Narendra Modi concluded the G20 summit on Sunday, which notably downplayed significant disagreements regarding the Ukraine conflict and climate change.
Despite the contentious issues, the summit afforded him a diplomatic moment in the spotlight.
The ongoing Ukraine conflict has deeply divided G20 nations since Moscow’s invasion last year, leading Russian president Vladimir Putin to entirely skip the summit in order to avoid political scrutiny.
Leaders of the Group of 20, which brings together Russia and China as well as some of Ukraine’s most ardent backers, have recently struggled to agree on much, in particular about the 18-month-old invasion.
Facing a major diplomatic embarrassment, host India pressed members to agree a common statement on Saturday (9) that denounced the use of force for territorial gain, but shied away from direct criticism of Russia.
Kyiv said the G20 had “nothing to be proud of” but Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov, who stood in for Putin at the meeting, on Sunday (10) claimed a diplomatic win.
“We were able to prevent the West’s attempts to ‘Ukrainize’ the summit agenda,” the veteran diplomat said, dubbing the two-day gathering a “success”.
“The text doesn’t mention Russia at all.”
On Sunday, Modi formally closed the summit by passing on a ceremonial gavel to Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, whose country will take the bloc’s presidency in December.
“We cannot let geopolitical issues sequester the G20 agenda of discussions,” Lula said, an implicit reference to wrangling over the Ukraine war.
“We have no interest in a divided G20. We need peace and cooperation instead of conflict.”
Indian civil servant Amitabh Kant wrote on Twitter, that the compromise text on Ukraine had involved “over 200 hours of non-stop negotiations, 300 bilateral meetings (and) 15 drafts”.
But despite meeting in what the EU’s climate monitor says is likely to be the hottest year in human history, the leaders failed to agree to a phase-out of fossil fuels, despite a UN report a day earlier deeming the drawdown “indispensable” to achieving net-zero emissions.
Instead, they backed a target of tripling global renewable energy capacity by 2030, while committing only to a “phasedown” of coal “in line with national circumstances”.
G20 members Russia and Saudi Arabia are major oil exporters, while coal consumption is rising in China and India, already the world’s biggest consumers of the dirty fuel.
The climate outcomes were “insufficient”, French president Emmanuel Macron said Sunday, saying the world must “phase out coal very rapidly and much more quickly than today”.
– ‘People’s G20’ –
Modi, who painted the summit as India’s diplomatic coming of age and is pushing for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, celebrated the accession of the 55-member African Union to the G20.
As the G20, the grouping included 19 countries and the European Union, representing 85 per cent of the world GDP, with South Africa its only member state from the continent.
Modi has sought to position New Delhi as a voice for the Global South and the move turned the grouping into a “people’s G20”.
He also proposed another G20 leaders’ meeting in November by video-link, opening up the possibility of Putin joining — along with China’s Xi Jinping, who skipped the summit with the Asian giants at loggerheads over territorial and other issues.
Lula said Putin would be free to attend next year’s event in Rio de Janeiro, despite Brazil being a signatory to the International Criminal Court (ICC), which has issued a warrant for the Russian leader’s arrest for war crimes.
“If I’m the president of Brazil and if he comes to Brazil, there’s no way that he will be arrested,” he told Indian news network Firstpost on Saturday.
Others came together on the summit sidelines, with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan holding face-to-face talks with his Egyptian counterpart Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on Sunday following a decade-long rift between the two countries.
World leaders had earlier joined Modi to pay their respects to revered Indian independence hero Mahatma Gandhi, taking off their shoes at the site of his cremation, where normal footwear is forbidden as a mark of respect.
Like Modi, many walked barefoot at the rain-dampened site — including Rishi Sunak and Macron — while others including US President Joe Biden opted for slippers.
After a rendition of a Hindu devotional hymn, they stood for a moment’s silence before leaving wreaths at the marble plinth where an eternal flame commemorates Gandhi’s memory.