Roundtable: Will the G20 summit spur climate action?  

As China prepares to host the leaders of the G20, we ask experts what they should deliver on climate and energy

Leaders of G20 nations will soon gather in Hangzhou, a city 100 miles southwest of Shanghai, for their annual summit. Held on September 4-5, this will be their first meeting since the signing of the Paris Agreement in December 2015, and will address how to move forward on climate issues such as green finance, US-China cooperation, fossil fuel subsidies and ratification of the Paris Treaty. 

To get a better sense of the possible outcomes, chinadialogue asked a panel of environmental experts what results they want from this year's G20 summit?

Qi Ye, senior fellow and director of Brookings-Tsinghua Centre for Public Policy

Rapid development of clean energy is key to the success of delivering the Paris targets agreed by all parties last December. However, global investment in clean energy has been less optimistic. After a decade of rapid growth, clean energy investment has slowed down significantly since 2011 due in large part to the sharp decline in Europe and moderate cut in the US.

Fortunately, China has played the saviour by increasing its investment in renewable energy by 117% since 2011, a levels which is now 10% more than that of the US and Europe combined. This investment has helped maintain global levels of investment which remain similar to those four year ago. However, this picture is changing quickly. In the first half of 2016, China’s clean energy development was cut by more than a third, an it's expected that the world total could suffer a major drawback this year. The truth is, no single country alone can save the future of clean energy, it takes the world, especially the G20 countries, to act together.

Last June, the second G20 Energy Ministerial Meeting in Beijing voted to adopt the Voluntary Action Plan on Renewable Energy which encouraged countries to accelerate renewable energy deployment. G20 leaders should go further to build confidence and strengthen the sustainability of clean energy investment.

Andrew Light, senior fellow at the World Resources Institute

Those looking for a clear G20 commitment to climate action and clean energy – appropriate to the new, post-Paris Agreement landscape – should look for the following signals: First, a commitment to phase out fossil fuel subsidies no later than 2025. In 2009 the G20 broke new ground on climate by committing to a phase out of fossil fuel subsidies in the “medium term,” but have yet to agree on a specific target date. This year the G7 committed to a 2025 phase out target. So should the G20.

Second, a boost for green finance by elevating, for example, comprehensive climate-related financial risk disclosure. Voluntary, or potentially obligatory disclosure of such risks would lead to more sustainable long-term investments and bolster trust and confidence in the process.

Third, a commitment by G20 parties to ratify the Paris Agreement by the end of the year, ensuring the Agreement “enters into force,” as well as a clear commitment to meet existing national targets for emissions reduction. Over the last two years, and for the first time in modern history, the world has seen economic growth alongside flat energy-related carbon dioxide emissions. In the broadest sense, the G20 should use its collective power to galvanise this development and help usher in a new reality in which climate and clean energy action stimulate economic growth.  

Fatih Birol, executive director of the International Energy Agency

With G20 members today accounting for 75% of global energy demand, what I want most is for them to make smart, long-term choices to promote energy efficient and sustainable outcomes that would set the world on a low-carbon, secure energy course. This is all the more important given the critical role that the energy sector plays in economic growth, environmental sustainability and social development.

There are now major opportunities to speed up the transition to a more sustainable energy system, especially as the cost of clean energy technologies continues to fall. This will make it easier to take the necessary policy steps to help meet the climate and energy targets set under the Paris Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals.

Shreekant Gupta, professor at Delhi School of Economics and former member of the World Bank’s environmental economics team

The G20, a self-appointed club of the world’s 19 largest economies (plus the EU), is an expanded version of earlier rich country clubs (G7 and G8) and functions mostly in the economic sphere. What started off as an ad hoc grouping to coordinate a global response to the 2008 financial crisis now appears to be institutionalised. This is worrying since it lacks the legitimacy of the United Nations (UN). It is in fact a reflection of the weakness of the UN, particularly of its failure to reform the Security Council. 

But given this new de facto ”United Nations” is a reality, I would like to see it balance short and medium term economic concerns with long term issues such as climate change and sustainable development. . Though G20 is primarily about promoting economic growth, trade and investment it is important that sustainability and climate change should also be on the table. This would emphasise that economic growth and stability cannot happen in isolation.

China’s foreign minister Wang Yi's proposal to implement the UN Sustainable Development Goals, and the Paris Agreement as two of the ten major outcomes of the G20 summit, is therefore welcome.

Carlos Rittl is executive secretary of the Climate Observatory, a network of 40 Brazilian civil society organisations

The G20 needs to take this moment to give a definitive political indication to implement the Paris commitments. This block of countries would make a key contribution to new directions for the global economy if they immediately committed to increasing their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) starting in 2018. This would close the biggest loophole of the Paris Agreement, the distance between the national goals and the 1.5°C limit [to cap global warming at 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels] . In the same packet, a commitment to developing long term decarbonisation strategies would be a beacon for the rest of the planet.