India's G20 Presidency: Navigating Complex Geopolitical Waters
Guest: Swati D’Souza, India Lead Analyst and Coordinator at International Energy Agency (IEA)
Host: Shreya Jai & Sandeep Pai
Producer: Tejas Dayananda Sagar
Welcome to Season 3 of The India Energy Hour podcast! The India Energy Hour podcast explores the most pressing hurdles and promising opportunities of India's energy transition through an in-depth discussion on policies, financial markets, social movements and science. The podcast is hosted by energy transition researcher and author Dr. Sandeep Pai and senior energy and climate journalist Shreya Jai. The show is produced by multimedia journalist Tejas Dayananda Sagar and is presented by 101Reporters, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters that produces original stories from Rural India.
As the G20 host, India deftly managed geopolitics, especially Russia-Ukraine, while driving energy and climate discussions. Topics like renewable energy, critical minerals, and sustainable finance took center stage, likely impacting the upcoming COP summit. India's challenge is finding unity among diverse priorities, addressing resource nationalism, and aligning nations in various green energy stages. The G20 Leaders' Summit underscores the quest for consensus on issues like fossil fuel abatement amidst complex political landscapes.
To understand what the key themes of energy and climate are in the G20, what the sticking points are, and how they will shape the global dialogue on energy transition, we interviewed Swati D'Souza, India Lead Analyst and Coordinator at International Energy Agency (IEA), who provides insights into India's efforts and the key points of discussion during the G20 summit.
Sandeep Pai: Swati, welcome to The India Energy Hour podcast. It's really great to have you back. You were with us on Episode 3, when we had just started the podcast. And so we're really delighted to have you back. We've crossed 50 episodes, so it's very exciting that you're back after almost 50 episodes. So welcome to the podcast.
Swati D'Souza: Thank you. Thank you, Sandeep. Thank you, Shreya. Firstly, congratulations, crossing 50 episodes. What is this, season 2, season 3, season 4? What's the season out there?
Shreya Jai: Season 3.
Swati D'Souza: Oh, that is nice. That is nice. I think at season 5, guys, we should have a huge party. We should get listeners from all over the world to come together and have a huge party. But congratulations, and thank you for having me on this podcast.
Shreya Jai: Thank you. Always a pleasure to have you. You have been with us in every milestone. You were in the initial third episode. Now this is the 51st, I guess.
So thank you yet again for joining and it's always a delight to hear you.
Swati D'Souza: Yay. Thank you.
Sandeep Pai: Okay. So normally, as you know, we have this tradition that we spend some time with the guest when the guest comes to our podcast. But since we went through your past episode in the past episode, we went through your life journey and all. So I would refer our audience to go back to episode three and listen to Swati's fascinating energy and climate journey. But I do have one question that how has your overall experience being, just like being on like being very close to how the G20 process is going on like it's a big moment in India that you know such a big process is happening and you know India is at the center stage normally you know when G20s happen people like us go and attend those things in other countries but it's a different thing to see it unfold from a logistics point of view and like from So how has been your personal experience as a researcher, as a scholar, in terms of just experiencing the changing, the whole G20 experience, and within that climate and energy dialogues and discussion?
Swati D'Souza: That's a very good question. Because I have to say, when we started talking about participating in G20, about helping the Indian government through the G20 process, We didn't know what we were going into. At least I didn't know what I was going into. My other colleagues at the IEA, of course, knew what they were going into. I did not know. For me, it was all new. So it has been very interesting and enriching to see where it began and how it sort of scaled up.
So like, for example, you know, August, September, last year, around this time last year, when Indonesia was putting out the Bali summit and the leaders summit and all, we in India were wondering how the Indian government is going to plan this event at this grand scale. how what will be the priorities, how they're going to do it. And for the longest time, there wasn't enough. For the longest time, the government was talking about it and planning about it behind. But then it started getting CSOs involved in this process. And one of the stands that the Indian government took particularly was that, given it's an Indian G20, the role of domestic think tanks will be central to the process. And while they did rely on a lot of international organizations, IEA, World Bank, ISA, IRENA, ADB. So they did rely on a lot of these organizations as well, but it was the domestic think tanks who were sort of driving, helping the government drive the G20 agenda. So that was very interesting to see how that happened. I've never been part of court negotiations from the official side. So this was my first foray into diplomacy from the official country perspective. And I think it was really interesting to see how the nuances changed right from the first meeting in different working groups all the way till the last meeting. And just to see that process and understand that process and understand what people say and the language of diplomacy itself was very, very interesting.
