At Antalya Summit, G-20 Leaders Debate Over Climate Change Language

19 November 2015

Negotiations on the outcome document from a gathering of leaders from the G-20 coalition of major advanced and emerging economies ran into the early hours of Monday morning in Antalya, Turkey, due to differences over a dedicated paragraph on tackling climate change, according to several reports.

The key divisions involved the mention of an internationally agreed target of keeping global temperatures below a two degree Celsius rise from pre-industrial levels, a process to review individual country pledges for greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions cuts, and how to distribute the burden of climate action.

The heightened attention on climate change comes as governments from nearly 200 nations prepare to meet in Paris, France in early December for a UN climate summit geared towards agreeing on a new climate regime to come into effect at the end of the decade.

Although confined to more limited participation than the UN process, many climate watchers ahead of the Antalya meet hoped the G-20 statement would provide clarity on some of the key landing zones on tough political issues related to the deal, given the participants. G-20 nations account for around 77 percent of global GHG emissions, 85 percent of global GDP, and 75 percent of world trade.

Meeting in the wake of violent terrorist attacks that left at least 129 dead in the French capital last Friday night, G-20 leaders joined the chorus of other high-level officials who re-affirmed intentions to attend the opening of the multilateral climate talks, adding various messages of support and solidarity for the nation.  

Tough talks ahead

The two degree Celsius goal was reportedly absent from earlier versions of the G-20 leaders’ communiqué, a move panned by France and other European countries in Antalya, who lobbied for its eventual insertion. Saudi Arabia and India had reportedly resisted inclusion of the temperature goal in order not to pre-judge outcomes from next month’s climate talks.

“The initial draft wasn’t satisfactory so I intervened and I received a great deal of support. We had to continue the hard work so the statement was a little more robust,” said Laurent Fabius, the French foreign minister attending the talks on behalf of the President François Hollande, who cancelled his participation at the last minute in light of events in Paris.

Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) have agreed that the post-2020 climate agreement will be based on domestic climate action plans, dubbed “Intended Nationally Determined Contributions” (INDCs), but have yet to hammer out the details for much of the infrastructure required to shape these into a multilateral regime.

This includes, for example, how to ensure that domestic pledges over time add up to enough aggregate GHG abatement to stay within the two degree threshold. Most INDCs outlined by over 160 nations to date focus on the 2020-2030 period and collectively fall short of the estimated required emissions cuts, according to a recent UN assessment, although the plans do make progress towards this goal compared to a business-as-usual scenario. (See Bridges Weekly, 5 November 2015)

No mention of an INDC review process is made in the communiqué. The document does, however, confirm G-20 leaders’ determination to ink a deal in Paris applicable to all parties and that the outcome should be fair, balanced, ambitious, durable, and dynamic. The leaders also confirm intentions to implement their respective INDCs.

As noted by several green groups and analysts, other aspects of the climate talks absent from the G-20 communiqué that are likely to surface in Paris include a roadmap for delivering on a commitment by developed countries to scale up climate finance to US$100 billion by 2020, clarification on the precise legal nature of the deal, and a long-term goal for phasing out fossil fuel use. The world’s seven largest economies under the banner of the G-7 in June pledged to decarbonise the global economy over the course of the century. (See BioRes, 11 June 2015)

According to comments from a senior EU official reported by the Wall Street Journal, “some countries were clearly under strict instructions,” to keep the G-20 from weighing in on the climate talks.

Disagreement also reportedly surfaced in Antalya over the framing of international cooperation around climate change, with some countries opposing the need to mention “collective action on climate change,” and pushing instead for a “differentiated” approach whereby more industrialised nations should carry more of the burden of emissions cuts due to a historic use of fossil fuels.

Reference to “collective action” now features in the final text along with the UNFCCC principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities” (CBDR). According to a number of experts, this principle could prove a hot topic in Paris as parties work to hammer out the operational dynamics and obligations set by the new regime. (See BioRes, 12 November 2015)

Although some stakeholders expressed concern that the G-20 outcomes has left climate negotiators with a lot of legwork to undertake in Paris, France’s Fabius, who will chair the UN December meet, defended the final wording.

“You can see the political drive is there. The real desire to work on these subjects exists,” he said, adding that he would travel to South Africa, Brazil, and India for bilateral meetings geared towards building consensus in preparation for next month’s talks.

Fossil fuel subsidies

In a separate paragraph focused on energy, the leaders’ communiqué reiterates a 2009 pledge to rationalise and phase out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies that encourage wasteful consumption over the medium term, while also recognising the need to support the poor. The paragraph also covers cooperative work on scaling up renewable energy and boosting energy efficiency.

“India has done a lot by phasing out subsidies on petrol and diesel but those on fertilisers and power are a politically sensitive issue,” said Arvind Panagariya, the G-20 sherpa for Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, explaining that the nation could not support a target date for phasing out fossil fuel subsidies. 

