Image: Unsplash/Galen Crout
Image: Galen Crout/ Unsplash

COP28: G20 nations fail to reach a deal to phase down fossil fuels

A meeting between the Group of Twenty (G20) nations’ environment and climate ministers concluded on 28 July, which is now the hottest month on record. This meeting was organized to urgently address the actions of the G20 nations concerning the climate crisis, with the aim of reaching the 1.5°C target set out by the Paris Accord. 

G20 ministers reached a deal on 58 out of 60 paragraphs, with joint statements recognising that global warming staying below or at 1.5°C would have lower impacts than global warming of 2°C or higher.  

Phasing out the use of unclean energy sources (especially coal) is an important target to meet

In response to calls for accelerating the global transition to clean energy sources, discussions on the phasing out of unclean energy sources were presented. These discussions finished without a consensus. G20 ministers also did not manage to agree on a date by which inefficient fossil fuel subsidies would be phased out. This topic was first promised in 2009, and only the G7 nations have set a deadline of 2025 for the phasing out of these subsidies.  

Phasing out the use of unclean energy sources (especially coal) is an important target to meet, with UN Chief António Guterres encouraging high-income countries to phase out coal by 2030 and developing countries encouraged to follow in 2040.  

Furthermore, in advance of the G20 meeting, Alok Sharma (UK President of the COP26 climate talks) said “unabated coal power” was “incompatible with a future that keeps 1.5[°C] alive.”  

However, robust coal industries in many G20 nations, along with strong resistance from nations such as Saudi Arabia, China, and Russia, make phasing out coal difficult.  

For example, Indonesia, one of the world’s largest exporters of coal, submitted a long-term climate strategy to the UN that includes the burning of coal past 2050. In it, coal is predicted to provide around 38% of the country’s electricity needs in 2050, with 43% of those needs to be met by renewable sources. Indonesia aims to mitigate this by using carbon capture technology to ensure their coal-fired power plants produce “zero emissions”. 

We cannot be driven by the lowest common denominator

–Virginijus Sinkevičius, the EU Environment Commissioner

China has a notably large coal industry, with six times more structures dedicated to carbon power (which began construction in 2022) than the rest of the world. China also accounted for $546 billion worth of energy transition (from coal to renewable sources) investments in the same year almost half that of the global total, according to a report from BloombergNEF. The USA contributed the second most, at $141 billion $405 billion less than China’s contribution. China has committed to hitting its carbon peak by 2030, and to being carbon-neutral by 2060. 

Virginijus Sinkevičius, the EU Environment Commissioner, while referring to the efforts of leading economies to address climate change, said: “We simply are nowhere.” Sinkevičius also states that “We cannot be driven by the lowest common denominator, or by narrow national interests. We cannot allow the pace of change to be set by the slowest movers in the room.” In addition, discussions with China, Saudia Arabia, and Russia were described as “complicated” by France’s Ecological Transition Minister, Christophe Bechu.  

G20 leaders must step in and together agree the actions needed for a safer planet

–Luca Bergamaschi, Co-Founder of the Italian climate think tank ECCO

Ahead of the COP26 climate talks in November 2021, ministers had agreed to submit improved national climate plans. The World Resources Institute’s David Waskow had said: “It is encouraging that G20 climate and energy ministers agreed to turn in stronger national commitments ahead of the COP26 climate talks this November. The big question now is whether those plans will add up to what the world needs to avert climate disaster.” 

Luca Bergamaschi, Co-Founder of the Italian climate think tank ECCO, says the outcomes of the climate and energy discussions show that “ministers don’t have the mandate to negotiate on the defining issues of our time” adding that “G20 leaders must step in and together agree the actions needed for a safer planet.”

Following these talks, the spotlight is now on the G20 leaders’ summit this September (which will be taking place in New Delhi) and the following COP28 climate talks in November. 


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