G20 lags in making real commitments to tackling the climate crisis.
By Fernanda de Carvalho, global policy manager for WWF’s climate and energy practice.
Later this week, leaders of the world’s twenty largest economies, all of them Parties to the Paris Agreement, have their annual gathering, this time in Osaka, Japan. The G20 has emerged as one of the world’s most important economic international forums, and because of that, a key venue for discussing the global response to the climate crisis and sustainability.
But, for all the warm words from recent G20 meetings about tackling the world’s sustainability challenges, action is lagging well behind the rhetoric. The G20 communiques issued since the 2015 Paris Agreement, when the world pledged to hold global warming to at least below 2°C, while striving for 1.5°C contain generalities but few specifics, and failed to add to the pressure on world leaders to finally walk the walk on addressing the climate crisis.
After years of half-measures, weasel words and outright inaction from the world’s governments, climate change is changing from a long-term threat into a pressing emergency. Youth are taking to the streets to demand climate action and consequences keep slapping us on the face (ice melting last week in Greenland, heat wave in Europe). Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, host of this year’s G20 meeting, has promised to prioritise climate change, alongside trade, at the talks. But signals show it to be unlikely that he can drive more action that his predecessors. Japan , which is known as coal promoting country, seems to prefer a weaker communiqué than to single out the United States.
The 2016 meeting, which took place in China the wake of the breakthrough in Paris, mentioned climate almost as an afterthought, alongside Brexit, forced migration and terrorism among “further significant challenges affecting the world economy”. It looked forward to the Paris Agreement entering into force, and stressed the importance of financial support, not least from the Green Climate Fund, in helping developing countries mitigate and adapt to climate change. But the communique proved light on commitments or on any measurable outcomes.
The following year, with Germany hosting the G20, climate had higher billing, including a dedicated annex to the communique, the G20 Hamburg Climate and Energy Action Plan for Growth. The action plan was somewhat more explicit in setting commitments, including a 2020 deadline for countries to set out long-term low-carbon development strategies, but it, too, largely restricted itself to words of encouragement and exhortation.
Under Argentina’s presidency, the 2018 communique stressed sustainable development, including regarding energy and climate. It promoted experience sharing in the context of the Talanoa Dialogue, a collaborative process designed to help build momentum on climate action, and repeated the previous year’s endorsement of Paris.
The last two communiques have acknowledged the decision of the US to withdraw from the Paris Agreement. While both the 2017 and 2018 communiques affirm that 19 members of the G20 consider the climate agreement to be “irreversible”, they also recognise the US position and its desire to promote “all energy sources” in the pursuit of energy access and security.
One area where the G20 has recently been uncomfortably silent is on fossil fuel subsidies. In 2009, the communique from the G20’s Pittsburgh summit included a commitment to “phase out and rationalize over the medium term inefficient fossil fuel subsidies while providing targeted support for the poorest”. In 2019 such subsidies have tripled, although the Hamburg annex did reaffirm the commitment of the G20 to eliminate them. Something is wrong here.
So what would we like to see from the G20 in Osaka, when its leading member has elected to reject the consensus view?
We want the G20 — or, acknowledging reality, the G19 — to do much better in terms of committing to increasing the ambition of their climate change policies. They should start with committing to deliver more ambitious nationally determined commitments — the nation emissions targets required under the Paris Agreement — by 2020 as a vehicle to implement their commitment from 2009 to phase out fossil fuels. They should also commit to doubling contributions to the GCF.
The G20 Leaders Summit will happen right after the UN climate negotiations taking place in Bonn this week. There, 31 developing countries have said they will submit revised and more ambitious NDCs. It is nothing but fair to expect the G20 countries, who hold 85,2% of the world’s GDP, to follow them and fulfill commitments that they have taken and keep reaffirming for the last 10 years.