Climate and Energy

G20 erring on climate action

Latest Brown to Green report finds G20 countries’ lacking strategies for tackling climate change, a year ahead of the deadline to up ambition
<p>Climate change protestors gathered in Hamburg in 2017 as the G20 group of countries met (image: <a title="User:Huhu Uet" href="">Frank Schwichtenberg</a>/<a class="mw-mmv-license" href="" target="_blank" rel="noopener">CC BY-SA 4.0</a>)</p>

Climate change protestors gathered in Hamburg in 2017 as the G20 group of countries met (image: Frank Schwichtenberg/CC BY-SA 4.0)

Emissions from energy, industry, transport, buildings, and agriculture in G20 nations, including Argentina, Mexico, and Brazil, rose in 2018, demonstrating a clear lack of action to tackle climate climate. This is despite countries having the technical expertise and economic incentives to lower them, new research has found.


the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions G20 countries are urged to make by 2030

In order to limit global temperature rise to within 1.5C – the level recommended by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) – G20 countries need to cut current greenhouse gas emissions by at least 45% by 2030 compared with 2010 levels, and reach net-zero emissions by 2070.

But although there are positive signs in some sectors in some countries, the overall picture painted by the researchers is alarming. If current emissions levels persist the remaining carbon budget of 420 gigatonnes (GtCO2) will be expended in just over nine years, the report by the Climate Transparency partnership, a coalition of researchers and NGOs, found.

The G20 is responsible for around 80% of global emissions and the report entitled Brown to Green is the most comprehensive annual review of their transition to net-zero emissions economies.

Drawing on data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the World Bank and the International Energy Agency, the researchers assessed climate action across mitigation, finance and adaptation against benchmarks for keeping global temperature rise within 1.5C.

G20’s problem sectors

Transport emissions saw a 1.2% hike in 2018 across G20 countries. Low-carbon fuels accounted for less than 6% of the fuel mix – this needs to boost ten-fold by 2050 to keep in line with warming targets. Policies need to be more ambitious, with new fossil fuel cars banned by 2035 at the latest, the report argues.

Although no G20 country has yet embarked on a comprehensive transition in the transport sector that is compatible with a 1.5C trajectory, the report stressed China’s leadership in many areas. China doubled sales of electric vehicles in 2018 compared with 2017, taking its market share to 4.5%.

China also has the largest electric bus fleet in the world with 400,000 vehicles, and a target for public transport to account for 30% of motorised travel in urban centres by 2020.

Mexico hit the brakes in the development of renewables, with a government that ended up not being as climate-friendly as expected

Across the G20, the building sector performed particularly badly in 2018, with emissions soaring by 4.1% despite having almost stabilised between 2005 and 2016. Electricity use in buildings accounts for 18% of energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, but this needs to be halved by 2030, and cut to around 80% below 2010 levels by 2050.

Per capita emissions in the building sector rose between 2013 and 2018 in China, India, Indonesia and Russia, the study noted, with all these countries rating poorly in terms of policy in this area. Retrofitting existing buildings is challenging for all G20 countries – only the EU, France, and Germany have long-term strategies for retrofitting existing buildings.


the value of fossil fuel subsidies paid by G20 countries in 2017 (US$)

Another major issue highlighted by the report is tax exemptions and budget support for fossil fuel infrastructure and production, with more than US$127 billion flowing from G20 nations in 2017. Although fossil fuel subsidies declined in nine of these, including China, India, Brazil, Argentina and Indonesia, the researchers point out that this was partly due to falling prices.

Subsidies for natural gas have remained stable or increased in many countries, in spite of the lower prices, they noted. Diverting just a fraction of fossil fuel subsidies towards renewables could pay for the clean energy transition and reduce emissions significantly, the report claimed.

In the industrial sector, this equates to reducing CO2 emissions globally by between 65 and 90% from 2010 levels by 2050. But emissions in this sector are the highest in the G20, accounting for 24% of direct energy-related emissions and 17% of indirect emissions from electricity and co-generated heat in 2018.

Latin America’s G20 climate progress

Brazil, Argentina, and Mexico are G20 members and were found to be off-track with the 1.5C goal. Argentina is the only one of the three to have emissions above the G20 average.

Fossil fuels account for 86% of Argentina’s energy mix, despite recent renewable energy expansion. Companies received US$3.6 billion in subsidies for the exploitation of shale gas and oil between 2016 and 2018, the report said, and called on the country to eliminate them.

Brazil also gives fossil fuel subsidies that amount to more than the G20 average, as a share of its GDP. The country also experienced growing emissions due to a 73% increase in deforestation in the Amazon between 2012 and 2018.

Land use is a key issue for Argentina and Brazil. Deforestation still ranks very high in both, with loss of forest coverage in the last few years,” said Enrique Maurtua Konstantinidis, senior climate advisor at Fundacion Ambiente y Recursos Naturales (FARN), an Argentine NGO.

In order for the Paris Agreement to succeed, it is clear that the G20 countries need to be climate leaders

Brazil should be aiming towards zero deforestation as soon as possible, implementing stronger policies to control land-use emissions. This should be followed by a plan for electrifying the transport sector in a demonstration of its enhanced climate ambition, the report said.

In Mexico, coal still represents 8% of its energy matrix, which is highly based on fossil fuels. Renewables only account for 3.7% of the energy supply, below the G20 average. Total emissions have grown 70% since 1990 and are expected to rise further.

Mexico should phase out coal by 2030, adopt a strategy to phase out fossil fuel vehicles and adopt the target of net-zero emissions by 2050, the report suggested.

“Mexico hit the brakes in the development of renewables, with a government that ended up not being as climate-friendly as expected,” Maurtua Konstantinidis said.

Climate plans

Overall, around half of G20 countries are projected to meet or overachieve their climate plans – known as nationally determined contributions (NDCs) – including China, India, Indonesia, and the EU, the researchers found. However, many NDCs are too weak, and would take global temperature rise to 3C, they said.


the estimated rise in global temperatures by 2100 based on countries' climate policies

All signatories of the Paris Agreement are expected to steadily ramp-up actions in their NDCs, with the first deadline to show progress in 2020.

“Overall CO2 emissions have gone up in all sectors, but we’re seeing some frontrunners emerging that others can learn from, like China’s policies for promoting electric vehicles and public transport,” said Lena Donat, one of the report’s lead authors.

“In order for the Paris Agreement to succeed, it is clear that the G20 countries need to be climate leaders and pave the way for solutions that developing countries can benefit from.”

A version of this article was originally published on China Dialogue