It wasn’t just captivating optics, but the first sherpa meeting succeeded in firming up a substantive multi-layered agenda for India’s G20 presidency, which the world is looking at with a new hope in extremely polarising times.
Udaipur: In an exuberant idea-fest and a unique celebration of India’s cultural mosaic, sherpas (senior officials) from G20 countries and international organisations brainstormed at a luxe lakeside hotel in the white city of Udaipur to craft a new narrative of G20 solidarity in a troubled world.
The 1st Sherpa Meeting of India’s G20 presidency (December 4-7) was staged imaginatively in Udaipur, with foot-tapping Rajasthani folk songs, colourful dances and an exhibit of Jal Sanjhi art, weaving local culture with major themes of India’s G20 presidency. Sherpas sporting ethnic turbans, and a magnificent music-and-dance ensemble against the backdrop of the white stone City Palace were the enduring images of the Sherpa huddle in Udaipur, putting the spotlight on India’s soft power, which will be harnessed to make around 200 events held under India’s presidency a unique experience.
It wasn’t just captivating optics, but the first sherpa meeting succeeded in firming up a substantive multi-layered agenda for India’s G20 presidency, which the world is looking at with a new hope in extremely polarising times. Starting with his first informal briefing on the banks of Lake Pichola on Day 1 and through his remarks at various sessions, G20 Sherpa Amitabh Kant, in consultations with his counterparts, fleshed out key themes and priorities of India’s G20 presidency. “As PM Modi has highlighted, we must work to solve some of the most pressing challenges of the world, together. We must focus on those whose need is the greatest. G20 India Presidency would be about hope, harmony, healing and advocating the oneness of all,” he said.
Here are seven major takeaways of the First G20 Sherpa Meeting in Udaipur.
GLOBAL SUPPORT FOR INDIA
The overarching takeaway from the First Sherpa meeting was a big thumbs-up by all G20 countries and international organisations for India’s G20 presidency. Sherpas were all praise for India’s global leadership skills and expressed confidence in New Delhi’s capacity to bolster G20 as the world’s foremost multilateral economic grouping. Sherpas acknowledged that India’s status as the largest emerging economy and the world’s largest democracy makes India an indispensable bridge builder in the conflict-ridden international environment. This kind of across-the-board global support will be crucial to making 2023 a defining year for G20 and India.
Technology-led transformation to solve pressing global problems in areas spanning health, public service delivery, governance and trade will be the centrepiece of the G20 agenda under India’s presidency. Sherpas got a taste of India’s digital prowess right from the time they entered the meeting hall after a digital photo identification system. Delegates were taken to an iconic Crafts Village where they used the UPI system, devised in India, to make payments for items purchased. Kant also publicised India’s digital prowess by paying for local snacks through UPI and putting pictures on his Twitter handle. Optics apart, India’s G20 Sherpa highlighted the power of technology and the need for accelerating digitisation for global public good. Delegates from G20 countries and guest invitees spoke about leveraging the power of technology and underlined the importance of cyber security, inclusivity in expanding access to technological services and infrastructure, and digital skilling. Throughout its presidency year, India will showcase its unique strengths in digital public goods and help shape an inclusive digital economy.
In his interaction with the sherpas, Amitabh Kant shared India’s experiences in creating digital identities for everyone and promoting financial inclusion by creating bank accounts for everyone and through direct benefit transfers and fast payments. This has helped lift millions out of poverty in the country, Kant told his counterparts from other countries.
A NEW LIFE: GREEN & CLEAN
Promoting green Development and Lifestyle for Environment (LIFE) figured prominently in the sherpa-track discussions and will culminate in significant initiatives in September 2023. The talks focused on accelerating low-cost finance for energy transition, bio-energy cooperation amongst G20 and enhancing trade in green hydrogen. With climate-triggered events wreaking havoc around the world, India’s home-grown initiative for sustainable and healthy lifestyle called LiFE—Lifestyle For the Environment—found widespread support from G20 sherpas. LIFE places an individual at the centre of action against climate change by pursuing “Lifestyle of the planet, for the planet and by the planet.” Sherpas told this analyst that they expect India’s G20 presidency to produce significant initiatives for decarbonising the economy, and for promoting universal access to clean energy. Fast-tracking delivery of climate finance and raising the ambition for climate finance will be a high priority for India’s G20 presidency. Sherpas from G20 countries supported India’s efforts to expedite the delivery of climate finance to developing countries and to work on an ambitious New Collective Quantified Goal (NCQG) of climate finance from USD 100 billion per year to support developing countries. They supported India in its efforts to raise climate finance to over 100 billion USD per year.
The sherpas’ discussions in Udaipur saw a vigorous reaffirmation of South-South solidarity, marking a decisive shift from G7-dominated agenda to prioritization of core interests of the Global South. Addressing the delegates, India’s G20 Sherpa Amitabh Kant highlighted India’s role in providing a greater voice to the Global South, and harnessing its G20 Chairship to forge win-win collaborations between developing countries and advanced economies. India’s credentials as a voice of the South found support across the spectrum. In this regard, a separate meeting of the sherpas of the Troika involving Indonesia (past chair), India (current chair) and Brazil, which will succeed India as G20 chair, was held on the sidelines of the G20 Sherpa meeting. In a unique configuration, emerging economies will hold the G20 presidency for the next three years.
The focus on SDGs was evident form the word go. A side event on “Sustainable Development Goals: Transforming Lives at the Midpoint of the 2030 Agenda” was organised, which focused on accelerating completing SDG targets, one of major priorities of India’s G20 presidency. The sherpas’ meeting saw a consensus on accelerating financing for completion of SDGs which have been hampered by cascading and multiple crises facing the world. The key takeaway that emerged from the sherpa meeting was the capacity of G20 to provide leadership and financial resources to bring the world back on track to achieve the SDGs, which have been badly derailed by the festering financial crisis.
BLENDING CULTURE & SOFT POWER
The orchestration of the first sherpa meeting in Udaipur under India’s G20 presidency saw an interweaving of culture and soft power projection with more substantive issues revolving around Triple F (Food, Fuel and Fertiliser security). The cultural show had many elements, but what stood out was the motif of oneness, the master theme of India’s presidency—One Earth, One Future and the message of unity in diversity. In many ways, the sherpas’ meeting was suffused with India’s fabled soft power, with Manek Chowk, the main courtyard in the iconic City Palace becoming the stage for a mesmerising light-and-sound show and a mélange of dance forms on the last day of the meeting. Classical dance forms like Kathak and Kuchipudi mingled with an artfully curated fashion show to provide a perfect blend of the traditional and the modern.
Looking ahead, the biggest takeaway of the Udaipur meeting of sherpas was not to let divisive issues such as the Ukraine crisis hijack the discussions, but to refocus energies of G20 on finding creative and constructive solutions to a host of global crises. This is significant as unlike during the Indonesian presidency, when the meetings ended without even a group photo, this time around, sherpas, dressed in colourful Rajasthani turbans, happily smiled and posed for photos. The Ukraine issue figured in discussions but more in the context of Triple F factor—promoting the security of food, fuel and fertiliser supplies, which have been badly disrupted by the Ukraine war. Overall, India’s G20 presidency has begun on a high note, with the sherpa meeting striking the right notes to compose a new symphony of global public good, the overarching goal of India’s G20 presidency, in Prime Minister Modi’s words.
Manish Chand is CEO-Editor-in-Chief, India Writes Network, and India and The World magazine. He is Director, Centre for Global Insights India, a think tank focused on global affairs.