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Assessing the Ambitious Climate and Energy Outcomes of the G-20 Summit: Progress, Pitfalls, and Challenges

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The G-20 summit took place in New Delhi from September 9 to 10, 2023. It brought together the 19 biggest economies in the world and the European Union. This meeting held significant importance because it began right after the United Nations shared its first Global Stock Take (GST) report. This report sounded an alarm about the limited time to prevent global warming from going above 1.5°C.

A noteworthy thing at this summit was the African Union joining as a permanent member of the G-20. This addition is significant because it gives a stronger voice to countries in the Global South on the world stage.

On September 9, the G-20 leaders released the G-20 New Delhi Leaders’ Declaration. This document gave insights into the plans regarding the nation’s dedication to dealing with climate change.

In this declaration, there was a key promise through the Green Development Pact for a Sustainable Future. The member countries promised to work harder and faster to solve environmental problems, especially climate change.

G-20’s Commitment to the Environment and Climate.

The summit served as a forum for critical discussions and commitments concerning sustainable development, climate finance, energy transitions, environmental conservation, and disaster risk reduction.

Under the Green Development Pact for a Sustainable Future, the G-20 nations pledged to accelerate actions to address environmental crises, with a special focus on climate change. Importantly, the declaration stressed the importance of fully and effectively implementing the Paris Agreement while considering equity and the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities (CBDR).

The summit notably included principles related to CBDR, which is intriguing since some developed G-20 countries, like the United States, had been reluctant to embrace these principles in UNFCCC discussions. This divergence was evident in discussions concerning the operationalization of the Loss and Damage Fund (LDF) at COP27 in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, in November 2022.

The member nations cited findings from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Sixth Assessment Synthesis Report, projecting that global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions must peak between 2020 and 2025 to align with pathways limiting warming to 1.5°C or 2°C. However, they acknowledged that some countries might need more time due to sustainable development, poverty eradication, and equity considerations.

They also highlighted the macroeconomic risks posed by climate change and the necessity for responsible transition pathways.

The members of the G-20 committed to fully implementing the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF) and encouraged other nations to follow suit. They voiced support for reducing land degradation by 50% by 2040 voluntarily. According to reports, discussions related to India’s Gandhinagar Implementation Roadmap and Information Platform were mentioned, while specific details remained undisclosed.

The summit also welcomed the Chennai High-Level Principles for a Sustainable and Resilient Ocean-Based Economy. Additionally, they endorsed a new international legally binding instrument under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea for conserving and sustainably using marine biological diversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction. The institutionalization of the Disaster Risk Reduction Working Group, led by India’s presidency, was also noted, reflecting efforts to enhance disaster risk reduction.

One of the most promising outcomes of the summit was the commitment by G-20 nations to triple global renewable energy (RE) capacity by 2030. This ambitious target aligns with assessments by the International Energy Agency (IEA) and was echoed at the Petersberg Climate Dialogue 2023 and by G-7 countries. It signifies momentum towards a potential global target at COP28 in Dubai.

Discussions on Financing Hurdles for energy transitions

Recognizing the importance of low-cost financing for energy transitions in developing countries, the G-20 committed to facilitating access to such financing for clean and sustainable energy technologies. This commitment aligns with the needs highlighted by many Global South stakeholders. The declaration also acknowledged the substantial financial requirements identified by the UNFCCC Standing Committee on Finance and the IEA.

While the declaration recognized the role of public finance, it leaned towards leveraging private finance and de-risking. This approach has faced criticism due to its questionable effectiveness, with data indicating that Multilateral Development Banks (MDBs) only mobilized a small fraction of private finance for every dollar of climate finance provided.

created with data wrapper by Sahana Menon

Challenges of Fossil Fuel Dependency

The G-20 considered energy security as a top priority, especially due to the energy crisis caused by the Russia-Ukraine conflict. Their declaration emphasizes the need to ensure a continuous supply of energy from various sources and suppliers. However, the document primarily focused on reducing “unabated coal” use, a target set during COP26 in 2021. This overlooked the substantial contribution of fossil fuels like oil and gas to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, reports state they account for approximately 54% of global emissions from burning fuels.

Although the declaration mentions phasing out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies in the medium term, it comes out as a concern that G-20 nations spent a staggering $1 trillion on such subsidies in 2022. Reportedly these subsidies contradict the commitment made in Pittsburgh in 2009 to reduce them.

The declaration also discusses the development of global markets for hydrogen, which aligns with the need for cleaner energy sources.

The Reality of Fossil Fuel Economies

In the bigger picture, it’s clear that fossil fuel-based economies still hold significant influence, maintaining the status quo. According to the UNFCCC’s GST report, transitioning to renewable energy and phasing out unabated fossil fuels are crucial for achieving net-zero emissions. However, experts say this transformation requires a substantial reduction in fossil fuel power generation and consumption, especially in wealthier countries in the Global North. Without this shift alongside increased renewable energy development, investments in renewable energy alone may not significantly reduce global emissions.

The Global Biofuel Alliance

At the G-20 Summit, a Global Biofuel Alliance was announced to enhance biofuel production, trade, and consumption. This initiative resembles past biofuel diplomacy attempts led by Brazil during President Lula’s administration. These efforts involved partnerships with African nations, the EU, and the US to expand global bioethanol production, consumption, and trade, but according to analytical reports they were not very successful.

Many countries, including India, have implemented policies with blending targets for biofuels. However, experts say achieving these targets requires increased biofuel production and trade. Developing countries should approach the biofuel economy cautiously. Biofuels made from agricultural or municipal waste may have lower emissions compared to fossil fuels. Still, large-scale biofuel production often involves changes in land use, leading to higher emissions in the overall lifecycle.

For Developing nations, the Global Biofuel Alliance should also emphasize sustainable land-use practices and the transition from first-generation biofuels (made from crops) to second-generation biofuels (from waste materials like agricultural waste, municipal waste, and algae). These strategies  should align with the alliance’s primary objectives.

Sahana David Menon
Sahana David Menon
Foreign Correspondent (Sri Lanka) - Sahana David Menon is a multimedia Journalist | Researcher | Story Teller based in South Asia. Sahana is a Foreign Correspondent for TheNews21. She began reporting in 2014 from the post-Srilankan civil war-ethic conflicts and has since worked with Marginalized communities, conflicts and Environmental issues in India, Srilanka, the Bali islands, and the Middle east. Sahana has won the best multimedia report award in 2016 in the Global Press awards


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