SDG Knowledge Weekly: G20 Summit and the Environment
Photo by IISD/Francis Dejon
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The G20 Ministerial Meeting on Energy Transitions and Global Environment for Sustainable Growth adopted an Implementation Framework for Actions on Marine Plastic Litter, the Karuizawa Innovation Action Plan on Energy Transitions and Global Environment for Sustainable Growth, and Action Agenda on Adaptation and Resilient Infrastructure, among other items.

A report by several research groups finds that G20 governments provide at least USD 63.9 billion annually for the production and consumption of coal alone.

The German Development Institute published a briefing paper on how the G20 can advance global action towards climate-friendly sustainable development.

This week’s brief focuses on environmentally-related discussions and outcomes the Group of 20 (G20) Summit, which convened from 28-29 June 2019, in Osaka, Japan. Eight ministerial meetings were held alongside or prior to the Summit, on agriculture, finance, labor and employment, tourism, trade and digital economy, energy transitions and global environment, health, and foreign affairs.

The G20 Osaka Leaders’ Declaration covers the main themes of the meeting, starting with global economy. It notes that global growth appears to be stabilizing, but that it also remains low, and that geopolitical tensions have intensified. Indeed, UN Secretary-General António Guterres described society as experiencing both global warming and “political warming.” On ‘realizing an inclusive and sustainable world,’ the Declaration looks ahead to the UN High-level Political Forum (HLPF), with leaders expressing resolve to play a leading role in implementation of the 2030 Agenda. The Osaka Update to the G20’s Action Plan on the 2030 Agenda, it emphasizes, will help ensure that no one is left behind. The SDGs are also highlighted in a sub-section on Innovation as it relates to digitalization, data flows and trust. Annexed to the Leaders’ Declaration are further issues specific declarations from Ministerial Meetings, as well as outputs from the G20 Working Groups.

At the Ministerial Meeting on Energy Transitions and Global Environment for Sustainable Growth convened from 15-16 June 2019, in Karuizawa Town, Nagano Prefecture, Japan, the G20 Environment Ministers adopted the ‘G20 Implementation Framework for Actions on Marine Plastic Litter,’ as reported in an article on the SDG Knowledge Hub. The Framework builds on the G20 Action Plan on Marine Litter adopted in 2017, and flags that it is intended to complement the UN Environment Programme’s (UNEP) work on marine litter and plastics. The Framework categorizes collaborative actions on marine litter into four areas: 1) promotion of international cooperation; 2) promotion of innovative solutions; 3) sharing scientific information and knowledge; and 4) multi-stakeholder involvement and awareness raising. Separately, the Government of Japan launched its ‘MARINE Initiative’ towards the realization of the ‘Osaka Blue Ocean Vision,’ as described by Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Subsidized “hard coal” in Western Europe has been phased out, but oil and gas continue to benefit from government incentives.

A second outcome from the meeting was the ‘G20 Karuizawa Innovation Action Plan on Energy Transitions and Global Environment for Sustainable Growth.’ The Plan proposes that G20 members collect innovation policy information to identify “innovation gaps” and actions that support an energy transition, and that members report on findings. Other voluntary actions to be taken include efforts to mobilize private finance and investment, and improve the business environment in the power sector including through actions that increase the security and flexibility of electricity, and improve storage and distribution technologies. Additional topics covered include energy efficiency, renewables, hydrogen and other synthetic fuels, digitalization, nuclear power, natural gas, and carbon capture and sequestration.

A third output from the Ministerial Meeting is the ‘G20 Action Agenda on Adaptation and Resilient Infrastructure,’ concluded by the G20 Environment Ministers as one of outcomes of the G20 Adaptation Work Program (2018-2019). The Agenda draws on the work of the G20 Climate Sustainability Working Group and spells out actions to be taken by G20 countries and related organizations in the areas of: policy, knowledge and information, capacity development, finance mobilization, and an ecosystem-based approach. In addition to these areas, actions’ objectives relate to strategic adaptation planning, disaster risk reduction, and enhancing efforts that best suit local contexts.

Summing up the meeting, the Environment Ministers issued a broader Communique, with additional outcomes available here. Further information is also available here, from the Ministry of Environment of Japan.

On climate change, the German Development Institute (DIE) published a briefing paper on how the G20 can advance global action towards climate-friendly sustainable development. The paper highlights that the G20, representing 80% of global wealth and “with a collective responsibility for 80% of global greenhouse gas emissions” (GHGs), has previously been able to put its weight behind climate action, as seen in the lead-up to the Paris Agreement. It flags, however, that the Group has not provided such leadership since 2017, and that the rise of populism, unilaterally-minded parties in Europe, and opposition to strong multilateral climate policy—particularly by the US and Brazil—risk further-sidelining climate issues in the G20 process. The paper identifies four means of “harnessing the G20’s economic weight and political clout” to drive climate-friendly sustainable development: 1) issuing strong political declarations; 2) embracing non-state and subnational actors as strategic partners; 3) pursuing climate- and sustainability-related workstreams across the G20’s silos; and 4) concentrating T20 expertise on cross-cutting workstreams.

However, such action on climate would be hindered by inaction in areas such as fossil fuel subsidy reform. A report by the Overseas Development Institute (ODI), Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), IISD and Oil Change International focuses on coal. Titled, ‘G20 Coal Subsidies: Tracking government support to a fading industry,’ the paper finds that G20 governments provide at least USD 63.9 billion annually for the production and consumption of coal alone. Findings are classified by both type of support (fiscal, public finance, or state-owned enterprise investment), and activity (coal production, coal-fired power, and coal/coal-fired power consumption). Of note, the paper highlights that government support for the production of coal-fired power has increased, from USD 17.2 billion per year in 2013–2014 to nearly USD 47.3 billion per year in 2016–2017. The analyses describe countries’ coal activities, use and funding sources, as well as measures taken to mitigate. A write-up of the report is also available on Thomson Reuters.

The findings from ODI, NRDC, IISD and OCI complement a report published by the OECD and International Energy Agency that supported a G20 Energy Transitions Working Group Meeting convened in April 2019. Titled, ‘Update on Recent Progress in Reform of Inefficient Fossil-Fuel Subsidies that Encourage Wasteful Consumption,’ the report finds that a downward trend in support for fossil fuels from 2013-2016 was reversed, with an increase of 5% in 2017 compared to 2016 (for a total of USD340 billion). On the production side, it notes that the subsidized “hard-coal industry” in Western Europe has been phased out, but the oil and gas sector continues to benefit from government incentives in several countries, mostly through tax provisions that provide preferential treatment for cost recovery. The authors conclude that such policies and incentives “could go against efforts to reduce GHG emissions.” As a strategy, the paper highlights that increasing transparency on the use of scarce public resources is one way to maintain the momentum for fossil-fuel subsidy reform.

The G20 is made up of the EU and 19 countries: Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Germany, France, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, the Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, Turkey, the UK and the US. Invited guest countries and international organizations were also represented.

A round-up of the various engagement groups—which are independent from governments and comprised of various stakeholders of the international community—and how their work has factored into the G20 Leader’s Summit is available on The Diplomat, authored by Wrenn Yennie Lindren of the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs (NUPI) and the Swedish Institute of International Affairs (UI). Further SDG Knowledge Hub coverage of G20-related issues can be found here.

Additional issues of the SDG Knowledge Weekly can be found here.


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