Leaders of the richest countries will meet this weekend in India to discuss the world’s biggest issues. But there’s a high chance the power clashes between them will overshadow global problem solving.
New Delhi's crowded streets have been repaved. Buildings and walls have been painted with bright murals. The city is abloom with flowers.
The reason? The G20 summit.
This weekend leaders of the world’s richest and most powerful countries will attend the two-day conference in the Indian capital.
Since India took over the G20 presidency for 2023, it hasn’t been able to build consensus for a joint statement in any of the previous key discussion points. One of the main hurdles has been Russia and China’s objections to the wording referring to Moscow’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
The prospect of the summit ending with the usual agreement between member states and a joint leaders’ declaration may seem dim, but that’s all the more reason to keep an eye on what goes on at the weekend.
Here’s your go-to guide on what to look out for at this year’s summit.
Emerging economies might be uniting against the West
The new kids on the BRICS economic bloc may help to shift the usual dominating sphere of influence away from the West.
The group, named after its founding members (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa), formed as a way to amplify the voice of those emerging economies on the global stage and promote trade and development between them.
Now, with the incoming addition of Saudi Arabia, Iran, Ethiopia, Egypt, Argentina and the UAE, BRICS’s growing influence on the global economy is sure to be “on the table” of the G20 summit, according to economist Dennis Snower.
Snower, who is president of the non-profit Global Solutions Initiative, suggested it’s possible the world is drifting from a position of global cooperation, as initially envisaged under the G20, to one where countries in separate blocs cooperate amongst themselves and compete or are even in conflict with other blocs.
The latter scenario “would be a disaster,” Snower said.
The biggest fear is that global issues -- like climate change, international safety, cyber security and nuclear disarmament -- that require every country to row in the same direction, take a backseat.
“Both developed and developing countries are necessary to solve these problems. They each have their comparative advantages and need one another”, Snower explained. “One hopes very much that this alliance of developing countries [BRICS] is done in the spirit of global problem solving.”
“There is a terrible danger that different power blocs will seek to exert influence in their own narrow interests instead of for the global common good,” he added.
The ‘long shadow’ of war in Ukraine
There’s an issue that has cast a “long shadow” over G20 meetings so far: the war in Ukraine, according to Snower.
The conflict has certainly driven an even bigger wedge between global powers.
On one side, Ukraine fights with the support of the European Union and the United States. Russia stands on the other, propped up by assistance from China, one of its closest allies.
This year, these two countries have so far blocked binding agreements at all major G20 discussions, stemming from their objection to calling the Ukrainian conflict a war.
While Russia’s invasion is one of the biggest crises of recent history, countries must learn to put their differences aside when working on other global issues, according to Snower.
“This war is an important problem, but it should not keep us from finding collaborative solutions in other areas that are not related to it”, he said. “The next generation will not forgive us if we say we have forgotten about climate change because of the war in Ukraine.”
Russia’s President Vladimir Putin won’t attend the summit in India since the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant against him in March for alleged war crimes committed in Ukraine.
China’s President Xi Jinping is also skipping the event, Beijing announced on Monday. Premier Li Qiang will lead the country’s delegation in his stead.
There’s been no official explanation for Xi’s absence, but some analysts say it could stem from a desire to stay on the same page as Russia regarding the conflict in Ukraine.
Besides, relations between China and host India aren’t the best. The two have a long-standing border dispute and New Delhi is currently holding military exercises along the border with its northeastern neighbour.
India has also recently deepened its trade, technology and military ties with the US, China’s long-time rival.
So, with all these power conflicts between countries, it remains to be seen if they can reach a consensus by the end of this weekend’s summit.
The future is never certain, but in case the leaders can’t see eye to eye, there is another fruitful option.
In the end, it’s not all or nothing
It wouldn’t be the first time the G20 members haven’t all agreed with the leaders’ declaration, which reflects the countries’ joint commitment to the priorities discussed during the summit.
Until 2017, “it was assumed that everything in the G20 is always settled by consensus”, Snower said. Before the group’s summit in July that year in Germany, then-US President Donald Trump said the country would withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord.
Despite the difficult circumstances, the German G20 Presidency succeeded in embedding the Paris Agreement into the bloc’s policies while still maintaining dialogue with the US.
In the 2017 leaders’ declaration, 19 of the members remained fully committed to climate action, and a paragraph laying out the US’s deviating position made it possible for a passage on climate policy to be adopted in the joint statement.
“Germany wrote history with the 19 + 1 rule,” Snower said.
Even though India might face two recalcitrant opponents in Russia and China, there would still be “18 members who could focus on a lot of global problems without getting distracted by the issues that separate them”, Snower explained.
So, following in Germany’s footsteps, why not an 18 + 2 rule this time?
“Disagreements would be noted, but it wouldn't be the end of the world,” Snower said.