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Five years after Paris, what has the G20 achieved on climate?

European Council President Charles Michel, Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and other leaders are seen on a screen before the start of the virtual G20 meeting hosted by Saudi Arabia, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Brussels, Belgium November 21, 2020. EPA/YVES HERMAN / POOL

Climate Transparency, an international partnership of independant institutions, describes the state of affairs and the lessons the G20 needs to heed in order to stabilize the climate.

The world’s richest nations gathered virtually on Sunday at the G20 summit and reaffirmed, among other things, their “commitment to full implementation of the Paris agreement” on climate change.

However, a comprehensive report published on the eve of the summit showed the work still to be done and compared how well the world’s richest economies were doing on the journey to transition towards a net-zero emissions economy.

Based on the monitoring of 100 indicators, it makes precious reading ahead of December, when upgraded national commitments will be submitted by countries to bridge the gap between the current trajectory and the 2015 agreement.

It examines what been achieved in the last five years, who are the frontrunners and who are the laggards. As the report states, the “green recovery” stimuli and COP26 next year in Glasgow represent the last chances of keeping global heating “well below 2°C”, and a number of lessons must be taken stock of:

“In the five years since the adoption of the Paris Agreement, there have been many lessons – some hard and some hopeful. G20 members should heed these lessons as they make decisions that will shape our common future.”

Why it matters. The group represents three-quarters of the carbon emissions in the world, and is thus central to any success in regards to climate stabilisation. Global CO2 emissions need to decrease by at least 45 per cent by 2030 and reach net-zero by 2050. If national commitments submitted are not enhanced next month to feed into more ambition at the COP26, the risk of a worst-case scenario for climate - above 3°C - remains likely. 2020 has exposed the world’s vulnerability to “intersecting crises” and deeper reductions are required among the biggest emitters and more advanced economies.

What the key findings are.

  • The good news is that, for the very first time outside an external shock such as the financial crisis in 2008 or the Covid pandemic in 2020, G20 carbon emissions stabilized in 2019 and even declined by 0.1 per cent. That single feat is more important than the 7.5 per cent reduction expected in 2020 due to Covid lockdowns. And represents a remarkable departure from the 1.9 per cent increase in 2018 and the longer-term annual average growth rate of 1.4 per cent between 2005 and 2017. Slowly but surely, policies are starting to deliver.

  • Unfortunately, the much appraised “green recovery” packages are mainly failing to meet the mark. Outside the EU, France, the UK and Germany, the negative contributions outweigh the positive ones, sometimes building in fossil fuel investments for another generation.

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  • Policies and targets are largely insufficient to meet the Paris agreement. Without transformational climate action by countries, emissions growth will rebound and the goals of the Paris Agreement will not be reached. For example, below are the policy ratings on renewable energy and coal. As of today, only five countries have fixed dates for a complete coal phase-out.

fossilfree hashtag on Twitter

  • While renewables now make up 27 per cent of the electric power supply, fossil fuels still accounted for 81.5 per cent of primary energy supply in 2019, as increases in oil (+1 per cent) and gas (+3 per cent) consumption offset the decrease in coal consumption. Australia is among the worst-performing on record.

Energy mix in G20 countries 2019. Source: Source: Enerdata 2020/ Climate Transparency Report 2020

The race to zero has yet to translate into policy. Mid-century net-zero emissions targets are gaining ground in the G20, with a growing recognition that a fundamental, structural shift is required. In June 2019, France and the UK set net-zero targets for 2050, and by the end of the year, the EU and Germany made similar announcements. In 2020, Canada, China, South Africa, South Korea, and Japan joined, with China aiming to be carbon-neutral before 2060. More and more companies, regions, and cities are also making net-zero by 2050 commitments, such as Buenos Aires, Cape Town, London, Mexico City, New York City, and Tokyo. But these political commitments need to make their way into enhanced national targets, long-term strategies and recovery packages to become credible.

A brown recovery, after all? Most current COVID-19 recovery packages are moving in the opposite direction, with only 30 per cent of stimulus spending going into environmentally-intensive sectors and 54% going directly to fossil fuel-related activities. without any conditionality attached.

“Analysis of recovery packages reveals that, by and large, G20 members are supporting emissions-intensive and environmentally-damaging industries with little consideration overall to the climate or improving resilience”.

Comparing G20 stimulus responses so far:

  • 10 countries are providing support to the domestic coal sector and 10 provide support to the gas sector.

  • 9 countries are providing support to the oil sector.

  • 14 countries bailed out their national airline companies without conditions attached. Only France has included conditions in its bailout.

  • 7 countries are providing unconditional support to the automobile industry. Only Germany and France are providing support with environmental conditions attached.

The G20 allocates 10 billion euros to the fossil industry for its  post-Covid recovery - The Canadian

Five alternative principles for recovery. Climate Transparency lays out five “Green Recovery Principles” to chart a climate-smart way out of the crisis, while protecting and creating jobs, supporting economic growth, and increasing resilience:

  • direct investment to sustainable infrastructure to accelerate energy transitions.

  • investments in nature-based solutions and the environment that offer opportunities, especially for vulnerable rural populations.

  • support to immediate employment and structural shifts to green industries, such as training for and innovation in zero-carbon energy, industry technologies and climate-resilient agriculture.

  • conditional bailouts to protect jobs and bring companies in line with longterm climate commitments.

  • policy regulations, tax rebates, subsidies, and other incentives to boost the renewable energy industry, zero-emissions transport, industrial efficiency, and environmental protection.

Clear policy benchmarks to fill the gaps. The authors highlight what it would take to accelerate the decarbonisation of world economies and succeed. Among them:

  • Fossil fuel subsidies must now be phased out by 2025.

  • Use modal shifting and fuel switching to decarbonise transport. Only Canada, France, Japan, and the UK have set targets for fossil fuel car phase-out (the UK’s target is 1.5°C compatible). No G20 members have policies in place to reduce absolute emissions from freight or long-term strategies to shift transport demand to low- or zero-emissions alternatives.

  • Decarbonising industry requires greater efficiency and innovation. Apart from Italy, Japan, Germany, and India, most G20 countries do not have extensive energy efficiency policies in place for industry. Six G20 countries now have national hydrogen strategies.

  • (Net) zero deforestation targets: No G20 countries have targets for reaching zero deforestation by the 2020s (1.5°C compatible), although China, the EU, and Mexico have targets for net-zero deforestation. Australia, France, and Canada have no policies in place.

The bottom line. With the climate countdown in place, inconsistencies such as supporting the Paris agreement on one hand and undermining it on the other by subsidizing fossil fuels have reached their limit. Laurence Tubiana, CEO European Climate Foundation, concludes:

We are at a crossroads: one road leads to climate crisis with extreme heat, fires and flooding increasingly impacting G20 countries, the other to a resilient, sustainable and inclusive future for all. G20 leaders need to reaffirm their commitment to the right course.

In December, the submission of upgraded national commitments will clarify whether the richest economies stand up to their obligations or destabilize further the planet putting at risk current and future generations.