Geographies in Depth

From navigating global headwinds to endorsing responsible AI: 5 key themes from India at Davos 2024

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Here are key highlights from India's participation in Davos 2024.

Here are key highlights from India's participation in Davos 2024. Image: World Economic Forum

Pooja Chhabria
Digital Editor, World Economic Forum
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This article is part of: World Economic Forum Annual Meeting
  • India joined key discussions around global challenges, including the transition to clean energy and AI governance at Davos 2024, the Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum in Switzerland.
  • The country stands to benefit from ongoing efforts by Western economies to diversify supply chains and strengthen partnerships among democracies.
  • How can it keep up the momentum around economic growth and overcome structural challenges to emerge as one of the world’s pre-eminent economies? Here are key highlights from the week.

‘Can India seize its moment?’ That was the focus of a key session on Thursday at Davos 2024, the Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

Last year, India assumed the presidency of the G20 under the theme ‘one planet, one family, one future’ and admitted the African Union as a permanent member.

As a founding member of the BRICS bloc of developing nations, it welcomed an expansion to include six new countries - Saudi Arabia, Iran, Ethiopia, Egypt, Argentina and the United Arab Emirates. The bloc now represents 46% of the world's population and 25% of global exports, with the overall GDP exceeding that of the G7.

The year 2023 also saw India overtaking China as the country with the largest population in the world, raising questions on whether its large youth population (about 66 per cent of the population is below the age of 35) will be advantageous to its growth story.

The bigger question? How can it maintain its momentum around economic resistance to global headwinds and overcome structural challenges to emerge as one of the world’s pre-eminent economies?

Its actions this year, as it approaches the crucial general elections, could lay the groundwork for the country to 'become the world's third-largest economy in the next five years', writes Sriram Gutta, Head, India and Deputy Head, South Asia at the World Economic Forum. It's also an opportunity to set an example of 'inclusive, sustainable economic growth, digital development and climate action.'

We look back at India's participation at the 54th Annual Meeting this week and highlight how it's looking ahead at critical issues, such as the transition to clean energy and responsible use of artificial intelligence (AI).

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On clean energy transition

In the face of escalating climate-related concerns, India plays a key leadership role in the global fight against climate change.

The growing population and rising energy demand call for a delicate balance between economic advancement and ecological responsibility. “We are facing multiple crises. And for a country like India, which now has the largest population in the world, it requires a transition to sustainability without jeopardising or undermining the need to deliver basic welfare to a large and growing population,” says Hardeep Singh Puri, India’s Minister of Petroleum and Natural Gas and Minister of Housing and Urban Affairs.

“If you look at the global scenario today, India's consumption is growing three times the global average. In the next 20 years or so, India will account for 25% of the world's energy demand.”

A country like India, which now has the largest population in the world, requires a transition to sustainability without jeopardising or undermining the need to deliver basic welfare to a large and growing population.

Hardeep Singh Puri, India’s Minister of Petroleum and Natural Gas and Minister of Housing and Urban Affairs.

For India to achieve net-zero emissions by 2070 as planned, it needs to pursue non-traditional methods for energy generation. Alongside a concerted push for Green Hydrogen and biofuels, the country has launched the International Solar Alliance and proposed a global grid for renewables. It ranks 67 out of 120 countries on the Forum’s Energy Transition Index (ETI) 2023, showcasing steady improvements across the three dimensions of the energy triangle over the past decade: equitable, sustainable and secure.

India also emerged relatively less affected by the recent energy crisis, finds the report, largely due to the low share of natural gas in power generation and increased use of existing generation capacities.

But can developing economies like India follow the same pace of change as developed countries? In a ‘Transforming Energy Demand’ session, Anish Shah, the Group CEO and Managing Director at Mahindra Group, said developing nations could ‘actually create a better set of outcomes’.

“If we look at renewable energy, India is putting in 600 gigawatts (GW) of renewable energy by 2030,” he says. “The beauty there is that the cost of solar energy in India is far lower than traditional energy… emerging countries are going to, in some ways, show the way and rewrite the rules in terms of how energy can be used.” But he cautions against relying on a silver bullet and instead focusing on solutions for the long term.

Emerging countries are going to, in some ways, show the way and rewrite the rules in terms of how energy can be used.

Anish Shah, the Group CEO and Managing Director at Mahindra Group

A skilled workforce, public-private collaboration in innovation, and investment in research and development in low-carbon technologies are necessary to enable India’s energy transition, as detailed in the Fostering Effective Energy Transition 2023 report.

On the BRICS expansion

The expanding Brics club of nations is calling for a united stand of emerging and developing countries, but a crucial question remains - how will it forge consensus among its diverse members and contribute to the reshaping of the global geopolitical and economic landscape?

Smriti Zubin Irani, India’s Minister of Women and Child Development, views BRICS as a ‘platform of consensus’ with India playing a pivotal role as ‘one of the bridges between the Global North and the Global South.’ “The celebration at BRICS about our mission, courtesy of ISRO (the space agency of India), when we landed on the dark side of the moon was not a celebration limited to India alone,” she says. “The cooperation in space technology is something that has been written about.”

Irrespective of how fractured or fragmented the world seems today, I proudly say as an Indian, that we can help become the democratic glue that brings everybody together.

