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Paradigm shift imperative


Poor prospects for necessary climate actions at the G20 Bali Summit

The leaders of the world's 20 most climate polluting countries meet in Bali, Indonesia, for the 17th annual G20 summit on Nov 15-16.The Indonesian presidency has set the theme as "recovery," focusing on three major global disrupters -- health, the digital economy and the energy transition. Climate change comes under the third pillar and will be on the agenda throughout. Priorities center on support for the United Nation's 27th climate conference (COP 27), happening the same week as the G20; mobilizing climate finance flows from high-income to middle -- and low -- income countries and small island developing states; clean energy technology to facilitate the energy transition; and climate-resilient engineered and natural infrastructure, including mangroves, catalyzed through public-private partnerships. From civil society, the Business 20 official engagement group is spotlighted at the summit, putting a strong focus on business and private sector involvement in implementing governments' net-zero pledges.

But, if the past is prelude to the present, the G20's historical climate performance suggests the leaders will again fall far short of agreement on the climate actions that are badly needed.

The first G20 meeting, in 2008 in Washington DC, was held in response to the US-created global financial crisis that inflicted severe economic and social costs on millions of people in the United States and around the world. The G20 leaders at the time soon mobilized at least $6 trillion in new money and in monetary and fiscal policy stimulus over a period of just two years to lift the world out of the crisis. But for the climate crisis they have spent considerably less.

Compliance has been lower too. The G20 Research Group monitors G20 members' compliance with the politically binding and collective commitments they make at their annual summits. The Group assigns a score of +1 for full compliance, 0 for a work in progress or a -- 1 for a lack of compliance to each G20 member on a range of key commitments in the year after the annual summits ends. Averaging these scores and converting them into the popular scale, the G20 Research Group finds that the G20's compliance is much higher with its commitments on macroeconomic growth than on climate change.

The G20's compliance with its macroeconomic growth commitments, including economic recovery and global financial stability, averages 80 percent. Yet compliance with its climate commitments is only 67 percent, with the fulfillment of their climate finance commitments 68 percent. Adding the key energy transition commitment -- to phase out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies -- sees compliance drop to a mere 61 percent. Moreover, since 2020 the G20 members have committed more money to fossil fuels than to green energy in their COVID-19 recovery packages, and since the G20 institution was created in 2008, its emissions have risen.

In recent years, compliance has leveled off to stay in the 60 to 70 percent range -- 64 percent in 2017,71 percent in 2018, 68 percent in 2019, 74 percent in 2020 and 65 percent in 2021. The highest compliance from 2021, as reported in the G20 Research Group's Final 2021 Rome Summit Compliance Report, was with the commitment on working to balance financial resource allocation between mitigation and adaptation with 93 percent and the commitment to strengthen efforts to implement the key pillars of the Paris Agreement of mitigation, adaptation and finance with 85 percent. The lowest compliance came on the commitment on climate finance for developing countries with 50 percent and ending financing for unabated coal projects abroad with just 33 percent.

G20 members' compliance with its climate commitments is higher in years where there is a leaders-level UN climate summit. With the climate commitments made at the G20's 2009 Pittsburgh Summit, members' compliance was 93 percent, the same year of the UN Copenhagen climate summit. And with the climate commitments made at the G20's 2015 Antalya Summit, members' compliance was 85 percent, the same year as the UN Paris climate summit. This suggests that the 2022 Bali Summit will have higher compliance too, with world leaders also convening at the COP 27.

Yet, to produce a successful summit at their meeting in Bali, there are two key areas where the G20 leaders should step up efforts to show the world, and especially the next generation, that the G20 can act as a climate leader.

The first is to stop funding the climate crisis. These low compliance scores on climate finance and on phasing-out coal and other fossil fuel subsidies shows that the G20 is not acting as a climate leader. In order to produce a successful summit on its pillar of advancing the energy transition, the G20 leaders need to act fast to shift subsidies from fossil fuels to renewable energy. They must accelerate financing clean energy technology and make the polluter pay, with the fossil fuel producers first in line.

The second step is to avoid green-washing and leave nature alone. The Indonesian presidency is highlighting green infrastructure for disaster risk resilience by showcasing its impressive coastal mangroves -- an important species for mitigating against sea-level rise, water-related disasters, and carbon sequestration. Financing is expected for such climate-resilient infrastructure from public-private partnerships and a repackaged G7 infrastructure initiative. Planting new mangroves and trees is a much needed initiative. But for effective implementation, the G20 must also avoid the business-as-usual approach of deforestation for development in one location and offsetting it by planting in another place. It should adopt an avoid-first approach and let nature regrow, while prioritizing indigenous and local communities' lead in land and forest management.

Doing these two things requires a paradigm shift at the G20, whose values of promoting unlimited production and consumption are at odds with the now imperiled planetary boundaries. But it is more likely that reiterations of past commitments will be made at the G20 summit. And while new additions, such as a greater spotlight on climate-resilient infrastructure and a relatively greater willingness to discuss loss and damage, are broadly positive and welcome, the G20 will stop short of committing to the radical systemic changes required for a just transition.

Indonesia is a middle-income country and a Pacific island nation highly vulnerable to natural disasters, such as typhoons and sea-level rise, made exponentially more dangerous and deadly by the combination of burning fossil fuels and deforestation/nature degradation. It thus has a significant interest in adaptation and in receiving financial aid to achieve its climate targets. Yet with global and regional geopolitical tensions affecting energy security, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and rising inflation reducing food security, coupled with the G20 countries' adherence to values at odds with the laws of nature, will prevent the G20 from taking strong and ambitious climate action.

The author is the director of compliance and lead researcher on climate change for the G20 Research Group based at the University of Toronto. The author contributed this article to China Watch, a think tank powered by China Daily.

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

Contact the editor at editor@chinawatch.cn