G20: all talk, no action – no wonder Paris failure is on agenda

By Emma Libeskind, Tony Blair and Bill McDonough

Centre for Climate and Energy Security, Global Research

It was a disappointing and frustrating G20, which ended with at best mediocre outcomes. And what was lacking in ambition, and why, remains to be seen.

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) met on 9 to 14 June in Bonn to discuss the terms of the Post 2020 Framework Agreement that would underpin the summit in Paris in December, 2017. The meeting was called by finance minister Yves Leterme, who called for commitment at the summit to cement a radical economic transformation in the next decade.

But more than expectations for a strong declaration, the more salient outcome of this week was a cacophony of angry, frustration and disappointment – a concerted break from global action on climate change. Some had argued that change was necessary to give the COP26 meeting a sense of purpose and fresh impetus. And, in fact, governments seemed to agree that change had to happen. But there wasn’t a clear direction; an agreement on what new technologies were required, a clear path to establish the policy framework that would enable the transformation, and a draft post 2020 agreement for the heads of state to sign on the head of the summit.

Governments seemed to agree that change had to happen. But there wasn’t a clear direction.

G20 finance ministers, gathered on 9 and 10 June, announced their intention to commit to $90 billion per year for “climate financing” between now and 2023. But with so many internal tensions over finance issues, there was no clear choice between the private and public sector. Ultimately, private finance was successful, garnering, in contrast to the UK or EU governments’ desire, some $100 billion to finance projects in the developing world.

They also noted that technology should be a key pillar of the future global response to climate change, and said that supporting adaptation for the poorest, the damage done to the most vulnerable people as they are displaced, was “vital” and that adaptation needed to be a major part of climate policy.

But don’t look for change without time.

Loans alone won’t change the system

It was the political leaders who were not able to deliver the vision that the G20 finance ministers came up with. President Macron of France, whose policies over climate might change the most – directly by promoting electric vehicles and laying out plans to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, and indirectly in his attempts to gain international support for an ambitious climate agreement – was part of the contingent group of leaders that did reach agreement on a joint communique that lacked a clear signpost to the agreement.

But they missed the mark of the G20 finance ministers.

There were no clear signs that leadership is needed and commitment is made by countries and companies.

So, given this choice, it’s clear what governments had to do this week: either pull back or step up. At the G20, there was neither one nor the other.

Instead, there was a mix of commitments to low-carbon investment and low-carbon growth – though this was never going to suffice for any leader looking to reach emissions reduction targets.

There was no clear sense of vision and commitments needed to support needed action, as previous summits have demonstrated.

Negotiations between governments should be based on addressing “core issues of financing and technology”. Such public commitments will be an essential first step in this transformation. But commitments made to the private sector will help finance decisions.

Equally, governments will have to ensure that the financial burden of adaptation for the most vulnerable people is transferred from the private sector to governments in order to kick-start adaptation costs that countries have to make up for over the next decade.

The disagreement over the UNFCCC climate financing plan may be a last-minute snag for reaching agreement in December 2017, but the G20 decision points the way towards a difference in expectations between rich and poor countries that is vital for the success of the Paris agreement. We have to agree on what we want governments to do to mitigate climate change, the time needed to achieve it, and how to shift the burden and burden of actions on poor countries, especially in Africa.

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