I think this has been one of the most enriching years of my career that I've had so far, just from a learning perspective, particularly on diplomacy and how it works behind the scenes and how countries and parties come to a negotiation It's just been great.
Shreya Jai: You know, everyone is also talking about a very different angle. This is on a lighter note, obviously, that how this is India's breakout party. Last we had CWG, before that, Asian Games. And this is India's chance to just show. If you go around the Bharat Mandapam or Swahili Pragati Maidan, you could see everything that is there of Indian culture is there. And I'm sure you have gone to several cities where a lot of these diplomacy talks happen.
So do you think we have been able to project, and I asked it both in a lighter and a serious tone, in terms of, you know, projecting India, Indian culture, how have your thoughts been as an Indian?
Second, in these discussions and deliberations, do you think India has maintained like a fairly strong stand or we have been just being like very submissive or were we…
Swati D'Souza: Okay, so to answer your first question in a lighter vein, I think I loved my India darshan. Okay, like it was India tour. It was amazing because, you know, often when we travel, to different cities, being Indians ourselves, I don't think about the culture of the place where I'm going to. Because in my head, I'm like, this is my home. This is my backyard. I don't really need to do this. But here, it was front and center. And it's not just the Indians, but literally every delegation from different countries that came to G20 across different working groups enjoyed this understanding Indian culture. You know, you're only talking about like the decorations and the cultural performance. I'm even going to the food because my God, like, Like, we have this thing called Atithi Devo Bhava, which is like, when the guest comes, first, like, welcome the guest. Like, it's their house. And then second, like, feed them. Feed, and just keep feeding them, which is literally what the Indian government did. So they fed, like, the delegates some of the best food you will ever get across the country. And the kind of flavors that they could experience was, so it was all in all, I thought it was one of our, I was considerably younger during the CWG games, so I have nothing to compare it to.
But I should say that I personally have been very impressed by the organization of the entire G20. And yes, I'm going to do a taxi driver anecdote. I know everybody hates that, but I'm still going to do it. Because I went to so many of these meetings, and I was talking to a lot of the drivers who were taking us between venues. And it has also, the local population in many of these areas were very happy that the meeting was being held in their area or city. And they could get employment opportunities out of it or some economic opportunities out of it.
So all in all, I thought it was, from a cultural standpoint, we put up a feast and a wedding. I think it's going to be really hard to top this. I'm very sure Brazil is going to do whatever it can to top it. But it was just a lot of fun. On the more serious question and I'm sorry to say this but can you repeat the serious question because I just went down the food memory lane over here.
Shreya Jai: No, I completely understand brought back some memories for me as well. It has been fascinating, we have been looking at so many things, food is an integral part of it. It's India, food has to be there.
My serious part of the question was that in terms of the deliberations or the discussions that you're witnessing, what has been the tone of India like? Just tone, we're not getting into topics. Have we been aggressive? Have we been dismissive, submissive? How have we been? I am sure our audience wants to know that we were the host.
Did we act like this good, nice host saying yes to everything or we were like, yes, we are the host, listen to us.
Swati D'Souza: So traditionally, the role of the presidency is to bring consensus amongst different parties, different points of view, different opinions. They can't be very aggressive in their stance. So sure, they do set the agenda. And that's where a lot of the priorities that the presidency wants to start getting reflected. But once the agenda is set, it is the job of the presidency to sort of bring people together and bring countries together to reach a common minimum point. In that, I think India did wonderfully, okay. Because it wasn't about whether we were being aggressive or not. It was there were divisions. given the Russia-Ukraine war and the impact that it has had on global geopolitics and relations between different countries, there were obvious fissures during just entering into the meeting. So India had a very tough task to manage because we are friends with Russia. So it's, you know, unlike a lot of other countries, it's while we do condemn Russia and while the Prime Minister has condemned Russia, for Ukraine and ask for the war to be stopped. At the same time, historically, we've had very good ties with Russia. So India has been in a very unique spot as a chair president while understanding these fissures and definitely not wanting to take sides when these fissures come out in the public domain. So given that, I think India played a really good balancing act. The presidency, all the chairs, in different working groups, played a very good balancing act while driving the negotiations and arriving at some amount of common minimum point.
