7 things you might not know about the G20’s low-carbon progress

As a new report warns that the G20 must strengthen its commitment towards a low-carbon economy through collective climate action, edie investigates how the world's leading economies members measure up in their respective decarbonisation efforts.

In the build-up to the upcoming G20 summit in China this weekend (3-4 September), the Climate Transparency report has concluded that the G20 must take rapid climate action to harness its carbon footprint, which currently accounts for 75% of global emissions.

Climate change is high on this year’s G20 agenda, and the report assesses the current ability of each member to help soothe the organisation’s 56% rise in energy-related greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions since 1990 to 2013.

Climate Transparency co-chair and former Energy Minister of Costa Rica Alvaro Umaña said: “The G20 has proven that it can be nimble, and take action on economic issues, so we are looking to these countries to do the same for the climate. 

“Our report shows that while global emissions growth may be coming to an end, there is not yet the necessary dynamic to transform the ‘brown’ fossil-fuel based economy and into the ‘green.’ There remains a tremendous opportunity for the G20 to make this transition and provide the world with enough energy, create affordable energy access for the poorest people, and to stimulate economies.
“While the G20 is rightfully addressing the issue of green investments, the climate needs an actual shift – away from brown – to green.”

‘Prosperous carbon future’

Following demands from an investment group worth £13trn for G20 nations to step forward and ratify the Paris Agreement this year and accelerate investment in clean energy, the Climate Transparency report recommends that all members submit plans as to how they will decarbonise by mid-century; introduce a price on carbon and commit to base infrastructure investment in order to keep temperature increase below 1.5C. 

According to preliminary data from the International Energy Agency (IEA), global energy-related CO2 emissions stalled for the first time in 2014 and 2015. However, this positive news is somewhat negated by the fact that most countries are reportedly failing in key areas of decarbonisation such as investment attractiveness, renewable energy investment, climate policy and carbon intensity levels.

The Climate Transparency report’s authors comment that joint efforts and participation from government, business and civil society will allow for a “prosperous carbon future”.

But how are the G20 countries currently performing in vital areas of climate action? Based on the report’s key findings, edie has analysed the decarbonisation efforts of prominent G20 members in the transition to a global green economy.

1) The UK leads the energy intensity revolution

The Climate Transparency report suggests that, in general, G20 countries are using energy resources more efficiently than in the past, with the energy intensity and the carbon intensity of the G20 economies both decreasing. 

All G20 countries, with the exception of Brazil and Russia, are reducing the energy intensity of their economies. The UK has the lowest level, partly explained by a strong financial sector and an overall trend towards a service-orientated economy.

2) India claims the lowest CO2 emissions per capita

Of all of the G20 member states, Australia, Canada, Saudi Arabia and the United States stand out with the highest per capita energy-related CO2 emissions. Argentina and South Africa have declining per capita emissions, as with the EU and its big member states Germany, France, Italy and UK. Brazil, India and Indonesia have the lowest per capita energy-related CO2 emissions among the G20 countries, although there is a relatively strong upward trend in Brazil and India.

3) Fossil fuel subsidies remain widespread

Back in 2009, G20 leaders pledged to phase-out ‘inefficient’ fossil fuel subsidies. However, their governments provided, on average, almost $70bn in subsidies for fossil fuel production between 2013 and 2014. Russia provided almost $23bn, the United States more than $20bn and Australia and Brazil both $5bn.

The UK is one of the few G20 countries increasing fossil fuel production subsidies, while reducing investments into renewable energy. It has increased its national subsidies to fossil fuel production to more than $1bn billion a year in 2013 and 2014 to encourage offshore oil and gas in the North Sea.

4) Britain and Japan tick all of the climate policy boxes

G20 countries have introduced increasingly ambitious climate policies, supporting a growing awareness around the need for climate action. With the exception of Argentina and Saudi Arabia, all G20 countries have introduced instruments for energy efficiency improvements in the building sector and emission performance standards for cars, the report claims.

So far, only half the G20 countries have low-emission development plans for 2050, or are planning to develop them, while 11 have put forward a 2050 GHG emissions reduction target. Notably, only the UK and Japan surpass the climate policy framework checklist which measures against indicators such as the adoption of a Carbon Trading System (CTS) and carbon pricing scheme.

5) Brazil holds a gold medal for renewable energy deployment

The use of renewable energy by G20 countries has increased by 18% since 2008. Brazil and Indonesia have the highest share of renewable energy in total primary energy supply, and positive growth rates, due to a large share of hydropower

Brazil’s already-high share of renewables in its electricity mix is expected to increase from 82% in 2012 to 85% by 2030. Italy, South Korea and the UK have the strongest growth of absolute renewable energy consumption in primary energy; however, South Korea and the UK are starting from a low base. 

6) Brexit could decrease renewable energy investment attractiveness for Britain

The investment attractiveness for renewable energy differs substantially between G20 countries. Investment attractiveness is rated relatively high in China, France, Germany, India and the United States. In contrast, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Turkey have low investment attractiveness for renewable energy.

The UK has a medium-to-high investment attractiveness giving its stable investment environment, but the uncertainty surrounding the upcoming Brexit negotiation process is cited as a possible negative impact on its future investment attractiveness.

7) The EU holds the world’s largest carbon pricing instrument

Carbon pricing is generally expanding within the G20, with a whole range of different schemes being applied. In many cases however, the price of carbon has been too low to steer economies towards lower carbon. The EU ETS, covering 45% of the EU’s GHG emissions, remains the single largest international carbon pricing instrument. China announced plans to introduce a national ETS in 2017 that will cover eight sectors, and is expected to form the largest national carbon pricing initiative in the world in terms of volume.

George Ogleby

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