Towards a sustainable future: The global biofuel alliance must focus on R&D investment and technology transfer – Opinion News

India’s G20 presidency was big in every aspect—it organised more meetings in more cities than any other presidency, had the highest participation of domestic and international delegates, and considered more than a hundred issues on the agenda. The joint statement of G20 was a testament to India’s growing leadership role in a year when many predicted that global tensions would forestall the unanimous acceptance of such a document. Tensions over Russia-Ukraine, US-China and India-China, were deftly navigated to produce a bold statement. For example, on the climate change, reiteration of the commitment to net zero emissions, the tripling of global renewables energy and doubling of energy efficiency and hydrogen production are ambitious goals. These will inform the UN climate meet at Dubai, and hopefully achieve a global consensus. However, India’s term at the helm of the G20 will be remembered for more than climate declarations; it will be most marked for its transformative agenda that challenges the status quo and reimagines global cooperation.

India’s presidency has done something unprecedented: it has directed the spotlight onto the Global South—where the world’s majority live. The inclusion of the African Union (AU) in the G20 marks a significant milestone in the visibility and respect afforded to the Global South. A key focus of prime minister Narendra Modi’s G20 vision, the acceptance of the AU establishes them as only the second regional bloc to attain membership, following the European Union.

India’s outreach to Africa stands in contrast to China’s more predatory efforts in the region through programs like the Belt and Road Initiative and aggressive lending policies. The inclusion of the AU in the G20 underscores India’s dedication to fostering strong and equitable relationships within the Global South. Furthermore, the call for channeling more funds to these regions for climate action and sustainable development goals marks a significant shift in global priorities.

India’s Digital Public Infrastructure (DPI) has become a global benchmark. During the pandemic, India Stack played a pivotal role by facilitating efficient social safety net payments and providing convenient access to online services. Now, India is expanding its digital success story beyond national boundaries. It has got the G20 agreement to create a Global Digital Public Infrastructure Repository (GDPIR), a virtual hub for sharing DPI resources among G20 members and beyond. Additionally, the One Future Alliance (OFA), an initiative offering capacity-building, technical assistance, and funding to implement DPI in Low- and Middle-Income Countries, will make digital services a truly global public good.

India’s economy finds itself heavily reliant on imported crude oil to meet its domestic demand, importing a staggering 87.3% at a cost of $158 billion in FY 2022-23. This dependence not only exposes the nation to volatile global oil prices but also bears significant consequences for its foreign trade deficit, foreign exchange reserves, rupee exchange rate, and inflation. One of the key strategies to tackle this energy crisis by India is the promotion of alternative fuels, particularly biofuels which at present are primarily used by blending with petroleum.

At the G20 Summit in New Delhi, the Global Biofuels Alliance (GBA) was launched, a pivotal initiative during India’s presidency of the group. The GBA advocates for the use and production of sustainable biofuels, facilitates their global trade, and provides technical support for national biofuel programs. The participation of multiple nations and international organisations underscores the significance of the GBA in advancing global cooperation on the matter of sustainable biofuel production and use.

India’s own biofuel program has achieved notable success, producing 4.08 billion litres of ethanol in FY21, with a blending rate of 10.02%. This achievement resulted in a reduction of 2.7 million tonnes of CO2 emissions and substantial foreign exchange savings—`41,500 crore. Achieving the ambitious goal of a 20% blending rate by 2025 necessitates expanding ethanol production capacity potentially through bio-waste. However, the real scope of GBA will not be realised by promoting first and second-generation biofuels, but by investing in third and fourth generation technologies such as algae fuel and genetically engineered plant feedstock. For this to become a reality, the GBA must invest in R&D and technology-transfer.

The G20 reiterated its commitment to achieving clean, sustainable, and inclusive energy transitions. As mentioned earlier, the G20 has agreed to promote hydrogen, triple renewable energy capacity, improve energy efficiency, phase out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies and phase down the unabated use of coal power. To meet these commitments, the global south will require affordable financing options, capacity enhancement and technology that the North has agreed to provide. The next phase of this endeavor will be to materialise these deals.

While reiterating many of the previous G20 commitments on climate, India’s G20 has moved the needle towards lifestyle impacts by underscoring the importance of individual responsibility and people-centred solutions. This is especially important considering that the wealthiest 1% of the world’s population is responsible for twice as much carbon dioxide emissions as the poorer 50% of the world. Through initiatives like Mission LiFE, India has challenged the developed world’s consumption and pollution habits, pressing for a democratisation of climate action.

One important thing to remember is that in international diplomacy, progress takes place at a canter not a gallop and is built around continuity. Thus, a single presidency alone is not enough to push through ambitious agendas. India, therefore, will have to work with other countries to have its transformative agenda implemented overtime. Fortunately, India’s presidency is the second in a line of four consecutive presidencies allotted to the emerging economies—an occurrence not slated to happen for another two decades. India, therefore, has a great opportunity to work closely with Brazil and South Africa, the next two presidencies, to advance the global south agenda.

India’s G20 presidency will be archived not just for its momentary milestones but for its audacity to envision and shape a more equitable and sustainable global future. And while the ink may still be wet on its term, the true implications of India’s presidency will unfold in the years to come.

The writer is President and CEO, iFOREST


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