G20 and climate change

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Learn more from the Center for Media and Democracy's research on climate change.

At its April 2009 meeting in London, the G20's 9-page final communique made only a passing mention of climate change. In the second last point of the communique, the G20 leaders confined their concerns to a bland one-sentence statement. They stated that "we reaffirm our commitment to address the threat of irreversible climate change, based on the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities, and to reach agreement at the UN Climate Change conference in Copenhagen in December 2009."[1]

The "Washington Action Plan", which had been adopted at the preceding G20 meeting in Washington in November 2008, made no mention of climate change at all.[2] The "Washington Declaration" was little better, making only one passing mention of the topic. "We remain committed to addressing other critical challenges such as energy security and climate change, food security, the rule of law, and the fight against terrorism, poverty and disease," it stated.[3]

Climate Action Network's Response to the London Communiqué

In an edition of ECO published at the Bonn Climate Change Talks - March 2009, the Climate Action Network (CAN) commented that "G20 leaders yesterday failed to recognize the opportunity to shift the global economy to a low carbon, sustainable pathway."

CAN wryly noted that "'Reach agreement?' On what? Where to eat dinner? They gave no signal to negotiators here in Bonn that they were serious about the climate they did say it was “irreversible” but that didn’t seem to be particularly important. Money was pledged for the IMF, MDBs and to fight poverty (not without qualifications), but not a word was said about the financial commitment sorely needed for adaptation, mitigation and ending deforestation. They seem to have forgotten to come up with the numbers for fighting climate change. A search for any reference to at least some part of the trillion dollars they pledged reveals that none of it is tagged for their stated 'transition towards clean, innovative, resource efficient, low carbon technologies and infrastructure." They reaffirmed their commitment to meeting the Millennium Development Goals, but we all know that the impacts of climate change will send those goals up in smoke. The only good news is that there will be another meeting in the Autumn, after the MEF and more meetings, and maybe they might have talked to some economists by then about what 'irreversible' climate change is. ECO was going to write a full and detailed analysis of the G20’s efforts on climate change, but we ended up putting as much effort into it as they did."[4]

G20 Finance Ministers meeting, September 2009

The finance ministers and central bank governors of the G20 nations met in London over the weekend. At the conclusion of the meeting, the ministers' 680-plus word communique included only 18 words to the issue of climate change. "The need to combat climate change is urgent, and we will work towards a successful outcome in Copenhagen," the communique stated.[5]

Reuters noted that the finance ministers of Brazil, Russia, India and China argued that the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change was the more appropriate forum to discuss the issue of the financing of addressing climate change. "Developing nations are especially sceptical of proposals for private sector funding of the fight against climate change. They are keen for developed countries' governments to stump up the cash needed," Reuters reported.[6]

Pittsburgh, September 2009

The preamble to the G20 communique stated that "To phase out and rationalize over the medium term inefficient fossil fuel subsidies while providing targeted support for the poorest. Inefficient fossil fuel subsidies encourage wasteful consumption, reduce our energy security, impede investment in clean energy sources and undermine efforts to deal with the threat of climate change. We call on our Energy and Finance Ministers to report to us their implementation strategies and timeline for acting to meet this critical commitment at our next meeting." Towards the end of the communique, the G20 stated that "we will spare no effort to reach agreement in Copenhagen through the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) negotiations."[7]

In the detail of statement from the meeting, the communique stated:

"Enhancing our energy efficiency can play an important, positive role in promoting energy security and fighting climate change. Inefficient fossil fuel subsidies encourage wasteful consumption, distort markets, impede investment in clean energy sources and undermine efforts to deal with climate change. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and the IEA have found that eliminating fossil fuel subsidies by 2020 would reduce global greenhouse gas emissions in 2050 by ten percent. Many countries are reducing fossil fuel subsidies while preventing adverse impact on the poorest. Building on these efforts and recognizing the challenges of populations suffering from energy poverty, we commit to:"
"* Rationalize and phase out over the medium term inefficient fossil fuel subsidies that encourage wasteful consumption. As we do that, we recognize the importance of providing those in need with essential energy services, including through the use of targeted cash transfers and other appropriate mechanisms. This reform will not apply to our support for clean energy, renewables, and technologies that dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions. We will have our Energy and Finance Ministers, based on their national circumstances, develop implementation strategies and timeframes, and report back to Leaders at the next Summit. We ask the international financial institutions to offer support to countries in this process. We call on all nations to adopt policies that will phase out such subsidies worldwide."
"30. We request relevant institutions, such as the IEA, OPEC, OECD, and World Bank, provide an analysis of the scope of energy subsidies and suggestions for the implementation of this initiative and report back at the next summit."
"31. 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. Accelerated adoption of economically sound clean and renewable energy technology and energy efficiency measures diversifies our energy supplies and strengthens our energy security. 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 reduction or elimination of barriers to trade and investment in this area are being discussed and should be pursued on a voluntary basis and in appropriate fora."
"32. As leaders of the world’s major economies, we are working for a resilient, sustainable, and green recovery. We underscore anew our resolve to take strong action to address the threat of dangerous climate change. We reaffirm the objective, provisions, and principles of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), including common but differentiated responsibilities. We note the principles endorsed by Leaders at the Major Economies Forum in L’Aquila, Italy. We will intensify our efforts, in cooperation with other parties, to reach agreement in Copenhagen through the UNFCCC negotiation. An agreement must include mitigation, adaptation, technology, and financing."
"33. We welcome the work of the Finance Ministers and direct them to report back at their next meeting with a range of possible options for climate change financing to be provided as a resource to be considered in the UNFCCC negotiations at Copenhagen."[7]

At the conclusion of the G20 meeting in Pittsburgh in September 2009, Obama hailed the agreement by participants to phase out subsidies for fossil fuels. "We agreed to phase out subsidies for fossil fuels so that we can transition to a 21st century energy economy -- an historic effort that would ultimately phase out nearly $300 billion in global subsidies. This reform will increase our energy security. It will help transform our economy, so that we're creating the clean energy jobs of the future. And it will help us combat the threat posed by climate change. As I said earlier this week in New York, all nations have a responsibility to meet this challenge, and together, we have taken a substantial step forward in meeting that responsibility," Obama said.[8]

Articles and resources

Related SourceWatch articles


  1. G20, "The Global Plan for Recovery and Reform", Final Communique, April 2, 2009.
  2. "Washington Action Plan: G-20 Summit on Financial Markets and the World Economy", Washington, DC November 15, 2008.
  3. "Washington Declaration: G-20 Summit on Financial Markets and the World Economy", Washington, DC, November 15, 2008.
  4. "Climate crisis? G20 misses opportunity", Climate Action Network, ECO, No 6, Volume CXVII, April 3, 2009.
  5. "Communiqué Meeting of Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors", Wall Street Journal, London, 4-5 September 2009.
  6. Tom Bergin, "Climate change funding talks stall at G20", Reuters, September 5, 2009.
  7. 7.0 7.1 "Leaders' Statement: The Pittsburgh Summit", September 24 – 25, 2009.
  8. Barack Obama, "Remarks by President Obama at G20 Closing Press Conference", Pittsburgh Convention Center, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, September 25, 2009.


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