Pradeep S. Mehta | Global summits to mass movements: Creating G-20 that reaches all

The biggest opportunity in front of India and Global South today is to make its G-20 presidency inclusive by creating mass awareness

The world is facing many challenges, including a global debt crisis, the impact of climate change on livelihoods, global supply chain disruptions, and increasing conflicts between countries. Thanks to the social media and fast digital news, people across the world are aware of every small or big problem. Such an “information overload” can cause panic and worry among the citizens about their future. We need to demystify issues and reach out to ordinary people so they are not apprehensive or ignorant about what our government is doing to project our achievements on the international stage.

The sphere of international politics and decision-making seems like a place far away from an ordinary person’s reach. As a result, even if the citizens want to bring about a change, they don’t know the path they need to take. However, as India has so far highlighted through its G-20 presidency, every challenge presents an opportunity.

And the biggest opportunity in front of India and the Global South today is to make its G-20 presidency inclusive and ambitious by creating mass awareness. The last G-20 summit meeting was held in Indonesia, in November 2022, this year’s summit will be held in India in September this year, while the next two will be held in other developing countries -- Brazil and South Africa. On a different note, it can be termed as an IBSA construct. Alas, people’s participation did not receive the desirable attention in the group’s deliberations.

Time for Mass Movements: In a recent speech, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had insisted that all environmental concerns must be pursued as a “personal cause”, arguing for a more pervasive shouldering of responsibilities associated with it. Most estimates foresee a failure to meet the target of lower temperature. As conventional levers of policy fail to deliver the desired results, the criticality of a mass-driven transformation becomes even more acute.

Jan Bhagidari”, an Indian term which loosely translates to “People’s Partnership”, could offer a solution for many of our challenges. Here, it is pertinent to note that the “Jan Bhagidari” initiatives envisage people to be the drivers of the change that they desire.

Instead of being yet another “top-down structure”, they are required to stimulate people to be the primary drivers of change. This is more proactive than the definition of public participation in Brazil or South Africa, where this movement should be taken forward over the next three years.

People can play a significant role in determining a “transformative agenda” in the chosen areas. As the government rightly pitches for a reorientation of the policy architecture, it must devise a “trigger mechanism”, which would set the ball in motion, based on the “nudge theory”. The “nudge theory” is based on the idea that by shaping the environment, one can influence the likelihood that one option is chosen over another by individuals.

Growing Value of Climate Consciousness: “Climate Consciousness” is gaining currency among the youth and children in all parts of the world. Thanks to many activists including Greta Thunberg, who have dedicated themselves to the cause and taken part in various protests. Many millennials now regard “environmental responsibility” as an indispensable component of their vision for collective progress. Governments must focus on expanding this base, as well as extracting maximum mileage of their ability to shape the future discourse.

India’s Mission LiFe (Lifestyle for Environment) seeks to inculcate a sense of trusteeship in every individual, in our long-term fight against climate change. Seemingly small changes on an individual level in consumption patterns could deliver major results in the long run.

Integration with Policy Architecture: To fully unlock the potential of mass movements, the policy architecture must be revamped in such a way that it optimises its elements to maximise the collective output. The Government of India routinely publicises “good practices” across multiple platforms. Campaigns on issues such as “cleanliness”, “environment consciousness” etc in India have had a positive impact on the behaviour of the masses over the decades.

In this context, the role of public representatives cannot be understated, if mass movements are to be made “impactful”. As public representatives enjoy the privilege of being directly connected with citizens, they have specific insights about behavioural patterns. Legislators at the local, provincial and federal levels are in a position to provide critical inputs at the stage of stock-taking of such exercises, along with social clubs and civil society organisations.

The Way Forward: During its G-20 presidency, India could pitch for a three-year action plan on the aforementioned lines to all the other G-20 members and the larger family of the Global South, which includes Brazil and South Africa as the next two hosts, or as an IBSA project.

A framework could be put in place, which takes into account local specificities. The G-20 members may also decide on a common toolkit to measure progress on climate-conscious human behaviour. An information bank of good and bad practices could be created, which would enable governments to study and learn from each other.

Helping create a more “climate responsible” world could well be the defining moment of India’s G-20 presidency, which seamlessly blends with our belief in the principles of “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam” -- or the “World is One Family”. That can happen only with a bottom-up approach, which means “bottoms up”.

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