Opinion

G20 climate commitments must be turned into action

The G20 is just about holding together in difficult times, but the world's leading economies need to make good on their climate promises. Major projects such as China's One Belt One Road initiative and the G20 Compact for Africa must incorporate sustainability criteria, or it will be impossible to meet the Paris goals.

By: and Date: August 17, 2017 Topic: Global economy and trade

 

This opinion piece was also published in Caixin, Capital, Dienas Bizness, Expansión, Hospodárske Noviny, Jyllands-Posten, Kathimerini, Nikkei, Nikkei Asian review and Público.

 

After Hamburg’s recent G20 meeting, what will remain beyond bitter memories of shameful rioting? There was a remarkable show of unity on trade, Africa, women’s empowerment and many other issues. But the G20 was not united on climate change. The United States refused to sign a declaration re-confirming the commitment of the other 19 countries that they would continue to support the Paris agreement. Yet, the US did announce a desire to “lower emissions” while supporting energy security and helping other countries to “use fossil fuels more cleanly and efficiently”.

This division in the declaration marks a substantial divergence in declared policy approaches. But even more important than declarations will be actions. The US pledge to help other countries, mostly less-developed countries that are not part of the G20, to use fossil fuels more cleanly should not become a meaningless declaration.

All too often, countries that are in need of basic infrastructure investment, access to power, transport and clean water still turn to cheaper and more readily available 20th century technologies. This means fossil fuels. And every coal power plant built now will be in use for 40 years, contributing to climate change. As urbanisation progresses, it will be of fundamental importance to climate change whether the new cities will have a low or a high carbon footprint. Will their transport system be based on fossil fuel cars, and will they be built in a way requiring major air conditioning or relying on green cooling? These choices will be of central importance for whether the Paris climate agreement goals can be met.

If it wants to achieve the Paris climate goals, the G20 needs to show leadership in helping developing countries to build low carbon infrastructure as they develop. In particular, the role that China plays will be fundamental. China’s “One Belt One Road” initiative is probably the largest infrastructure project in the world right now. Its aim is to connect countries across the Asian continent and also Africa and Europe. The infrastructure needs and urbanisation tendencies in the region will be substantial, so incorporating a sustainability element in the “One Belt One Road” initiative would be an important concrete step to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The EU and China could usefully collaborate on this important sustainability dimension of “One Belt One Road”. Europe has advanced technology that can be easily deployed. European banks could also be interested in becoming co-financers of green investments. Joint leadership on climate change from China and the EU could be a game changer for this large Chinese investment initiative.

The G20 has also agreed on a “Compact for Africa”, and a sustainability element should also be built into the help that will be granted to private firms investing in African countries. Africa, with its fast growing population, is one of the continents where the future of climate change will be decided. Again, the primary goal should be to deploy renewable energies as infrastructure gets developed. And again, G20 countries need to put words into action. Yet, there may be countries preferring to largely deploy fossil fuels. Ideally, G20 members should encourage these countries to use the most efficient technologies and US support in this regard may be useful.

On the whole, the G20 faces the same challenge as all the party members to the Paris agreement: how to turn bold promises into concrete action. And the need to act is nowhere more urgent that on climate change. Prioritising sustainability in the massive infrastructure investments that the Chinese “One Belt One Road” and the “Compact for Africa” may trigger will be of utmost importance to achieve our climate goals.


Republishing and referencing

Bruegel considers itself a public good and takes no institutional standpoint.

Due to copyright agreements we ask that you kindly email request to republish opinions that have appeared in print to [email protected].

Read about event More on this topic
 

Upcoming Event

May
18
14:30

Is China’s private sector advancing or retreating?

A look into the Chinese private sector.

Speakers: Reinhard Bütikofer, Nicolas Véron and Alicia García-Herrero Topic: Global economy and trade Location: Bruegel, Rue de la Charité 33, 1210 Brussels
Read about event
 

Past Event

Past Event

[Cancelled] Shifting taxes in order to achieve green goals

[This event is cancelled until further notice] How could shifting the tax burden from labour to pollution and resources help the EU reach its climate goals?

Speakers: Niclas Poitiers and Femke Groothuis Topic: Green economy, Macroeconomic policy Location: Bruegel, Rue de la Charité 33, 1210 Brussels Date: May 12, 2022
Read article More on this topic More by this author
 

Podcast

Podcast

The cost of China's dynamic zero-COVID policy

What does zero-COVID mean for both China and the global economy?

By: The Sound of Economics Topic: Global economy and trade Date: May 11, 2022
Read article
 

External Publication

The Global Quest for Green Growth: An Economic Policy Perspective

A review on green growth and degrowth arguments.

By: Klaas Lenaerts, Simone Tagliapietra and Guntram B. Wolff Topic: Global economy and trade, Green economy Date: May 5, 2022
Read about event More on this topic
 

Past Event

Past Event

From viruses to wars: recent disruptions to global trade and value chains

How have events in recent years impacted global trade and value chains and how can we strengthen these against future disruptions?

Speakers: Dalia Marin, Adil Mohommad and André Sapir Topic: Global economy and trade Date: April 27, 2022
Read article More on this topic More by this author
 

Opinion

China’s Covid policy to be year’s largest economic shock

Beijing’s ‘dynamic zero-Covid’ policy could devastate the domestic economy, but the effects will also be felt globally.

By: Alicia García-Herrero Topic: Global economy and trade Date: April 26, 2022
Read article More on this topic
 

Blog Post

Climate migration: what do we really know?

While uncertain, studies suggest that climate change will cause significant internal and international migration over the next century.

By: Klaas Lenaerts and Simone Tagliapietra Topic: Global economy and trade Date: April 25, 2022
Read article More by this author
 

Podcast

Podcast

What to expect from China's innovation drive?

How much has China progressed technologically?

By: The Sound of Economics Topic: Digital economy and innovation, Global economy and trade Date: April 6, 2022
Read article More on this topic
 

Blog Post

Is the private sector retreating in China? Not among its largest companies

Though private ownership does not free companies from the pervasive influence of the Communist Party, China’s private and state sectors are not equivalent; China’s largest firms are growing faster than their state-owned counterparts.

By: Tianlei Huang and Nicolas Véron Topic: Global economy and trade Date: April 5, 2022
Read article Download PDF More on this topic
 

Working Paper

The private sector advances in China: The evolving ownership structures of the largest companies in the Xi Jinping era

This paper documents recent structural changes in China’s corporate landscape, based on company level data, providing a complementary perspective to that of official Chinese statistics.

By: Tianlei Huang and Nicolas Véron Topic: Global economy and trade Date: April 5, 2022
Read article More on this topic More by this author
 

Opinion

Early Warning Brief: China’s contorted response to Russia sanctions

The spectre of a democratic Russia aligned with the West is probably a more serious concern for Beijing than what it risks losing by supporting Russia, which is exactly why China has arrived at its contorted position on the current military conflict in Ukraine.

By: Alicia García-Herrero Topic: Global economy and trade Date: April 1, 2022
Read article More on this topic More by this author
 

Opinion

Rallying Chinese markets will not be a quick fix for Beijing

Top official makes rare intervention to reassure investors but progress to resolve problems will be difficult.

By: Alicia García-Herrero Topic: Global economy and trade Date: March 25, 2022
Load more posts