Sandeep Pai: Great, so let's start with really like big picture questions and then we'll kind of go into the specifics of where we stand in terms of, we are almost at the cusp of the end of G20, so where does it stand and then kind of like what does it mean for COP and beyond.
So my big picture question is like, you know, when India took the presidency, there were some key global geopolitical events that were shaping energy and climate landscape. One was the Russia-Ukraine war and that completely realigned countries, you know, a lot of countries became what we call in India Atmanirbhar Bharat or wanted to like from an energy security point of view. And countries were still recovering from COVID economic shocks and things like that.
So what do you think were some of the key points of discussion that were shaped by these geopolitical events at this G20? some of the thorny issues or issues that really India needed to resolve. I'm not even asking like how they resolved, but like what were the points themselves?
Swati D'Souza: So it's a very good question because a lot of this geopolitical debate actually featured across the Indian presidency. So this whole Russia-Ukraine war and the impact that it has had on energy and on trade and on domestic production and domestic demand across globally, across all countries, was what shaped different working groups. So I think this was one of the first presidencies that had energy and climate as center focus across so many working groups. So of course, there's the energy transition working group, which had energy as a central focus. But the framework working group also had energy as a central focus. Here it came from, you know, the inflationary impact that COVID plus the war has had on countries across the world. And the impact that it has had on food prices, on fertilizer prices, on just the impact at the household level, there was discussion on how central banks should start thinking about short and medium term shocks to the system because of climate change, because of energy transition. So that came about. That was in the framework working group. The sustainable finance working group, again, had a focus on climate, which was talking about MDB reforms and how to sort of push low-cost finance. So while the energy side, and I'll come to the energy working group because that requires a much longer conversation.
So while the energy working group also had low-cost finance, that was more from the demand side, but the sustainable finance working group was more from the supply side. So how do we get finance into a lot of these low-carbon technologies and sectors. Then, of course, you had the Infrastructure Working Group where, because India is India and a lot of the global south countries are vulnerable to physical risks. So the infrastructure working group also dealt on climate and the impact of climate change on physical assets. The disaster resilience working group, obviously, because India has co-created the coalition for disaster resilience. the international body. So there, of course, climate was there. Again, and then the climate working group under the ministry had it. The development working group had something called life, which also had shades of energy and climate. So you can see that this entire conundrum, the havoc and the shocks that happened to the global energy supply in 2022, had a lot of influence on some of the priorities and the way the agenda was set across each of the different working groups in G20.
And each of these basically went and linked back. And just because G20 comes to an end in India on September 10, that's not the end of it, because these conversations are continuing all the way to COP. A lot of the global issues that were a result of the fallout of COVID and Russia-Ukraine invasion, a lot of that had a great influence across all the working groups for India and G20.
Shreya Jai: You also mentioned that this would continue till COP.
What are some of these trends or areas you think would also influence COP, especially from the lens of, say, Global South and India?
Swati D'Souza: I think for this, I'll have to go back to the priorities that the Energy Transition Working Group had and what came out of it, and therefore, how I expect that to continue. I don't know whether it will actually will or not, but that's how I expect it to continue. So the Indian presidency had six priorities, which we all know about, when they started. But essentially, it sort of boiled down to a couple of sticky points. One was on hydrogen. because India started off by saying that they need standards for green hydrogen. That was the Indian government's priority. And that resulted in a lot of negotiations. The second one was on renewable energy targets. How do you classify renewable energy targets? The third one was on critical minerals, because India, again, had a couple of ideas that they wanted to take forward on the critical mineral front. Then there was finance. And then there was just transition, but just transition was not given adequate importance in the entire agenda.
