Weeks before COP21, G20 fail the climate challenge

| 16th November 2015
With this lot, what do you expect? At the G20 Turkey Leaders Summit (L-R) Jean-Claude Juncker, David Cameron, Donald Tusk. Photo: European Council President via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA).
With this lot, what do you expect? At the G20 Turkey Leaders Summit (L-R) Jean-Claude Juncker, David Cameron, Donald Tusk. Photo: European Council President via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA).
In the run-up to the COP21 climate summit in Paris the G20's Antalya Communiqué is weaker on climate, fossil fuel subsidies and support for renewable energy than the G20's 2009 Pittsburgh Statement made shortly before the failed COP15 in Copenhagen six years ago.
The message the G20 are sending is clear: climate change, renewable energy and ending fossil fuel subsidies are all much less important now than they were in 2009 - and will be pursued with even less urgency.

Turkish civil society and climate groups from across Turkey and the world have responded to today's G20 Leaders Communiqué with a mix of shock and disappointment.

The text, released today just weeks before the COP21 climate talks in Paris, is feeble on all environmental issues and lacks clear commitments on boosting renewable energy, climate change or ending fossil fuel subsidies.

It does initially appear robust on climate change - affirming the goal to limit temperature rise to 2C; calling for "a protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force under the UNFCCC that is applicable to all Parties", and committing "to work together for a successful outcome of the COP21."

But this does little to advance the climate negotiations to a successful conclusion. In particular it proposes no way forward on how to raise the hundreds of billions of dollars a year required for the Green Climate Fund - created by COP15 in 2009 as a means to provide climate finance to developing countries.

Even the commitment to an "agreed outcome with legal force" leaves space for a legally-binding 'shell' treaty with all the key action points and national commitments to reduce or constrain emissions set aside into non-binding appendices.

"We can see some reference on ambition but no foresight about plans to decarbonise our economies, as we know we must", said Ümit Şahin from İklim İçin (For the Climate Campaign).

"We must hope that these Leaders display the leadership in Paris that they failed to deliver here in Turkey. The world is depending on it and the world is most certainly watching."

Weasel words on £452 billion a year of fossil fuel subsidies

Of course there is one obvious way to raise the finance required for the Green Climate Fund: to re-apply the $452 billion per year the G20 spend on subsidising fossil fuels - despite a 2009 commitment at the G20 meeting in Pittsburgh to phase out the subsidies altogether.

The figure was published last week in a report by the Overseas Development Institute and Oil Change International, 'Empty Promises: G20 subsidies to oil, gas and coal production', and represents the sum of national subsidies through direct spending and tax breaks; investment by state-owned enterprises; and public finance from government-owned banks and financial institutions. 

"G20 members are currently spending 789 times more on fossil fuel subsidies than they are on the Green Climate Fund", said Ethemcan Turhan from Turkey's Ecology Collective. "And yet they say in the communiqué how critical this Fund is. This is patently obscene."

The G20 statement only says: "We reaffirm our commitment to rationalise and phase-out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies that encourage wasteful consumption, over the medium term, recognising the need to support the poor. We will endeavour to make enhanced progress in moving forward this commitment."

This statement gives G20 governments so much wiggle-room as to be meaningless. Moreover it is largely a repetition of the 2009 Pittsburgh commitment - only weaker.

The time scale remains exactly the same: "medium term" - despite the passage of six years. The 2009 statement referred to a date of 2020, though without committing to it. That date has now gone altogether.

Another cop-out is the phrase "recognising the need to support the poor" with fuel subsidies. However if that's the aim, it's far more efficient to stop the subsidies and give the money directly to the poor. This was recognised in the 2009 text which allowed for "the use of targeted cash transfers and other appropriate mechanisms". In fact this never took place and the words do not re-appear.

As for "endeavour to make enhanced progress in moving forward this commitment", these are weasel words that make the text weaker than if it wasn't there at all.

Renewable energy out in the cold as coal spending surges

The new G20 text is also markedly weaker than the 2009 Pittsburgh declaration on renewable energy and energy efficiency. The 2009 text promised:

"Increasing clean and renewable energy supplies, improving energy efficiency, and promoting conservation are critical steps to protect our environment, promote sustainable growth and address the threat of climate change ... We commit to:

  • "Stimulate investment in clean energy, renewables, and energy efficiency and provide financial and technical support for such projects in developing countries.
  • "Take steps to facilitate the diffusion or transfer of clean energy technology including by conducting joint research and building capacity ..."

The G20's 2015 text lacks any commitment to renewable energy. The nearest it comes to one is to "recognize that actions on energy, including improving energy efficiency, increasing investments in clean energy technologies and supporting related research and development activities will be important in tackling climate change and its effects", and "endorse the G20 Toolkit of Voluntary Options for Renewable Energy Deployment."

The 2009 concluding statement of 'Core Values' also included the words: "We have a responsibility to secure our future through sustainable consumption, production and use of resources that conserve our environment and address the challenge of climate change."

However the 2015 communiqué's corresponding 'Issues for Further Action' contains no mention of energy, environment or climate.

The message the G20 are sending is clear: climate change, renewable energy and ending fossil fuel subsidies are all much less important now than they were in 2009 - and will be pursued with even less urgency.

    "Heads of State could have provided a clear and powerful signal ahead of the Climate Summit by putting a date for the end of fossil fuel subsidies, and agreeing to stop funding fossil fuel projects around the world", said Ümit Şahin from İklim için (For The Climate). "Instead they have rehashed worn positions and in doing so risk being on the wrong side of history."

    Efe Baysal from Yuva Association added that recent terror attacks only intensified the need to take climate change seriously: "We have been deeply affected by the dreadful events that have taken place in Paris and Beirut and stand in solidarity with the victims and the people caught up in the violence ...

    "As people who live in Turkey we are no strangers to such dreadful and senseless violence. Climate change will only increase conflict, increase violence and play a role in even greater geopolitical conflicts and mass migration of desperate refugees."



    Oliver Tickell edits The Ecologist.

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