G20 nations dragging their heels on low-carbon transition, reports find


A pair of damning reports published a couple of days before the G20 Summit in Hamburg, Germany, reveal that the extent of financial commitment towards fossil fuels among the leading 20 economies means many low-carbon initiatives are being undermined.

The Brown to Green report from the World Bank-backed Climate Transparency says that G20 countries are transitioning too slowly towards greener measures to make any meaningful progress on the Paris Agreement, while a report by Oil Change International avowedly states that G20 governments are actively financing climate disaster.

The authors of the Oil Change International report accuse the G20 of “talking out of both sides of their mouths” on climate change.

The report shows that G20 nations collective provide four times more public financing to fossil fuels than to renewable energy.

Despite German Chancellor Angela Merkel stressing that climate change will be at the heart of the G20 agenda when the summit begins on July 7, figures show that between 2013-15, G20 countries steered $71.8 billion of public funds towards fossil fuel projects, while just $18.7 billion was found for clean power sources such as solar and wind.

Japan – which idled its vast nuclear power capacity in 2011 following the Fukushima disaster – was found to be the worst offender, with its $16.5 billion investment in fossil fuels during that time six times higher than its funding for renewables. Even Germany, regarded as a climate leader, plowed $3.5 billion into fossil fuel projects compared to just $2.4 billion into renewables over that timeframe.

The Oil Change International report was compiled by a group of NGOs – including Friends of the Earth U.S., Sierra Club and WWF Europe – and is intended to remind G20 leaders that the key goal of the Paris Agreement was to limit the global temperature increase to below 2 degrees C by 2050. Based on current investment levels and pledges, however, the G20 nations are pulling vastly less than their weight.

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“When the G20 countries committed to the Paris Agreement, they made a pact with the world that they would take meaningful steps to reduce their carbon emissions in an effort to avert the worst effects of the climate crisis,” said Nicole Ghio of the Sierra Club, one of the groups that compiled the report. “But as we now know, these countries have been talking out of both sides of their mouths. It’s unconscionable that any nation would continue to waste public funds on fossil fuels when clean energy sources are readily available [and] more cost-effective and healthier for families and communities across the globe.”

Friends of the Earth U.S.’s Kate DeAngelis added that G20 leaders’ talk is cheap on climate, and stressed that NGOs are determined to make the G20 a success in forcing climate change to the forefront of the agenda. “We must tackle this existential challenge,” she said. “We cannot wait until every last person on earth has been convinced of the scientific proof.”

IMF data from 2015 found that fossil fuel subsidies amount to $10 million a minute globally, which highlights the challenge G20 nations face in weaning themselves off the globe’s finite and polluting resources. In 2009, the G20 said that by 2020 it would have phased out all fossil fuel subsidies, but this target has evidently been missed. Another target taken up last year by the G7 to phase out fossil fuel subsidies by 2025 was quietly dropped earlier this year after U.S. President Donald Trump walked the U.S. away from its previous pledges on climate change.

From brown to green
Equally scathing was the Climate Transparency report, which published its third annual stocktake of the G20’s climate efforts. While the report did state that G20 economies are becoming more efficient and have begun to decarbonize, the rate of change is too slow to have any bearing on the Paris Agreement.

“The G20 countries use energy more efficiently and use cleaner energy sources, but energy consumption and the economies have grown,” said Niklas Höhne of NewClimate Institute and report co-author. “The overall growth of greenhouse gases is slowing, but is not yet in decline. Renewables are on the rise, but coal and other fossil fuels still dominate the G20’s energy mix.”

Statistics published in the report reveal the extent of the G20’s dominance – and therefore responsibility – on low-carbon technologies:

  • G20 accounts for 98% of global installed wind power, 97% of global installed solar power, and 93% of the world’s electric vehicles.
  • Russia is unique among the G20 in being the only nation where absolute renewable energy supply has decreased since 2009, while China, Turkey, the U.K. and South Korea have experienced the strongest growth over that period.
  • Between 1990 and 2014, the G20’s economies grew by 117%, while greenhouse gas emissions grew by just 34% – this demonstrates greater energy efficiency.
  • Greenhouse gas emissions per head are no longer rising in half of the G20 nations. Canada, Saudi Arabia, Australia and the U.S. lead the way in terms of emissions per capita.
  • Green bonds constitute less than 1% of each G20 country’s debt market, but growth rates are “remarkable”, the report said.
  • Last year, more green than brown energy was installed among G20 nations, but public investment in fossil fuels remains far higher, said the report in an echo of findings published by Oil Change International.
  • None of the G20 countries’ current Paris Agreement pledges will see them limit their emissions pathway by 2 degrees C, the report added.

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