Of these, it's a very easy metric to see what was okay and what was not. If you open the chair summary on the G20 website for the energy group, there are six or seven points in the chair summary where it's a version where they've rounded up saying that these were the six or seven points where there was no consensus. And those are the sticky issues. Those are literally the ones that are going to continue till COP. One of that is probably going to be the renewable energy target, where I'm assuming that now that we have in language something called tripling of target, tripling of renewable energy capacity, we're able to negotiate whole bilateral and multilateral meetings between now and COP, particularly the UAE, and come to a consensus on the year and the capacity and the baseline. Even if we do like one of these three things, we would have achieved like some amount of win in UAE COP. And I see that as a continuing focus. Critical minerals is a very, it's not a COP-related topic, but it has received a lot of attention. And it's also how the geopolitics of energy is changing. And it's not just about, oh, where are the minerals, and who controls the sources? And it's not just about that. It's about how the thinking around geopolitics of energy is changing. It's no longer location-specific. It is moving. It is now becoming a moving. Because earlier, the idea was not that there won't be oil production. There would be oil production. The problem would be getting the oil out, so in the logistics part of it. So there was energy security risk from a pricing perspective or from a logistics perspective.
Now, the energy security is no longer from, well, pricing and supply and logistics are still a concern. But it's more about, it's gone beyond these midstream worries and gone back to the fundamentals, both at the demand and the supply end. So that amount of rethink, of course, none of that is going to shape up the core. But it will be useful if countries start coming together on the issue on supply chains. Because as the IEA loves to say, as the IEA says actually, it's only when countries start working together is when we are going to reach we are going to be able to resolve the challenge of not just installing renewable energy, but acquiring the materials to install renewable energy, which is the need of the hour. So I think I have answered your question.
Shreya Jai: Yes, you did.
Sandeep Pai: So I just want to like kind of go a bit more, you know, deeper in this critical mineral question and then come back to, you know, the larger G20, COP, etc.
Don't you think like it's, it is a big challenge on how to align countries? I mean, China is clearly ahead in terms of this race currently. With US and EU looking really domestic with IRA and all the different laws, how does one bring together countries? I know it's a very convoluted question, but in your opinion, how can we form alliances when one party is very far ahead. The others have made laws to catch up. And the third set of parties are still thinking about like, what do I do? I'm just starting to even realize that this is a race that we need to fight.
So what do you think needs to happen? And is there scope within a COP or a G20 to even like attempt to create and bring countries together?
Swati D'Souza: I have to say the Indian presidency was very ambitious. They really wanted to do this. They were really trying, right up till the last day, to have consensus on critical minerals. So the Indian presidency had drafted principles of critical minerals. And they were really trying very hard to get consensus on this. So there are efforts. I think hurray for that.
But to your larger question on how difficult it is. I think it is. I mean, the obvious answer is yes, it is considerably difficult to find consensus. I mean, look at how long it's taken for us to get to Paris. And that was probably the last time we had consensus on something that big. And then loss and damage fund last year, that was again something that big.
So it is extremely difficult, but I think It's a strategy game more than consensus. And while the broader point is to build consensus eventually. And here, I'll go to the technical terminology, friend-sharing. Countries are definitely doing friend-sharing. what the US is doing, what EU is doing, what Korea is planning to do, what Australia is doing with Korea. They're all trying to ensure and protect their energy security. It's very interesting that you ask about the people who are left behind because that's a topic that does not get a lot of light because everybody focuses on a set of countries who own all the minerals and who have large control on the processing and refining without considering the countries who have primary resources and production and whether they can actually be a key player in the game.
The attempt is always to showcase two large countries sort of, you know, coming into a bullfight, but that may not even be the outcome of this entire strategy as we go forward. And for this, we need a lot of Global South countries to come together. And that's where I think we need to build consensus. So we need to build consensus, but in the global South and not necessarily around the world. First, we need to get like these countries who actually own the minerals, to really own the minerals. You know what I mean? Like, it's not just owning it and producing it and, you know, sending it to some, but to have ownership of not just the mineral resource, but also a say in how or in where these resources will go, in how, you know, rules will be made around sharing of the wealth around these resources. and using that wealth for domestic development.
I think a lot of this conversation needs to be had and that's where consensus can be built. A lot of the consensus can be built in the Global South primarily because that is where a lot of your demand is going to come from. Look at Africa, look at Asia. These are your key demand centers just because we have a growing population. And that means an increase in energy demand and that means an increase in renewable energy capacity. because not only do we have to meet your latent demand, you have to also replace existing stock. And that's where I think we need to make use of bilateral ties, soft power, everything that is there in the book to actually form that consensus.
