The agreed paragraphs at the summit in Chennai this week consist of barely any actionable items, collective targets or approaches
Close on the heels of the G20 energy transitions meeting in Goa last week, this week saw the action move to Chennai for the final G20 Environment, Climate and Sustainability Working Group meetings. The change in location, however, had little impact on the outcome. Once again, like every other workstream of the G20 this year, the Indian Presidency failed to generate consensus required to issue a joint communique. Instead, the presidency has released an outcome document with a chair’s summary, as has been the case with all other working groups as well. This outcome document will now be forwarded to the G20 Leaders’ Summit, scheduled to be held in September in New Delhi.
Success without teeth
The latest round of meetings was marked by major disagreements on how climate action is to be accelerated and ambition can to be raised. The Indian G20 presidency is keen to term the meeting and its outcome a success—citing consensus on 62 of the 66 paragraphs in the document. The agreed paragraphs, however, consist of barely any actionable items, collective targets or approaches. Comparison with an earlier draft of the document viewed by CarbonCopy show that several contentious matters have been minimized or removed altogether in order to achieve consensus. The result—a document that reflects a relatively high degree of agreement, but barely any teeth or ambition. Packed into three paragraphs toward the end of the document are several contentious but consequential matters on which no agreement could be forged.
Prominent among contentious matters was the scope of emission reductions. The early draft of the document showed multiple views on whether economy-wide emission reductions need to be undertaken by all G20 countries, and not just developed country parties as specified by the Paris Agreement. These proposals ultimately did not make it into the final outcome document, which settled on previously agreed language, merely encouraging developing countries to increase their ambition and strive for economy-wide reductions, rather than sector-specific emission reduction strategies according to its suitability.
This differentiation in the scope of emission reductions is intrinsically linked to the future of fossil fuels and the pathway for emission reductions that the world will have to collaboratively undertake. Emission reduction pathways also emerged as a significant point of divergence among G20 countries. While most developed countries were keen to set 2025 as a target to peak global emissions and a collective commitment for rapid decarbonization thereafter, this was not echoed by many developing countries which pointed to “gaps in climate scenarios and models, depleting carbon budgets, historical, current and projected emissions…and need for actions for reducing non-CO2 greenhouse gas emissions including methane.”
No new language on finance
The issue of emission reduction pathways has remained contentious for years now, with many in the developing world believing that without guarantees for adequate finance and technology transfers, committing to early peaking of emissions and rapid decarbonization will be inequitable and disadvantageous for the development of their populations, which share little historic responsibility for climate change and typically have much lower per capita emissions than those living in developed economies.
Such guarantees though have not materialised in the G20. Language from older agreements has been retained without much change when it comes to the matter of climate finance as well. References to new figures of what accelerating climate action and scaling clean energy deployment, which is expected to run into several trillions of dollars, were also left out of the final document, which instead carries the $100 billion figure that developed countries had committed to developing countries every year with broad proclamations on the need to drastically raise the bar. Carbon-based border taxes, such as the CBAM introduced by the EU, which found support in the G7 summit held in May, also emerged as a point of contention, with some in G20 alleging that such unilateral measures amounted to setting up trade barriers and ran contrary to the WTO convention.
Suranjali Tandon, associate professor, National Institute of Public Finance and Policy “The G20 statement emphasises the well known challenges of developed country contributions to climate finance, including its definition, and the role of collective action by different actors such as MDBs and private sector. It does not push the ambition on any finance related action and places importance on the dialogues on CoP28. It will become clear at COP what is the new collective quantified goal and whether developed countries will deliver their promise.”
GST bottom line
One of the key objectives for the Indian presidency at the outset of the G20 schedule was to develop a common line for G20 countries for the Global Stocktake (GST), which is to happen in December in UAE during COP28. On this matter, the outcome document states “We will contribute to a successful conclusion of the first global stocktake at COP 28 in Dubai through a decision and/or a declaration that drives enhanced climate action across mitigation, adaptation, and means of implementation and support as well as in enhancing international cooperation.” The GST, which is essentially a backward-looking assessment of the development and implementation of climate-related legislation, and how they compare to pathways required to limit warming to the 1.5 and 2 degree Celsius targets set in the Paris Agreement.
Apart from its focus on climate, the ECSWG delivered some outcomes on the need to halt land degradation and biodiversity loss, water conservation and the need for sustainability in ocean-based economic sectors. The group also delved on the need to improve resource efficiency, collectively establish circularity in economic systems through targeted reforms.
Luca Bergamaschi, co-founding director of Italian climate think tank ECCO, said, “The disappointing G20 energy and climate outcomes show Ministers don’t have the mandate to negotiate on the defining issues of our time. They are beyond their payroll. It is no longer a question of climate alone but of economy, finance and security. G20 leaders must step in and together agree on the actions needed for a safer planet.”