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G20 Summit: the role of the climate

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By Luca Bergamaschi

· 5 min read

On Saturday, September 9, and Sunday, September 10, the leaders of the G20 countries met in New Delhi, India. Can the Heads of State and Government be more ambitious than their Ministers, who at their dedicated meetings in July failed to find new agreements for more stringent actions to limit the average global warming to 1.5°C?

The G20 and its record on climate action

The G20 kicks off a series of crucial diplomatic events for achieving significant results at COP28 in Dubai. The first will be the 78th United Nations General Assembly, which begins on September 12 in New York and will include a Climate Ambition Summit on September 20. This will be followed by the annual meetings of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank (October 9-15, Marrakesh) and the APEC Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit (November 12-18).

G20 members account for over three-quarters of global emissions and, therefore, have a collective responsibility to close the gap between current emissions and the reduction necessary for global climate safety. Despite geopolitical fractures in recent months, including Chinese President Xi Jinping's decision to skip the Summit and the expansion of the BRICS group, the G20 remains an important litmus test for measuring the willingness of international players to jointly address the most urgent global challenges. The final declaration of the BRICS also acknowledges "the importance of the G20 continuing to play the role of the main multilateral forum in the field of international economic and financial cooperation [...] where the major economies jointly seek solutions to global challenges." The absence of the Chinese President may become more of a risk of isolation for China itself and its ability to influence the global agenda. However, China will still be represented by Prime Minister Li Keqiang, and any final decision will be approved by the President. The possible entry of the African Union into the G20 group is also expected, an important sign of openness and inclusion and a success for President Modi.

Following the COVID-19 pandemic, the G20 made significant progress, boosting the climate agenda with the latest joint ministerial statement signed in July 2021 under the Italian Presidency. Italian President Mario Draghi's request at the October 2021 G20 Summit for more financial resources to address climate change led to significant advancements at COP26 in Glasgow.

What’s on the agenda?

The risk today is that a lack of ambition on this front may be a worrying sign just months before COP28. The United Arab Emirates, which will host COP28, has been invited to attend the Summit as a guest and will be able to urge G20 countries to work together on advancing the climate agenda. At the top of the agenda will be the phase-out of fossil fuels, increasing renewables and energy efficiency, and increasing climate finance.

It will be necessary to bridge the gaps — recorded at the July energy and climate ministers' summit — to build a path marked by concrete actions to limit temperature increases to 1.5°C. In this context, avoiding setbacks from last year's Bali Communiqué will already be considered a good result.

Many hope that the following will emerge from the Summit:

  • Commitments to reduce emissions, recognizing the incompatibility of dependence on fossil fuels and the 1.5°C target;
  • Respect existing financial commitments and provide more support for adaptation action and losses and damages on the COP agenda;
  • Ensure that climate action is undertaken fairly, justly, and inclusively.

Regarding emissions, it will be necessary to:

  • Strengthen and clarify the G20's goal through a commitment to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, in line with efforts to contain 1.5°C;
  • Aim for a phased elimination of coal by all countries, along with a concrete start to a process that ensures rapid and fair elimination of all fossil fuels;
  • Commit to tripling renewable energy capacity and doubling energy efficiency targets;
  • Set 2030 as the deadline for phasing out fossil fuel subsidies, which in 2022 reached $7 trillion (7.1% of global GDP) and Italy $62 billion (2.8% of national GDP) according to the latest estimates from the International Monetary Fund.

From a financial point of view, a strong commitment to transforming climate finance will be crucial to allow developing countries to make the necessary investments for the climate transition. This commitment should be in line with various summits — Summit for a New Financial Pact, Climate Summit in Africa (September 4-6), "Finance in Common" Summit (September 4-6) and the report of the G20's independent expert group — and the willingness expressed at COP27 in Sharm El-Sheikh to reform multilateral development banks. Finance is of particular relevance to the poorest countries, most of which are in Africa. During the African climate summit held in Nairobi, the main issue for these countries, burdened with often unsustainable public debt, was the difficulty in accessing the credit necessary for their development and the fight against climate change.

Concluding remarks

The G20 countries must also recognize that the climate crisis is exacerbating losses and damages in both fragile and developed countries, and that urgent action will be needed to address it.

This year, Italy will play an important role. Already the guest of honor at the prestigious Raisina Dialogues, India's most important geopolitical forum, President Meloni will be able to leverage her relationship with President Modi to advance the dialogue between the global North and South, also in view of Italy's G7 presidency in 2024. An ambitious climate agenda, which today is based on precise and targeted financial, economic, and technological choices, will be crucial for Italy's credibility and for building a productive and occupational fabric compatible with the new zero-emission global markets.

This article is also published on ECCO think tank (in Italian). illuminem Voices is a democratic space presenting the thoughts and opinions of leading Sustainability & Energy writers, their opinions do not necessarily represent those of illuminem.

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About the author

Luca Bergamaschi is co-founder of ECCO think tank. He has been working together with governments, think tanks, philanthropy and civil society organisations to accelerate climate action in Italy, Europe and globally.

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