Shreya Jai: If I may ask a slightly philosophical question, just to keep shifting the tone of the conversation. The point that you mentioned regarding consensus building on critical minerals, all of them obviously stand true, but this whole consensus building exercise, these group of nations coming together, the idea itself has taken a hit in last several years. There were several factors at play. There was COVID, then there have been wars and then the governments that have come in key economies and I'm talking from US to European nations, UK, even India or China for that, China has not seen any change of government but the government policy to look more inwards than outwards what we call as Atmanirha, this is becoming a prevalent phenomenon which in a way is very restrictive when you come on a table to have a discussion with 20 different countries. The African continent is not the same as it was a decade back. It has a very strengthened, different position on the table. So in the middle of this, this country, India, which is, you know, kind of a golden eye these days for green energy investment and a golden boy, sorry, these days because of the democratic and the investment in green energy and everything. And we're trying to balance, as you said, we did really try.
Where does this place us first and second, obviously, if you can, you know, respond to my philosophy that I mentioned.
Swati D'Souza: So I think resource nationalism is not new, let's be very honest. We've seen this through the decade. We've seen a resurgence and then a fall and a resurgence again. If I go back into history, a lot when control of oil was changing from companies to national governments. That was a resurgence of resource nationalism. And even before that, when we go into coal and oil, and when ships were, during World War II, when Britain went to oil and coal, That, again, resource nationalism, right? So a lot of this question on resource nationalism, it feels like it's new, but it's not. And yes, you're right in the sense that countries are no longer where they were 10 years ago. And I think that's a good thing.
I think it's good that the African Union is not where it was 10 years ago. I think it's good that they are strengthening, that they are coming together to form a cohesive and a strong standpoint. I think it's a good thing that the Southeast Asian countries have found common ground and are coming together to form a good block. Where does this put, now to come back to your second, to take this question on to concerns with building. Yes, it becomes a problem. I won't call it a problem, it becomes challenging to bring consensus amongst different blocs, particularly if these blocs have a strong economic and social and political point of view, you know, behind their consensus and reasons behind their consensus.
But I think that a lot of conflict resolution, and this goes into the territory of conflict resolution more than consensus building, honestly, has been on finding a common minimum ground, which is possible, which may take a while for it to happen. So if I have to take the resource nationalism debate and talk about it from this particular lens, It's about trying to find the balance between the resource nationalism that African Union has with respect to its critical minerals and the demand that India has with respect to the need for these critical minerals. And that's where your common minimum ground comes across because it is economic in nature. And which is where you form relationships. And it's not just India. This could be the US. This could be EU. In fact, with the IRA, it's probably the US, because the IRA actually has policies that can push investments in these countries. So the point is, you need to start by at least finding a common minimum ground. And political strength is not a bad thing while trying to form a common minimum ground, because what it does is it gives the stakeholders in the process, because the position of strength comes from strong institutions that have made these governments a position of strength, right? And that then reflects onto the people and the participative process that has been involved in reaching this position. All of which I think is a great thing to have. It's now about finding where we can do what. And that's where I think people like me get our bread and butter from. So I'm all for this.
Sandeep Pai: Okay, speaking of that, today is September 1st and we're recording this episode and the Leaders Summit is about to happen in the next 8-9 days.
Speaking of that, could you tell us what could be some of the key issues and how do you think it might play? This is me asking you to make your predictions of how it might unfold in the next week or so, what could be the key talking points and what you think could remain as thorny issues even as the India's G20 presidency ends.
Swati D'Souza: I will be very honest, I have been a little cut out after the July energy ministerial meeting, so I have not followed the G20 negotiations. the leader summit, the Sharpa meeting negotiations that have happened. So I may not be very well informed for this question. But hypothetically, in my head, I hope that we found consensus on the renewable energy target from an energy sector perspective. The reason for this is because that would be a very big win for India. And the reason why it will be a big win for India is because of the domestic push that India has towards renewable energy, that the Prime Minister himself has put towards renewable energy. So that will be a big win for India. And even if we have one thing, either a baseline or a number, that's also enough. That in itself is a good, strong point for the negotiations ahead to continue.
In addition, if something has come out on finance, that would also be because India has been pushing for inclusion on low-cost finance, for climate finance to come into play. And so far, none of the negotiations have really delved very deep into this issue on climate finance. So I don't know what last-minute Hail Mary the government and NEA can pull, but if they can, this would be possibly an area.
