging resource efficiency and circular economy.

The second meeting reiterated the need for concerted global efforts and the immediate action required to achieve the objectives laid out. The third meeting focussed on Blue Economy and had the members reiterating a commitment to facilitate tangible outcomes through a consensus-driven approach.

These meetings have served as platforms for voicing concerns for the planet and deliberating potential solutions by representatives of the G20 members and other invited non-state actors and stakeholders from private corporations and civil society organisations.

Apart from the aim to chart out solutions for the priority issues, these meetings have consistently called for concerted global efforts and cooperation among all stakeholders. More ECSWG meetings are slated to take place and will culminate in the framing of the G20 Ministerial Communique on the Environment and Climate Sustainability.

While the ongoing efforts of G20 aimed at addressing the climate crisis are commendable and necessary, India’s presidency can be an opportunity to reshape the very ideational foundations of international climate politics. International climate negotiations and agreements have so far been conditioned by conventional international relations wisdom such as national interest and security.

Efforts aimed at arresting carbon emission such as carbon trading, carbon capping, climate finance, etc., are only accepted if they conform to the existing economic and strategic rationality of the actors involved. International climate politics, including that currently being conducted under India’s G20 presidency, is ultimately centered upon economic calculations and strategic imperatives of countries functioning under the ‘anarchical’ realm of international politics.

Attempts to find solutions to the climate crisis from within the existing Eurocentric and enlightenment rationalist framework has so far yielded very little result. Perhaps an alternative approach that is essentially non-western and post-human―one that looks at the issue of climate change through the lens of relationality such as monism (or oneness) found in eastern traditions―should be considered. To that end, India as the G20 President, can make a lasting contribution.

India has a rich philosophical tradition through which it can offer alternative epistemic tools to address the current climate crisis. The theme of the G20 meeting this year, ‘One Earth, One Family, One Future’, underlines the collective value of humans, animals, plants, and microorganisms and their interconnectedness on planet Earth and in the wider universe.

This theme draws from the Upanishadic concept of “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam” which means that all inhabitants of “the earth is one family”. Similarly, the ancient Indian political philosophy of Advaita offers a relational epistemic tool. Advaita, meaning nondualism (or monism), underlines the absence of a separation between the subject and object. As a monistic concept, advaita insists on the oneness of the varied elements of the planet and its inhabitants.

Viewing the problem of climate change through this lens of relationality would make it effectively easier for countries to shed their narrow selfish interests and act more generously towards well defined collective goals. After all, the planet is shared amongst all, and its future is tied to the collective futures of all peoples. Therefore, one finds compelling reasons to believe that global concerns of today can be effectively addressed if they are recast as essentially global through the lens of monism rather than the existing duality that governs conventional international relations.

The Indian G20 Presidency will highlight its Lifestyle for Environment (LiFE) mission which emphasises environmentally sustainable and responsible choices at both the individual lifestyle and the national development levels, geared towards arriving at a cleaner, greener, and bluer future. India should actively seek to infuse the existing climate politics with elements of relationality. It should aim to reshape international climate politics and processes by introducing alternative conceptual ways of doing international climate politics, driven primarily by a concern for the planet’s future.

A climate politics that is rooted in relationality would place the health of planet at the centre as it recognises that human beings and the non-human world are essentially interconnected and are all related to the planet in the larger scheme of things.

It would prioritise the promotion and building of trust among countries and reduce the element of competition for strategic advantage which characterises conventional international politics. The redefined climate politics would promote accountability and mutual responsibility among actors and insist on a shared sense of justice. Such epistemic and conceptual recasting of the issue of climate change is inevitable for a concerted global effort to actually materialise and arrive at a lasting solution.

Related articles:

India at COP-27: Did it prevail? (3-minute read)

Climate change and the tribal communities of Manipur, India (3-minute read)

*Robert Mizo is an Assistant Professor of Political Science and International Relations at the Department of Political Science, University of Delhi, India. He holds a PhD in Climate Policy studies. His research interests include Climate Change and Security, Climate Politics, Environmental Security, and International Environmental Politics. He has published and presented on the above topics at both national and international platforms. [IDN-InDepthNews]

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