First BRICS, then ASEAN and now G20 – the band marches on

MUHAMMAD ZAMIR
Sep 24, 2023 09:52 PM
The world has been monitoring for the past two and half months the gradual evolution of the geo-strategic paradigm. International meetings like the BRICS, ASEAN and the G20 have led to discussions, consultations and opinions by geo-strategists.

Bangladesh has always attached great value pertaining to these conferences and this was reflected in our Prime Minister being present in the BRICS and G20 meetings and our President accompanied by our Foreign Minister attending the ASEAN meeting.

Such presence has permitted us to inform the world about the socio-economic progress that has taken place in our country and also how we have been able to extend our hands of friendship to the rest of the world. It also permitted us to inform those attending the Summit to help in the suitable repatriation of the Rohingya refugees back to their homeland in Myanmar.

The Bangladesh Premier recommended some points for the G20 to seriously consider for moving forward. They are– (a) implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, (b) need to support and facilitate economic development among developing countries through continuation of duty free and quota free access, (c) women should get equal access for building inclusive societies, and (d) strengthen international financial institutions, private sectors and other stakeholders for ensuring further development globally. Sheikh Hasina also drew attention to the fact that over 800 million people, nearly 10 per cent of the global population, go hungry. On the other hand, the world spends on the military nearly US Dollar 1.9 trillion without considering that only US Dollar 5.5 billion could greatly ease hunger among the poor and vulnerable. She also underlined that the Covid 19 pandemic, sanctions and counter-sanctions have led to worldwide supply chain disruptions, crisis of food, fuel and fertiliser on people all over the world. This has underlined the need to work together for a prosperous common future as we are One Family in One Earth.

These observations by Prime Minister Hasina and her many sideline meetings and exchange of views with important leaders attending the Summit greatly enhanced not only her personal profile internationally but also underlined Bangladesh’s socio-economic development in the sectors of agriculture, commerce, education, healthcare and education. Her meetings with US President Joe Biden, UK Prime Minister Sunak, Sheikh Muhammad bin Zayed Al Nayhan, the President of UAE, President Macron of France, Mohammed Bin Salman the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Brazil’s President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and South Korean President Yoon Suk-Yeol will hopefully lead to diverse investments in various Bangladesh sectors.

The Group of Twenty (G20) is a group of countries which meets to discuss international economic cooperation and political issues. The bloc currently accounts for nearly 80 per cent of the global GDP, 75 per cent of international trade and about two-thirds of the world population. Although only treasury chiefs met in the initial years, heads of all member nations decided to meet once a year for a leaders’ summit after the 2008 global financial crisis. There is no G20 headquarters, and the Presidency is rotated among its members. The 2022 summit took place in Indonesia, and India, the current President has already welcomed Brazil as the next G20 President from December 1 this year.

Climate change was another hotly discussed topic. At the ministerial level meetings in the run-up to the summit, there had been no agreement on the issue. But now officials say they have reached “100 per cent consensus” which includes “pursuing and encouraging efforts to triple renewable energy capacity globally through existing targets and policies”. G20 accounts for more than 75 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions.

Developing countries had in the past resisted increasing renewable energy targets, phasing down fossil fuels and reducing greenhouse gas emissions from developed nations. On greenhouse emissions peaking — the point after which emissions will need to drop — developing nations have been able to buy time. The declaration says that “timeframes for peaking may be shaped by sustainable development, poverty eradication needs, equity, and in line with different national circumstances”. Experts have also emphasised the importance of the Green Development Pact, a plan to tackle the environmental crisis through global co-operation over the next decade. G20 countries have also pledged to work together to enable low-cost financing for developing countries to support their transitions to low emissions.

Another “historic” plan that was unveiled and agreed upon in the G20 Summit was to connect the EU, the Middle East and India. The connectivity is expected to be enhanced through sharing of data, rail, electricity and hydrogen pipeline link facilities. The plans – which represent an alternative to China’s vast investment in global infrastructure – aim to speed rail-bound trade between India and Europe by up to 40 per cent, integrating connections across the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Israel according to the EU.