The last, I think we all know that the Global Biofuel Alliance will be launched. And that in itself is like a… And that I think is really a good point for India, because it will be the third institution, international institution that India helms one, the first being ICER, the second being CDRI. And I think it's time that somebody that you know, countries, somebody takes sort of ownership of the entire conversation around biofuels and sort of leads this global effort. This is also something that Brazil can take forward, because Brazil and biofuels are very close allies, right? So this is something that Brazil can take forward. So I think these are like the two, three things that I'm considering in this, in what could happen. But I should also say our Prime Minister has been known to surprise all of us. So we should literally expect the most unexpected.
Shreya Jai: I'd love that for a good headline, definitely. But one thing I want to add, we discussed what could be the agenda, what could be the sticky points. So what about fossil fuels? You know, this whole language around fossil fuel abatement that caught a lot of people by surprise. There was a lot of furor that why this language has been used.
Apart from that, what do you think is emerging, if not as a consensus, but maybe a consensus, on fossil fuel abatement? Because currently, the language that came out from the last Energy Transition Working Group was very dicey, here and there. So what does it indicate first? The intentions of the G20 and what going forward do you think would happen?
Swati D'Souza: If I'm not mistaken, this whole fossil fuels was a point that was not agreed upon. It was in the last six, seven paragraphs. Yeah.
Shreya Jai: Yeah.
Swati D'Souza: OK, so the whole topic of fossil fuel abatement and phase down and phase out, I mean, we've been hearing it since Glasgow, right? Like Glasgow and the run up to Glasgow had been all about phasing out coal. Fossil fuels is a newish addition, and that's a more government of India addition into the debate, because India has always maintained But if you're talking about phasing out or phasing down, we talk about all fossil fuels and not just coal. So it's been going on since Glasgow. They tried to resurrect it again during Egypt. Didn't have a lot of traction there. At the start of the Energy Transition Working Group meetings, the government of India had made it categorically clear that they're not just going to talk about coal, because coal is important to India from an energy security standpoint. And they're very happy to talk about, and they're okay with talking about phasing out, phasing down of fossil fuel, but it has to be fossil fuels as a whole. So given that, I think we are back where we were since Glasgow.
The G7 made some headway because it actually spoke about natural gas. And I think a lot of the sticky point is boiling down to continued usage of natural gas. when we are talking about the larger fossil fuels debate, because there is one entire block that is heavily dependent on natural gas, then there's the other block that's heavily dependent on coal, and the two shall never meet. So they keep clashing with each other.
And with the G7 and the communique that came out of the G7, there was hope that something on those lands could be pushed even in G20. But G20 is also reflective of ambitions under COP. And it's not just about fossil fuels abatement. It's also about its production. It's also about oil production. It's also about where it's coming from and whether these countries have a larger say on the table.
In COP, you are talking to 196, 197 countries. In G20, you're talking to 20 countries. So the larger conversation was, this question is not a question for G20. It's a question for COP, which is why there was no consensus around that, which is why you could also see conversations on direct air capture that came into the community. Although, I mean, you know, if you look at most IPCC models, there are elements of CCUS and direct air capture in all of these models, without which we will not meet our two-degree target. So that's where the fossil fuel abatement debate stands at.
And I don't know how much it's going to be picked up at COP again. And this is something that I was telling somebody else. When you talk to countries who consume or produce large amount of fossil fuels, yes, they need to transition. Everybody needs to transition to clean energy. But there is a negative spin to it, and there's a positive spin to it. The positive spin to it is you flood the market with money for renewables so that you increase renewable energy to the extent that it can beat from economically, it can beat your fossil fuel generation. Politically, and from a political economy perspective, it benefits the stakeholder. That is, if you do that, there is automatically your usage in terms of fossil fuels is going to start dropping. And that is something that governments will actually listen to you and try and push, because the people will also want to hear something like this. The negative side of the story is you keep saying, oh, we need to cut down coal. Oh, we need to cut down gas. Oh, we need to. Yes, we need to do all of that. But it's about how you try and push the message. What are the contingencies and what are the things that individual governments are facing behind? A lot of the fossil fuel abatement question comes from a political standpoint. India is entering elections next year. US is entering elections next year. President Biden has very different priorities. Prime Minister Modi has very different priorities. And this entire fossil fuel abatement problem comes down in the middle of some of these priorities. And these are just two countries that I'm telling you about. But elections happen everywhere. And that determines a lot of the priorities that are happening that countries choose on climate.
