G20 leaders papered over deep divisions on the war in Ukraine and tackling climate change Saturday, avoiding direct criticism of Moscow and any concrete pledge to phase out polluting fossil fuels.
Leaders of the grouping, which brings together Russia as well as some of Ukraine’s most ardent backers, have struggled to agree on much, in particular about the 18-month-old invasion.
But facing a major diplomatic embarrassment, host India had pressed members to agree a common statement at a two-day summit in the capital New Delhi.
With Vladimir Putin staying home to dodge political opprobrium and the risk of arrest on war crimes charges, the Group of 20 denounced the use of force for territorial gain but refrained from direct criticism of Russia by name.
“There were different views and assessments of the situation,” the leaders’ statement said.
European nations and the United States had pressed for the G20 not to water down its earlier condemnation of a war that has caused food and fuel price spikes worldwide.
With long-time Russian ally India in the G20 chair, Ukraine’s allies appeared to have failed in that bid.
Kyiv’s foreign ministry denounced the statement as “nothing to be proud of”, but a top White House official said Washington was happy with the outcome.
“From our perspective, it does a very good job,” US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told reporters.
He said the G20 statement stood up “for the principle that states cannot use force to seek territorial acquisition or to violate the territorial integrity and sovereignty or political independence of other states.”
With Putin repeatedly raising the spectre of the conflict turning atomic, Sullivan also pointed to the G20’s agreement that “the use of nuclear weapons is inadmissible”.
On climate, too, the G20 found minimal common ground, despite meeting in what the EU’s climate monitor says is likely to be the hottest year in human history.
With major fossil fuel producers including Saudi Arabia, Russia and Australia – and coal-dependent nations such as India and South Africa – around the table, there was no overarching commitment to phase out the polluting fuels.
Such a measure was deemed “indispensable” by the United Nations just a day earlier to achieve a net-zero goal.
Instead, G20 countries pledged to triple renewable energy sources by 2030 while committing only to a “phasedown” of coal “in line with national circumstances”.
The G20 leading economies account for 85 percent of global GDP and a similar amount of global climate-warming emissions.
While some welcomed the group’s commitment to renewables, campaigners Global Citizen decried its reluctance to ditch fossil fuels.
“This is a terrible signal to the world, especially the poorest and most vulnerable countries and populations, that suffer most from climate change”, said the NGO’s vice president for global advocacy Friederike Roder.
The Modi show
On reaching the final agreement, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi thanked leaders for their “hard work” and banged a ceremonial gavel to adopt the declaration.
Modi had a heavy personal investment in the success of the summit, which he has billed as India’s diplomatic coming of age and has used to boost his domestic standing ahead of elections next year.
In another win for Modi’s efforts to portray his country as a voice for the Global South, the African Union on Saturday joined the G20 to give the continent broader representation.
“With everyone’s approval, I request the African Union head to take his seat as a permanent G20 member,” Modi said, claiming it turned the grouping into a “people’s G20”.
The African Union represents 1.4 billion people across 55 members – including six junta-ruled nations that are currently suspended.
“As a continent, we look forward to further advancing our aspirations on the global stage using the G20 platform,” Nigerian President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, who is at the summit, posted on X, formerly known as Twitter.
The G20 was conceived in the throes of the 2008 financial crisis as a way to manage the global economy but finding consensus among members has been increasingly difficult in recent years.
Even the very relevance of the grouping was called into question ahead of the summit, with Chinese President Xi Jinping opting to stay at home – a move widely seen as a deliberate snub.
The summit saw a broad alliance of states backing ambitious infrastructure plans to more closely bind Europe, the Middle East and India through a series of trade projects.
The United States, Saudi Arabia, the EU, the United Arab Emirates and others signed the deal, which includes ports, railways, telecommunications, and electricity and clean energy networks, and could offer an alternative to China-backed investment.
The agreement comes with Washington actively engaging with Riyadh, a major oil producer and security partner, as it encourages the kingdom to normalise ties with Israel.