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PM Modi unveils logo, theme & website of India’s G20 Presidency

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India G20 Presidency

India is one of the world's largest countries, covering over a quarter of the planet and comprising over 1.3 billion people. It is one of the fastest-growing international economies, as well as being the largest democracy in the world. The size of the population alone means that whoever is Prime Minister, they will always have a lot on their plate. Now that President Trump has pulled the U.S. out of the Iran nuclear deal, putting the world on high alert, India has the unenviable task of representing the interests of the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons at the upcoming G20 summit in August.

The G20 is an annual gathering of the world's largest economies. Spearheaded by the U.S., the G20 summits have proven to be indispensable platforms for global economic cooperation, as well as for voicing concerns and disagreements regarding major international issues. This year's summit is taking place in the Indian city of Ahmedabad, with delegations arriving Wednesday evening, the first of the summit's three-day session starting Thursday.

Ahmedabad is home to nearly 2 million people, and the city's infrastructure is struggling to keep up with the booming population. Roads are congested, and there is a serious lack of public spaces (e.g. parks, playgrounds, etc.). The problem is exacerbated by the fact that India is one of the world's most polluted countries, particularly air and water pollution. Poor air quality in particular has become a major public health issue in recent years, and the World Health Organization has ranked India at the bottom of the list of the world's most polluted cities. The main sources of pollution in Ahmedabad include vehicle exhaust, industrial emissions, and trash burning.

To address these issues, the government of Gujarat, in which Ahmedabad is situated, is encouraging residents to ditch their cars and go electric. In fact, the state government has launched an ambitious plan, titled ‘Mission 100%', to provide all vehicles in the state (including imported ones) with electric batteries by the end of 2022. The plan also calls for a complete ban on the manufacture and sale of all non-electric passenger vehicles by 2035. While laudable in theory, this may not be such a comfortable proposal for long-haul truckers, who will likely be the first to feel the pinch as a result of the ban.

The Indian government has also announced that it will implement a ban on single-use plastic in the country by 2022. That means you will no longer be able to bring a bottle to the shop to get a drink, and there will be a huge uptick in glass, metal, and ceramic containers in the country. Not only is avoiding plastic an incredibly positive move for the environment, but there is also compelling evidence that suggests that plastic bags and straws are detrimental to human health. For example, a 2018 study from the United Kingdom showed that a person's risk of developing liver cancer is increased by 74% due to exposure to plastic straws and by 51% due to the presence of plastic bags. The report authors concluded that “these findings suggest that limiting consumption of plastic straws and plastic bags could potentially reduce the risk of liver cancer.” Likewise, a study from Australia found a “strong and consistent association” between the two and noted that “a considerable proportion of disease burden and mortality may be avoided with better recycling and clean management of plastic waste.”

Nuclear Non-Proliferation

One of the primary reasons that India will be attending the upcoming G20 summit is to promote and strengthen the global non-proliferation regime. The country's nuclear energy program has always been controversial, and despite being one of the most successful in the world, New Delhi has never actually ratified the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). While this may seem like an arcane issue, it is in fact a major one, given the sensitive nature of the material that India manufactures. As part of the NPT, signatory countries agree to “neither manufacture nor acquire” nuclear weapons.

There are a number of countries—with both developed and developing economies—that are party to the NPT, including Austria, Australia, Canada, France, Germany, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The last three hold the status of ‘nuclear-weapon state' under the NPT. However, since it was entered into force in 1970, the U.S. has never actually used or tested a nuclear weapon, and even now that the Cold War has ended, it still keeps half of its nuclear arsenal (estimates range from 300 to 400 warheads) on high alert and the remains of the other half (estimated at between 100 and 200 warheads) on the ‘ready-to-launch' list. While the other NPT signatories have maintained a nuclear deterrent, New Delhi has consistently sought to play down the country's role in nuclear proliferation. Indeed, India has a very small nuclear arsenal compared to some of its neighbors and even to countries such as Pakistan, which has roughly twice as many warheads as India. In 2018, it is estimated that New Delhi's nuclear-capable arsenal consisted of 45 to 55 short-range ballistic missiles and approximately 40-50 warheads (‘bombs') for each short-range ballistic missile. These figures vary slightly each year and are kept secret for security reasons.

Despite being one of the world's most populated countries and home to some of its most prominent industries (e.g. software and pharmaceuticals), India only has eight research reactors operating at full capacity. As a result, the majority of its needs in this area are met by importing nuclear materials and services from abroad. These reactors are located at the Indira Gandhi Institute of Nuclear Technology in Kalpakkam, the Satvichayan Lab in Tirunelveli, and the Bhabha Atomic Research Center, which is a joint venture between India and the U.S.

Climate Change

The effects of climate change are already being felt in India, as heatwaves become more frequent and severe and extreme weather conditions such as flooding, droughts, and storms disrupt the lives of everyday people. The frequency and intensity of tropical cyclones (which are among the worst effects of climate change) have increased in recent years, and in 2018, for example, India saw more tropical cyclones (20) than any other country. Many of these storms were devastating to the country, causing damage amounting to billions of dollars and claiming thousands of lives. In fact, the number of people affected by floods in 2018 alone was more than 600 million, and the economic toll is set to rise as a result of the pandemic-induced recession. Climate change is also likely to significantly affect the agriculture sector, which provides livelihoods for more than 400 million people in the country.

President Trump's decision to withdraw the U.S. from the Iran nuclear agreement has further worsened U.S.-India relations. The agreement, which was signed in 2015 and officially entered into force in January 2018, had provided sanctions relief for Iran in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program. However, in his decision, Trump noted that the Islamic Republic is “one of the world's most dangerous threats” and that the country is “fueling extremism” around the world. This has undoubtedly put India in a tricky position, as the country is now seen by many in the U.S. as ‘complicit' in the nuclear program of a country that is considered a rogue state, with which it shares a border.

That said, amid the climate crisis, Ahmedabad is looking to reduce its dependence on imported fossil fuels and to develop sustainable sources of energy. The city is home to multiple large thermal power plants, the largest of which—the 1,400 megawatt Gujarat Solar Power Plant—is capable of generating electricity from the sun. When fully functional, the plant will reduce the city's dependence on other sources of energy and keep electricity prices down. To further encourage residents to adopt greener modes of transportation, the city has also invested in electric car charging stations, as well as providing support for drivers who choose to switch to electric vehicles.

In light of the climate crisis and the growing prevalence of renewable energy sources, India has an opportunity to lead the way in developing countries' decarbonization of their economies. That is an issue that will be a key talking point at the upcoming G20 summit in Ahmedabad.

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