The African Union (AU) has formally taken its seat as a new member of the G20 at Indian prime minister Naredra Modi’s invitation. The African Union, a continental body of 55 member states, now has the same status as the European Union – the only regional bloc with a full membership. Its previous designation was as a “invited international organization”.

It is clear that India succeeded in getting together a flexible Group for framing the G20 Declaration. This was done in anticipation to overcome some of the fractious relationships and bitter divisions that exist among G20 member states. It is clear that Delhi worked hard to build consensus, even if it came at the cost of making serious compromises. In this context analyst Svetlana Lukash has disclosed to Russian news agency Interfax that “it took almost 20 days to agree on the declaration before the summit and five days here on the spot in New Delhi”.

In his opening comments, French President Emmanuel Macron said it had become too easy for some developing nations to say that work on climate change is only the responsibility of the West. “I am concerned by this rising state of mind,” he said, referring to the demands that Western nations should take more responsibility for emissions. Climate was one of the critical areas, with some sticking points being the phasing down of all fossil fuels, the increase of renewable energy targets and the reduction of emissions by 43 per cent globally by 2030 from 2019 levels.

Indian representatives berated their Western counterparts for being responsible for the state of the planet’s pollution and expecting nations in the Global South to rein in their fossil fuel use even though they need that to create growth. This debate divided the room. But it was ultimately India’s representatives who also managed to move the needle on the debate. New Delhi cited its own commitment to renewable energy and succeeded to include in the final declaration a formulation regarding tripling renewable capacity globally. And while the declaration also said that global greenhouse gas emissions need to be reduced to 43 per cent by 2030 relative to the 2019 levels, it failed to include language on fossil fuel phase-out.

Meanwhile, the group agreed on tripling renewable energy capacity by 2030 but it didn’t set any major goals on emission cuts, despite the G20 nations’ accounting for nearly 80 per cent of greenhouse gases. Crucially, the declaration did not mention any targets on reducing the use of crude oil, and instead focused on phasing out the use of coal. This would have satisfied crude producers like Saudi Arabia and Russia. Even India and China have been uncomfortable with the West setting emission cut targets that they see as “unrealistic”.

The biggest point – for the outside world – was the formulation on the war in Ukraine. The final declaration said that “all states” should “refrain from the threat or use of force to seek territorial acquisition against the territorial integrity and sovereignty or political independence of any state”. There was no explicit reference to Russian aggression, unlike in the G20 statement in Bali last year that cited a United Nations resolution condemning “in the strongest terms the aggression by the Russian Federation against Ukraine”. The language on the war had been left to the very end, as New Delhi took a “big gamble” and worked to hammer out consensus on the other areas first. The Delhi declaration does not directly criticise Russia for the war. But it does talk about “the human suffering and negative added impacts of the war in Ukraine with regard to global food and energy security”.

The debt crisis facing many developing countries was also a major concern ahead of the summit. Developing nations have consistently argued that affluent countries must increase their support to help their economies. These were battered by the pandemic, and the war has exacerbated their challenges. It may be noted that the World Bank in this context mentioned last December that the world’s poorest countries owed US Dollar $62 billion in annual debt service to creditors and two-thirds of this was owed to China. There was some anxiety that there might be criticism of China’s lending practices. However, care was taken to avoid criticising China in this regard. The paragraph about the debt crisis made no direct or indirect mention of China. This prevented the possibility of a Chinese veto on the proposed Declaration issued by the G20 Conference.

It would also be important to conclude by noting that the US President and the Indian Prime Minister deserve thanks for revealing during the concluding chapter of the G20 Summit a significant joint effort being undertaken by India and the USA in cancer research, prevention, control, and management that will be taken forward through the launching of the India-U.S. Cancer Dialogue in November 2023. This dialogue will focus on advancing knowledge in cancer genomics, developing new diagnostics and therapeutics to enhance and strengthen cancer care particularly in both underserved urban and rural communities. This needs to be carefully followed by all G 20 Members and others who attended the Summit.

Muhammad Zamir, a former Ambassador, is an analyst specialised in foreign affairs, right to information and good governance.
muhammadzamir0@gmail.com

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