India’s G20 presidency, which starts from December, provides a historic opportunity to promote inclusive development across countries and people. At the recent meet at Bali, it has been recognised that war is not a solution and we should concentrate on economic and social issues. This is particularly important in the context of global challenges like low economic growth, increasing inflation, disruption of supply chains, rising concerns about food and energy security and debt problems.
Focusing on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is important as that will benefit all sections of society. The SDGs are interconnected and cover all-inclusive issues like poverty, food and nutrition security, health, education, women empowerment, employment and climate change. India can showcase some of the country’s achievements at G20 meetings in the next one year and also learn from the best practices in other countries. Both “Sherpa” track and “finance” track would be useful for this purpose.
A new working paper by the Economic Advisory Council to the Prime Minister shows that on current trends the world will reach its 2030 promises almost half a century too late in 2078. It says that India stands out because of all G20 countries it has the fastest trend growth from 2015-19, and is moving faster than even lower-middle income countries. On current trends, India is likely to achieve SDGs by 2059. According to this report, we have to prioritise the indicators as developing countries have limited resources. India can suggest these priorities at G20 meetings. The report suggests 12 different policy interventions which will have a very high social, economic and environmental return on investment. The UN has recently released the SDG report of 2022. It says that the confluence of crises dominated by Covid-19, conflicts (indirectly referring to Ukraine-Russia war), and climate change are creating spin-off impacts on food and nutrition, energy, health, education, the environment and affecting all SDGs. The pandemic had pushed 93 million more people into extreme poverty in 2020.
One of the important concerns for the world is food and nutrition insecurity. It is recognised that sustainable food systems are important for achieving zero hunger and nutrition security. India can share its experiences in moving from a food deficit country to a food surplus country. On agriculture, M S Swaminathan advocated the concept of evergreen revolution. This can be achieved by promoting agro ecologically sound practices like conservation farming, precision farming, integrated nutrient supply and pest management and natural conservation. For example, organic farming in Sikkim, community managed natural farming in Andhra Pradesh can be showcased to the outside world. Regarding food-related social protection, distribution of foodgrains under the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana in the last three years have been quite useful to large sections of the population. However, India has a long way to go in achieving its SDG goal of removing malnutrition as 35 per cent of the country’s children still suffer from stunting (height for age). As is well known, to reduce malnutrition, a multi-sectoral approach is needed.
Energy security and climate change are equally important issues for India’s G20 presidency. The stand of India and other developing countries on energy security has to be continued. There should not be any restrictions on the supply of energy, and stability in the energy market should be ensured. India’s dependence on coal for energy generation may continue for many more years and the CoP27 draft of “phasing down” rather than “phasing out” for coal would be useful for India.
On climate change and reduction in carbon emissions, India has committed to reduce net zero emissions by 2070 and 50 per cent of energy requirements through renewables by 2030. The country should continue to focus on climate finance, technology transfer and emission reductions due to historically high consumption patterns. CoP27 agreed to the creation of a loss and damage fund to compensate a section of developing countries In a recent article, Arvind Subramanian says “efforts to promote multilateral coordination to mitigate climate risks are most likely doomed to fail in today’s fraught geo political environment”. According to him, the global race to subsidise renewable energy may lead to cheap sustainable technologies and reduction in carbon emissions.
Another focus area for G20 is digital inclusion which can raise both growth and equity. India has shown that it can promote universal digital services. Globally, there is a lot of interest in India’s success with the unified payments interface (UPI), and direct benefit transfers through the Jan Dhan, Aadhaar, and mobile trinity. For example, PM SVANidhi is helping street vendors in different states. The street vendors want to use digital technologies for savings and credit. A study done at ICFAI Business School Hyderabad shows that street vendors have been forthcoming in requesting help with the creation of YouTube channels for marketing their products and training regarding various digital payments tools. Of course, the study also says that street vendors have basic problems such as lack of a fixed location to carry on a daily basis, the danger of eviction, unavailability of loans and toilet facilities near their vending locations and government support, which need to be addressed apart from the digital push.
On financing SDGs, there is some consensus among developing countries on the need for restructuring multilateral institutes like the World Bank, IMF and WTO. This is important for raising SDG finance and also takes care of debt problems of developing countries.
A report on SDGs prepared by Jeffrey Sachs and others indicates that there are six pathways for increased SDG financing. These are: (1) increased domestic tax revenues; (2) increased sovereign (government) borrowing from international development finance institutions (DFIs); (3) increased sovereign borrowing from international private capital markets; (4) increased official development assistance (ODA); (5) increased funding by private foundations and philanthropies; and (6) debt restructuring for heavily indebted borrowers, mainly to lengthen maturities and reduce interest rates. India can give push to some of these pathways.
To conclude, there was a setback in the progress of SDGs due to shocks like Covid-19, Ukraine-Russia war, slow economic growth and high inflation. India should focus more on rescuing and accelerating progress on SDGs during its G20 Presidency for inclusive development, which also improve growth and sustainability.
The writer is Distinguished Professor, IBS, Hyderabad and Former Vice Chancellor, IGIDR, Mumbai