Various campaigners had hoped the Antalya document would deliver firmer commitments on fossil fuel subsidies phase out.  A group of ten economists, including Jeffrey Sachs of Columbia University’s Earth Institute, penned a letter calling on world leaders to outline a “robust timetable” to ensure the credible delivery of the 2009 pledge.

A joint report from Oil Change International and the UK-based Overseas Development Institute (ODI) released just ahead of the Antalya summit warned that G-20 governments provide US$452 billion a year to subsidise fossil fuel production. The authors argue that this support flies in the face of warnings by UN climate scientists that three-quarters of proven fossil fuel reserves must be left untouched if the world is to stay below the agreed temperature goal.

Data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the International Energy Agency (IEA) released earlier this year finds that fossil fuel consumption and production subsidies amounted to around US$600 billion in 2014, compared to US$112 billion for renewables.  Although the cost of many renewable energy technologies has dropped dramatically in recent years, fossil fuels continue to make up around 81 percent of the world’s energy supply.

Energy access

A separate paragraph focuses some of the specific outcomes from the first G-20 energy ministers’ meeting convened in early October in Istanbul and endorses a voluntary action plan to complement energy access as part of commitments to the UN Sustainable Energy for All (SE4ALL) initiative and energy targets under the global body’s new 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

The plan highlights options that G-20 members could deploy to scale up electricity access in sub-Saharan Africa organised under the banners of policy and regulatory environment; technology development, dissemination, and deployment; investment and finance; capacity building; regional integration; and coordination and collaboration.

Among the options, the plan suggests promoting collaboration on key energy policies and technical standards among regions, and facilitating cross-border energy trade to support the development of local capacity.

Global economic governance

In addition to covering climate change and energy, the G-20 leaders’ communiqué addresses a range of topics such as macroeconomic policies and growth, tackling inequality in various forms, financial and tax system reform, and a collection of other sustainable development issues.

A year ago in the Australian city of Brisbane, G-20 leaders had agreed upon and publicly released “national growth plans” meant to jumpstart the global economy, specifically by raising the group’s collective GDP by 2.1 percent above current trajectories by 2018, as well as providing a 0.5 percent boost for non-G20 members. (See Bridges Weekly, 20 November 2014)

Noting that global economic growth “continues to fall short of expectations,” leaders in Antalya, reaffirmed their growth commitments from Brisbane, stressing that their highest priority in that respect is “timely and effective implementation” of these national strategies. A related Antalya Action Plan notes that leaders have developed a “robust monitoring mechanism” to help meet this goal, including with detailed implementation schedules, while also having made some revisions to last year’s growth plans to incorporate new recovery-oriented actions.

“We have made significant progress towards fulfilling our commitments since last year, implementing half of our multi-year commitments. Analysis by the [International Monetary Fund], OECD and World Bank Group indicates that our implementation so far represents more than one-third of our collective growth ambition,” leaders said, while noting that more work remains.

The leaders also repeated earlier commitments against protectionism, while highlighting the importance of global trade and investment as important engines of economic growth and development. Leaders pledged their support to policies that help small-and-medium sized enterprises integrate into the global economy, and renewed a mandate for the WTO, OECD, and UNCTAD to continue a joint reporting exercise on the use of various trade and investment restrictive measures by member economies.

Given that this year’s G-20 summit came not just ahead of the Paris climate talks but also ahead of the WTO’s next ministerial conference, leaders indicated a commitment to work towards a successful ministerial meet next month in Nairobi, Kenya. Leaders stipulate that the gathering should yield a “balanced set of outcomes, including on the Doha Development Agenda, and [provide] clear guidance to post-Nairobi work.”

WTO members are currently working to reach a package of outcomes in Nairobi that could include deliverables on export competition, select development and least-developed country issues, and transparency. What language to include in the ministerial declaration on the future of the 14-year-old Doha trade talks has been the subject of multiple textual proposals submitted in the past fortnight, and is expected to continue generating intense debate as the ministerial draws ever nearer. (For more on the WTO talks, see related article, this edition)

According to some experts, the G-20 language reflects a carefully crafted outcome designed to balance differences over how to deal with the WTO’s current Doha Round negotiating mandate, given disagreements among some members over whether to continue the global trade talks in that same framework or to instead address Doha Round issues in another way, together with “new” trade issues that have come to the fore.

Additional pledges in the Antalya communiqué are made on increasing efforts toward implementing decisions taken at the WTO’s last ministerial conference held in Bali, Indonesia, with leaders also stressing the importance of ensuring that bilateral, regional, and plurilateral agreements are complementary with the multilateral trade system. 

The G-20 presidency is now set to go to China, with next year’s summit scheduled for September 2016 in Hangzhou.

ICTSD reporting; “As Terrorism Unites G-20, Climate Change Exposes Divisions,” BLOOMBERG BUSINESS, 15 November 2015; “Divisions Remain Ahead of Paris Climate Talks,” THE WALL STREET JOURNAL, 16 November 2015; “G20 nations narrow differences on climate change,” THE HINDU, 17 November 2015.

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