Shreya Jai: Sandeep, do you have a question on this?
Sandeep Pai: Go ahead. I mean, I have, but I will roll two questions together on the last one.
Shreya Jai: Okay. This fossil fuel, you answered pretty well. I think you've covered everything, but, you know, I missed asking earlier, and you were talking about CDRI. So it all sounds good, you know, International Solar Alliance and CDRI and now Biofuel Alliance. But we know that we are finding very hard to find members for Biofield Alliance. There are still some countries which are, you know, iffy about joining GBA. India is hunting for non-G20 member countries, et cetera. ISA, there are very mixed feelings for ISA. CDRI is doing a great job, but they're very, very new. They're like very fresh on this.
What is it that these alliances, through these alliances, first you can explain India is trying to achieve and how would you rate them? You know, in the whole discussion or the whole geopolitics, what role would these agencies play for us?
Swati D'Souza: By us do you mean India?
Shreya Jai: But for India, what are we trying to achieve or have we achieved anything?
Sandeep Pai: And if I can add one more question in this, to add to Shreya's question, it's one thing when, say, a China or a US forms an alliance, because they can put their financial might behind that. But it's another thing if a country like India, which I'm not saying doesn't have the money or resources, It's not like the GDP or whatever economic parameter you measure. It doesn't have those financial institutions to lend money at large scale. So when you house something like that in a country like India or compared to say a country like US or EU, like how different it is when that financial incentive may or may not be available for others to join the bandwagon. So I don't know if that makes sense but just adding to Shreya's question on that.
Shreya Jai: And this is for the uninitiated audience, International Solar Alliance when launched was doubted to be the OPEC like body for solar. It is anything but that. So this is a set of expectations that is there.
So just give us this whole understanding of this whole ecosystem of all these alliances, please.
Swati D'Souza: So one thing that I want to say right at the outset is sometimes we are a little blinded by our expectations. We expect a six-year-old body, a two-year-old body, a body that's not even formed, to perform the work that we see other alliances and other multilaterals doing that have been around for 30, 40, 50 years. And that's how we set our expectations. And that's what we hope to say, that in three years, an India-created alliance or an international institution is at the same level. No. Institution building, particularly multilateral institution building, always takes a while. And in the initial years, it is always the parent or the host who had proposed the idea, who largely shapes the way the multilateral institution or the alliance will function. It's just to give it feet just before and sort of sustain it until a point where it becomes an entity on its own and can just work on its own.
And this is essentially, and this is not new to just India, I mean, AIIB and China, right? China is very, very involved in the creation and the working of AIIB. The US is very involved with the World Bank, Japan is very involved with ADB. So there are these considerations that I think we should give and therefore have benefit of doubt when we think about the purpose of such alliances. That's point number one.
Point number two on what do they actually achieve. So they achieve a bunch of different things. The first thing that they achieve is they put enough emphasis and focus on that particular issue. What alliances and multilaterals by nature do is they start bringing countries together to start talking and focusing on a particular topic, on a particular subject. When have we spoken about biofuel at this much of, to so much of an extent in the last 10 years? We haven't. But now it's got the conversation rolling. It's now got the conversation rolling of, oh, what is the California model on blending? Can India actually blend? What is Brazil going to be doing? How much can Brazil export? Can this be an actual viable alternate fuel? So it brings that conversation and that topic into focus. The moment you bring politically a topic into focus, money starts flowing in that direction. So that is the second purpose that alliances do. They bring this conversation up, which then helps provide some signal to the market, to investors, that this is an area of interest for XYZ group or block or for the world as a whole. And therefore, we need to start thinking about it. I'm not saying all of this happens overnight. I'm not saying money starts flowing today, then an alliance is created. Tomorrow, money will start flowing. No, I'm not saying that. It takes a while. But that is the second purpose of creating.
The third purpose of creating an alliance or an institution is also on technical expertise. And here, I think I will push back a little on ISAM, on the Indian Solar Alliance. because what the Indian Solar Alliance is doing is it's also providing technical expertise in two countries who don't have the kind of robust think tanks that India does. We in India sometimes forget that, you know, that not every capital or not every country has the kind of networks and the kind of intellectual thinking.
