23 March 2017
G20 Foreign, Finance Ministers Prepare for July Summit
UN Photo/Kibae Park/Sipa Press
story highlights

G20 communiqué from finance ministers and central bank governors touches on infrastructure, fossil fuel subsidies and other issues.

Despite expectations, the communiqué is silent on climate change.

An Informal Dialogue on Global Challenges among foreign affairs ministers discussed the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, climate change.

18 March 2017: The Group of 20 (G20) continues to convene meetings of ministers from the largest economies in the world. Coming on the heels of the agriculture ministers’ meeting that produced an action plan with references to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including on water (SDG 6), climate (SDG 13) and food security (SDG 2), the latest ministers’ meetings have had variable records on their engagement with the 2030 Agenda.

In February, the foreign ministers of the G20 met for an informal ‘dialogue on global challenges,’ where the SDGs and climate change featured prominently. Last week, finance minsters from the G20 met, discussing a range of issues.

On the agenda of the informal dialogue among foreign ministers were long-term cooperative issues, including climate change, the 2030 Agenda and the relationship with African countries. In a press release issued after the event, German foreign minister Sigmar Gabriel noted that issues from terrorism to humanitarian emergencies require cooperation, and that “climate change cannot be tackled by barbed wire.” [G20 Press Release] [SDG Knowledge Hub Story on the G20 Agriculture Ministers’ Meeting]

In a more formal format, finance ministers and central bank governors met on 17-18 March 2017, in Baden-Baden, Germany. The meeting concluded with the release of a communiqué in which the ministers note that the global economic recovery continues to progress, albeit slower than they desire. The communiqué touches upon a wide range of issues already central to – or emerging as – priorities for the global economy, including tax systems, exchange rates, capital liberalization and digital finance.

The communiqué from G20 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors has received more attention for issues it neglects, rather than those it includes.

In their communiqué, ministers reaffirm their commitment to rationalizing and phasing out inefficient fossil fuels subsidies “in the medium term.” They further encourage all G20 countries to initiate a peer review of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies that encourage wasteful consumption. This call, in various forms, has been part of G20 communiqués since 2009 and goes to the heart of SDG target 12.8c (rationalize inefficient fossil fuel subsidies). The ‘Compact with Africa’ initiative mentioned in the communiqué aims to foster private investment including infrastructure, which could prove important to SDG 9 (resilient infrastructure). [G20 Finance Ministers Communiqué 2017]

Many paid more attention to the issues that the communiqué does not include, rather than those it includes. There is no mention of climate finance or investment in renewable energy, despite historic practice and current expectations. For example, the 2016 G20 communiqué recognized the role of the financial mechanism of the UNFCCC, including calling for the Green Climate Fund (GCF) to continue to scale up its operations, and reiterated the need for implementation of the Paris Agreement and climate finance announcements. [G20 Finance Ministers Communiqué 2016]

Expectations that climate change would be included also stemmed from the announcement by Germany, which holds the G20 Presidency, that climate and energy would be priority issues, and several recent reports that have demonstrated the possibilities for decoupling economic growth and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The International Energy Agency (IEA) recently reported that global GHG emissions decreased while the global economy grew, for the third year in a row. In a joint report commissioned by the G20, the IEA and the International Renewable Energy Association (IRENA) conclude that it is possible to keep global average temperature rise below 2°C above pre-industrial levels through an energy an energy transition entailing ramping up deployment of renewable energy and energy efficiency measures in G20 countries. The joint report, titled ‘Perspectives for the Energy Transition: Investment Needs for a Low-carbon Energy System,’ presents the perspectives on a low-carbon energy sector of the IEA and the IRENA. In a press release, IRENA underlined the “net positive” economic outlook from reducing energy-related carbon dioxide emissions, and the IEA called for an “energy transition of exceptional scope, depth and speed.” [SDG Knowledge Hub Story on G20 Priorities] [IEA Press Release Emissions Flat for Third Year] [IEA Press Release Energy Transition] [IRENA Press Release] [Joint IEA/IRENA Report Landing Page] [Perspectives for the Energy Transition: Investment Needs for a Low-carbon Energy System]

Several business, civil society and science leaders spoke out about the exclusion of climate change from the communiqué. Groups affiliated with the G20 – the Business 20 (B20), Civil Society 20 (C20) and Think 20 (T20) – issued a joint statement that called on the G20 to “step up” and take the lead on implementing the Paris Agreement, spur effective carbon pricing systems, and enable financial markets to deliver sustainable development. The groups underlined that “we need to be sure that they [G20 members] will fulfill existing international climate-related commitments, foremost the Paris Agreement.” [B20 C20 T20 Joint Statement]

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