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Shifting into High Gear: Wrapping up Climate Week, G20 Outcome & on to Bangkok

Jake Schmidt

Posted September 28, 2009 in Solving Global Warming

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Well "climate week" has just wrapped up with the conclusion of the G20 summit in Pittsburgh.  This week was an important one to build international and US momentum for addressing global warming pollution (as I discussed here).

As I discussed here and my colleague discussed here, some positive steps emerged this week on the international and US front.  I won't recap them here but every bit of momentum is essential if we are going to be able to seize the opportunity (the statement of NRDC's President available here gives the broad overview of this week).  We need all machines running in forward and none shifted into reverse.  We got mostly forward movement this week, although not close to at full speed.

And while the G20 meeting didn't make as much progress as we ultimately need, it did provide a bit of forward momentum on a couple of fronts (the communiqué is available here):

Eliminating fossil fuel subsidies.  Going into the G20 meeting, the issue of eliminating fossil fuel subsidies seemed to spring up out of thin air.  But at the end of the meeting the G20 countries had committed to:

"Rationalize and phase out over the medium term inefficient fossil fuel subsidies that encourage wasteful consumption...We will have our Energy and Finance Ministers, based on their national circumstances, develop implementation strategies and timeframes, and report back to Leaders at the next Summit."

While a lot of details need to emerge on how this will occur and over what timeframe, it is a good down payment.  We can't get where we need to go if some incentives are working against us.  We need all the wheels moving in the forward direction and subsidies for fossil fuel emissions are moving us in the wrong direction on clean energy and global warming pollution.  As I put it in this Washington Post article:

"Given that we're talking about deep cuts across the world, we can't have investments in clean energy competing against investments in fossil fuels that are going in the wrong direction."

According to one estimate, around $300 billion a year is spent worldwide to subsidize fossil fuels.  According to the Environmental Law Institute, the US government alone provided $72 billion in subsidies to the fossil fuel industry between 2002 and 2008.  So the US has an onus to prove that it can lead on this G20 effort, especially since it was driven at the US suggestion.  Reducing global fossil fuel subsidies by 2020 is estimated to reduce global warming pollution by 10 percent by 2050 (as reported by Reuters) so this could make a positive dent in our efforts.  

Climate Finance and Investment in Developing Countries.  At the end of the Major Economies Forum meeting in Italy President Obama: "asked the G20 finance ministers to take up the climate financing issues and report back to us at the G20 meeting in Pittsburgh in the fall" (as I discussed here).  So the issue of climate investment and finance in developing countries was supposed to be high on the radar for the G20. 

This was a welcome step since having Finance Ministers and Heads of Government more intimately involved in the climate investment and finance debate was supposed to provide a little "injection of energy" to this debate.  After all, these leaders have tools and influence within their country beyond the pay grade of the current climate negotiators who are currently grappling with this issue. 

Some work by Finance Ministries and Heads of Government went into trying to make progress on this critical issue for getting a strong agreement in Copenhagen.  But it is clear that these leaders have a lot of work left as the G20 countries were only able to state that:

"We welcome the work of the Finance Ministers and direct them to report back at their next meeting with a range of possible options for climate change financing to be provided as a resource to be considered in the UNFCCC negotiations at Copenhagen."  

Clearly a call for more work isn't a resolution to this issue, so hopefully Finance Ministers will live up to this call for more work and deliver a set of specific options that can be quickly integrated into the climate negotiations.  Work on this issue definitely needs to "shift into high gear" if we are going to have a strong outcome in Copenhagen.

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So this week saw some very positive forward movement on a number of fronts as NRDC's President stated:

"This week, President Obama reminded the world that climate change is the challenge of our generation and that history will hold countries, including the U.S., accountable for our response.

It was encouraging to see that several key countries demonstrated forward momentum in climate negotiations. President Hu Jintao signaled that China would commit to curb the growth of their emissions through 2020; Indian leaders said they would take domestic steps to reduce their emissions; Japan's new government committed to a much deeper target than the previous government; and key world leaders strengthened their support for dealing with deforestation emissions."

The G20 step to eliminate subsidies for fossil fuels was a positive step forward but it is not a replacement for a firm limit on global warming pollution.  Nor is it a "replacement for the needed public-sector investment to mobilize clean-energy investment in developing countries" (as I said in this Bloomberg article).

Now the climate negotiations turn to Bangkok, Thailand where negotiators will hope to continue the momentum coming out of climate week by "rolling up their sleeves" (I'll be posting from there so stay tuned).  Negotiators will have in front of them a 180 page negotiating text that contains many of the key elements for the Copenhagen agreement, but which will need to be whittled down to the core set of options.

Hopefully the momentum from "climate week" and the Bangkok negotiation session will "shift global efforts into high gear"!

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Comments

Lisa VickersSep 28 2009 09:48 AM

Excellent summary of climate week and the G20. Thank you. I will link to this from our blog (Greenpeace) and following your updates from Bangkok.

Jake Schmidt, NRDCSep 29 2009 12:35 AM

Thanks Lisa. Glad that my posts are useful.

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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