Even with energy and in India, go back 10 years ago, go back to like 2008, there were probably one or two think tanks that were right at the top. So Who would then provide technical expertise to governments? Who would provide technical expertise to companies? So a lot of these alliances and multilaterals also provide technical expertise, including the International Solar Alliance. Can the scope of the International Solar Alliance be widened? Yes. While it does have a value proposition, does it need to do more work to meet its value proposition? Yes. Nobody's saying no. But it doesn't mean that there is no use of some of these institutions.
Lastly, about the finance question that Sandeep spoke about, yes, money always helps. Never say money doesn't help. And yes, we don't have as much. India does not have a lot of deep pocket. It does not have as deep pockets as the US or Japan or China or any of these other countries, or even the EU for that matter. What we've learned, and here I wear my researcher hat, what we've learned a lot is you need a little bit of money to sort of de-risk the sector, to provide, and I know we all hate the word de-risk and blended finance, but you know, you need a little bit of money that then will help start getting the policies in place and the regulations in place that will then help both public as well as private investors to come to that market, right? That little bit of money India has, that little bit of money for pilots we do, be it in International Solar Alliance, hopefully the Biofuel Alliance, be it in, you know, the CDRI. Yeah, right. So It is getting there.
And I genuinely think we need to give these institutions some time to breathe and some space to breathe than put these burden of expectations. And I think it's cool that we all have so much expectation from these Indian institutions, which basically proves that we actually trust these institutions to some extent. And we are disappointed that they are not meeting our expectations. So that's a good thing to have.
Sandeep Pai: Well, this is great. And thank you for covering all the different topics from energy diplomacy to G20 to critical minerals, you know, all the way to various, you know, issues of institutions and institutional building. I have one final question, which is like, what is on Swati's plate and agenda going forward? Like what is, having experienced the G20 and then, you know, being a researcher for such a long time, working on topics ranging from gas to coal to just transition, like, what are the three or four key topics that you're interested in working in, let's say, the next five years, right, wherever you work, whatever your, you know, institutional affiliation is?
Swati D'Souza: I think coal will stay close to my heart, no matter where I go. And I know it's probably not the most political thing to say, but I'm talking about it from a transition perspective. And a lot of my focus is going to be sort of I'm bringing two topics together where I would like to look at the impact of transition on some of the countries and regions, so the just transition framework, but also how we can make use of emerging technologies and emerging topics of conversation, critical minerals, supply chains, electric vehicles. To bridge that equity, to bridge the justice gap, the equity gap, that's actually what my focus will be for the next couple of years. It's going to be on supply chains. It's going to be on critical minerals, just transitions and transport.
Shreya Jai: Swati, that's basically everything.
Swati D'Souza: No, no, that is not everything. There is a lot of still that I, there is, there is this entire topic on industry decarbonization, which I haven't even touched upon. Okay. There's hydrogen, which I've not spoken about because I don't know anything about hydrogen. Like I can make up off the record. I can make up stuff on hydrogen, but I actually don't know anything on hydrogen.
Shreya Jai: To be honest with you a lot of people are making up stuff about hydrogen even those who are not supposed to so yeah join the line but happy to know that you continue to focus on coal because all I hear from people all across is everyone is picking up one or the other threads on green energy which eventually leads to the same kind of discussion. Happy to know that you will continue to focus on coal because it needs to be there. You cannot just abandon coal today. So good to know.
Swati D'Souza: You know, coal is still the driving force behind the global energy mix followed by oil and gas. And And the whole idea of transition starts from reducing these fuels. And you need to know what is going on in these sectors before you think about what is the transition and what is the impact going to be. I see Sandeep smiling. I don't know if he agrees with me.
Sandeep Pai: But yeah, yeah, no, I mean, you have to work on both sides, right? It's you can't just work on one side and expect the other to just vanish. Well, thank you, Swati. This has been really great. As always, I learn a lot from you. Thank you for your time.
Swati D'Souza: Thank you so much for having me.
Shreya Jai: Thank you. I just wanted to say thank you for having such a broad spectrum conversation, which is just amazing, you know, so cover so many things in one hour. Thanks again.
Swati D'Souza: Thank you so much guys. Like, I think it's just talking to, it's not even a podcast to me when I'm like talking to both of you, it's just like, you know, we are somewhere, we're over drinks, having a chat.
So thank you so much for having me on the show.
Sandeep Pai: Absolutely!
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