Smriti Zubin Irani, Minister of Women and Child Development, India

As for achieving consensus, she states: “If the agenda is growth, if the agenda is inclusion, if the agenda is servicing global aspirations, then India is well positioned to be a bridge, no matter the conversation or geography... because irrespective of how fractured or fragmented the world seems today, I proudly say as an Indian, that we can help become the democratic glue that brings everybody together.”

On responsible use of AI

AI has been a hot topic of discussion at the Meeting this week, with leaders highlighting its great potential but emphasising the need for governance. António Guterres, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, called for enhanced efforts around AI governance while the United Kingdom's Chancellor of the Exchequer, Jeremy Hunt, called for 'light touch' regulation and global collaboration on AI.

Meanwhile, Chinese Premier Li Qiang stressed the need to balance development and governance.

The Indian delegation at Davos 2024 promoted responsible behaviour with regard to AI, insisting on convergence or a consensus on watermarking AI products ‘so that nations at large have a balanced approach towards emerging technologies’, as expressed by Smriti Irani during a session.

Nick Clegg, president of global affairs at Meta Platforms Inc., echoed similar views in a separate session. Aligning the industry on common standards to identify AI-generated content, such as by watermarking images and videos, should be the issue “in the front of the queue,” Clegg said, as reported by Bloomberg.

The world will benefit by looking at India and what we are doing with technology.

Debjani Ghosh, President of the National Association of Software and Services Companies (NASSCOM), India

For Debjani Ghosh, President of the National Association of Software and Services Companies (NASSCOM) in India, trust and inclusion are crucial to building AI scalability. “And that's where the world will benefit by looking at India and what we are doing with technology,” she says.

But we cannot do it without talent that is inclined digitally, she added, referring to India's 'biggest differentiator' with the young population. "We can build in them the basics of responsible use of technology because we are building technology to solve problems."

On holding elections in a record-breaking year for democracy

In 2024, more people around the world will vote for their next leader or legislature than in any previous year.

At least 64 countries (plus the European Union) are meant to hold national elections, impacting a combined population of over 4 billion worldwide. In some countries, this will lead to a smooth transition of power; in others, contentious results could damage citizens’ trust in their government.

Discussions at Davos 2024 reflected on the current strengths and weaknesses of democracy while exploring the opportunities and risks posed by the rapid adoption of technologies like generative AI.

Representing the world’s largest democracy, Smriti Irani highlighted the digitization boost India has received in carrying out the electoral process. “From the last day of the vote being cast, it takes us precisely three days to compute the results electronically,” she says.

“[About] 945 million Indians today qualify as voters, of which 94% already are bio authorised. They come to vote not only through systems that are electronically and digitally enabled, but they are better informed because of social media engagements.”

How about the checks and balances? The host asked towards the end of a session on 'Protecting Democracy Against Bots and Plots'. “The Election Commission is a process which is de-linked from government and politics. The judicial system, which is fair [and] independent of government. And we have a media that calls out if there is any such anomaly,” she responded.

Trust in elections, in its institutions, is probably fairly robust in India even today.

Rajesh Kumar Singh Secretary, Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade

As someone who helped conduct about 15 Indian state elections in the first decade of his career as a civil servant, Rajesh Kumar Singh presented his views at a panel discussing ‘4.2 Billion People at the Ballot Box’. “It’s a very broad and mammoth exercise that India does with 900 million people… the reason why it runs so well, in our opinion, is that it is run entirely by the bureaucracy.”

What’s on the ballot this year? “Bread and butter issues are on the ballot in India, like everywhere else. It’s basically economic development.” But Singh, currently the Secretary of the Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade, also highlighted other issues of disinformation and use of money and power as being relevant.

Regarding the widely reported decline in trust across institutions, Rajesh says it might be true to some extent, but India is primarily an ‘outlier’. “Trust in elections, in its institutions, is probably fairly robust in India even today.”

On sustaining the growth momentum

India’s economy showed robust growth over the past year, IMF stated as it concluded its Article IV Consultation with India in December. “Growth is expected to remain strong, supported by macroeconomic and financial stability. Real GDP is projected to grow 6.3 per cent in FY2023/24 and FY2024/25.”

"With a 95% confidence interval, we can all assess that India will be growing at 6 to 8% for the whole of next decade… with a moderate inflation of 4 to 6%," says Ashwini Vaishnaw, the Minister of Railways; Minister of Communications; and Minister of Electronics and Information Technology in India.

India will be growing at 6 to 8% for the whole of next decade… with a moderate inflation of 4 to 6%.

Ashwini Vaishnaw, the Minister of Railways; Minister of Communications; and Minister of Electronics and Information Technology, India.

“Continued broad-based policy initiatives and structural changes focused on inclusive growth, sustained revival in domestic consumption demand, and rapid adoption of new and emerging technologies to enhance productivity will be critical,” says Sriram. “Additionally, India must continue to engage in multilateral forums to address global issues such as health crises, economic disparities and geopolitical tensions.”

Reskilling and upskilling will also play a crucial role in ensuring India’s demographics will benefit its growth story, which will require "broad labour market reforms and human development measures".

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Geographies in DepthForum InstitutionalEconomic Growth
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Contents
On clean energy transitionOn the BRICS expansion On responsible use of AIOn holding elections in a record-breaking year for democracyOn sustaining the growth momentum

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