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G-20 fails on fossil fuel phase-out as ‘dark cloud’ looms

NEW DELHI – Amid warnings that the world is failing to do enough to slow climate change, the Group of 20 big economies has set a goal of tripling renewable energy capacity but faced criticism for spurning bolder steps to halt the use of fossil fuels.

The G-20 “New Delhi Leaders’ Declaration”, at a weekend summit in India, promised to reach net-zero emissions of climate-heating gases “by or around” mid-century to avert ever more damaging heatwaves, droughts, wildfires and rising seas.

The leaders set a goal of tripling global renewable energy capacity by 2030, and stressed that the transition of the energy systems remain “sustainable”, “inclusive” and “just” while “leaving no one behind”.

The declaration, by countries that are the source of nearly 80 per cent of the world’s climate-heating emissions and about 85 per cent of the world’s GDP, also highlighted that the shift to a greener economy will require trillions of dollars annually.

Home to 93 per cent of global coal power plants, the group reiterated a promise from 2022’s G-20 in Bali, Indonesia, for a “phase-down” of highly polluting coal power, rather than a bolder “phase-out” favoured by many developed nations.

China and India are the world’s top consumers of coal.

The G-20 also stopped short of setting a goal to phase out all use of fossil fuels, the main source of humanity’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Last Friday, a United Nations assessment of global climate action under the 2015 Paris Agreement said governments were not on track to limit warming to the most ambitious target of 1.5 deg C above pre-industrial times.

“Much more is needed on all fronts,” the UN Climate Change Secretariat said, pointing to “a rapidly narrowing window to raise ambition”. Average surface temperatures are already up about 1.2 deg C.

In a deeply divided G-20 due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the Indian G-20 presidency called the consensus declaration a big win.

Climate change looms like ‘dark cloud’

Climate activists and academics around the world lauded some progress on climate change but said that the group’s overall commitments were insufficient.

“While the G-20’s commitment to renewable energy targets is commendable, it sidesteps the root cause – our global dependency on fossil fuels,” said Mr Harjeet Singh, head of global political strategy at Climate Action Network (CAN), a global network of civil societies from 130 countries.

“As the climate crisis looms like a dark cloud over humanity, the world cries out for a just transition away from fossil fuels,” Mr Singh said.

He said rich nations in the G-20 had done too little to curb their own emissions and to provide finance to emerging economies.

Analysts said the G-20’s decisions could set the tone for the two-week UN climate talks of almost 200 nations in Dubai, known as COP28, starting in late November.

“Tripling of renewables alone will not get us to 1.5 deg C,” said Ms Linda Kalcher, executive director of Strategic Perspectives, a European think-tank.

“We need a strong fossil fuel phase-out goal adopted at COP28. We cannot afford business as usual for oil and gas companies any more,” she added.

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The G-20’s only mention of fossil fuels was in reiterating a 2009 call for a phase-out of “inefficient fossil fuel” subsidies.

Ms Swati Dsouza, lead analyst and India coordinator of the International Energy Agency (IEA) said “the clear and concise language” about renewables was a step in the right direction.

“Moreover, if this gets into COP summaries, it becomes another hook for countries to expand” the ambition of their national climate plans, she said.

G-20 member Saudi Arabia, which is heavily dependent on oil exports, has long opposed a phase-out of fossil fuel use.

And a source aware of the talks said Saudi Arabia only agreed to the language on renewables after the text included a mention of other zero and low emission technologies to limit emissions, including largely unproven carbon capture and storage.

Another contentious issue was over how to reflect findings by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that global emissions have to peak “at the latest by 2025”.

The declaration said that the countries “recognised” the IPCC findings limiting global warming to 1.5 deg C requires rapid, deep and sustained reductions in climate heating emissions of 43 per cent by 2030 relative to the 2019 levels.

But, mentioning 2025, the declaration said, “this does not imply peaking in all countries within this timeframe”.

Developing nations argue that they need more time to cut emissions than developed economies, which have grown rich by burning fossil fuels since the Industrial Revolution.

“Global carbon emissions are unlikely to peak before 2025 and hence the targets stated look too optimistic,” said Dr Dhruba Purkayastha, India director of the Climate Policy Initiative, a global think-tank.

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Trillions of dollars needed for climate finance

On finance, the G-20 countries noted a need for US$5.8 trillion-US$5.9 trillion (S$7.9 trillion-S$8 trillion) before 2030 for developing countries to reach their climate action goals.

The countries also noted a report prepared under the Indian presidency, which estimates that the world needs an annual investment of over US$4 trillion for clean energy technologies by 2030.

The declaration also reiterated that developed nations have failed to meet a 2009 commitment to mobilise US$100 billion a year in climate finance for developing nations by 2020. Developed nations say the goal will be met in 2023.

G-20 leaders expressed strong support for reforming multilateral development banks to help mobilise more climate finance for developing nations.

However, “there is little direction provided as to how this would be possible,” Dr Purkayastha said.

Experts welcomed the G-20 declaration’s strong support for a just energy transition.

“Just energy transitions can improve jobs and livelihoods, and strengthen economic resilience,” the preamble of the declaration said. “We affirm that no country should have to choose between fighting poverty and fighting for our planet.

“We will pursue development models that implement sustainable, inclusive and just transitions globally, while leaving no one behind.” REUTERS

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