Weak language, no new targets, unproven technologies, and arguably a step back in the in global energy transition mark the G20 Energy Transition Working Group outcomes
The final meeting of the G20 Energy Transition Working Group (ETWG) concluded today in Goa, India. After days of intense negotiations, the ETWG, like other G20 working groups, failed to produce a joint communique. The long-standing impasse within the G20 on language around Russia’s “special military operation” in Ukraine continued to obstruct any chance of a clear consensus between the government – the issue has remained a constant point of contention since Russia’s military intervention began last year. In the absence of a joint communique, the Indian presidency of the G20 has issued an outcome document and an accompanying ‘Chair Summary’ prepared by the Indian G20 presidency, rather than a communique arrived at through consensus.
Fossil fuels won’t go away
Global security and the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, however, were not the only contentious issues. The final meeting of the ETWG saw disagreements arise over several matters fundamental to the approach and pace of collaborative climate action and decarbonization. Prominent among these was the language on fossil fuels. The preliminary draft of the communique, prepared following the previous ETWG meeting and seen by CarbonCopy, carried significant ratcheting up of ambition on fossil fuels when compared last year’s declaration from the G20 meetings in Indonesia. The draft communique, dated July 6th, included language on the phase down of unabated fossil fuels whereas the final outcomes and the chair summary steer clear of any such proclamations, leaning instead on ambiguous language that suggests the importance of phasing down unabated fossil fuels and that countries carry differing views on the approach to manage emissions from the fossil fuel sector.
Meanwhile, coal remains conspicuous in its absence in the final outcome document and summary. This, combined with the absence of fossil fuels in the main outcome, is arguably a step back from the Bali Leaders Declaration and the Bali Energy Transition Roadmap released in Indonesia last year.
Pathways to nowhere
Emission pathways also emerged as a contentious issue among the world’s largest economies. While one view, endorsed mainly by the developed world, called for the inclusion of pathways compliant with global warming of 1.5 degrees Celsius as developed by both IRENA and IEA this year. While both pathways advocate for the tripling of annual renewable capacity additions, this was not acceptable to some in the group – reportedly Russia and Saudi Arabia.
While this tripling of annual RE capacity additions was alluded to in the preliminary draft, it was watered down drastically in the final outcomes and summary documents. The final version simply calls for a tripling of clean technology capacity, which not only refers to renewables but other non-fossil fuel sources and emission reduction technologies such as carbon capture, utilization and sequestration (CCUS), and direct air capture (DAC), the efficacy and viability of which remain largely unproven.
Alternate energy and the nuclear comeback
At the outset, the Indian presidency had zeroed in on critical minerals and supply chains as a focal area during this year’s ETWG meetings. While the final outcome does carry references to minerals critical to the development and deployment and expansion of clean energy, these minerals have been lumped together with more general articulation of materials and technologies, reportedly at the behest of the Chinese delegation.
Hydrogen, which has emerged over the past year as somewhat of a hail Mary when it comes to alternate fuels that can support industrial and heavy transport decarbonization, was not immune to disagreement either. While the Indian presidency has urged the need for adherence to internationally agreed and harmonised standards on hydrogen production, these are not necessarily in line with hydrogen produced from renewable energy. The language used in the final outcome and summary endorses zero- and low-emission hydrogen which could conceivably cover hydrogen produced from all sources including nuclear, coal gasification and as a by-product of ammonia production.
While ambiguity and the lack of crystallised targets mark much of the final outcome report and summary of the ETWG, one area that emerged with clear endorsement is nuclear power. The expansion of nuclear power and the development of small module reactor (SMR) technology has been projected prominently as an important instrument in the decarbonization toolkit.