As extreme weather events exceed records globally, the G20 must improve compliance on its future-focused commitments and implement policies to support the world through the climate and environmental disasters that we already face
In June 2023 parts of India approached the limits of human survivability, as temperatures soared to 47°C. By 24 June, 133 Indians had been killed and hundreds more sickened by the heat and had fled to under-resourced hospitals. Fires raged across Canada, breaking records, forcing people from their homes and affecting air quality far beyond its borders. Researchers confirmed that India’s heatwave was made worse by climate change and that Canada’s fires were profoundly influenced by climate change. Researchers have also confirmed that it is the wealthy – countries, people and industry – that are steering the world in this catastrophic direction. This puts the G20 club of wealthy countries in the global hot seat, as never before.
The G20 has dedicated an average of only 8% of its communiqués to climate change at each summit. This is far below the 31% average devoted to economic growth. Between 2008 and 2019, the G20 dedicated between 1% and 10% of its communiqués to climate change per summit, or an average of 5%. Since 2020, climate has taken a much larger portion: Riyadh in 2020 gave 12%, Rome in 2021 gave 31% and Bali in 2022 gave 22%. The average per summit in this recent period was therefore dramatically higher, at 22%.
Since 2008, the G20 has made 133 climate change commitments. Between 2008 and 2018, climate commitments averaged between 1% and 5% across all subjects at each summit. This includes two years with a relatively high number of climate commitments: 2013 at St Petersburg and 2017 at Hamburg. Both gave just 4% of their overall commitments but made 12 and 22 climate commitments respectively. Every other summit made between two to eight climate commitments, taking between 1% and 5% of the total.
In 2019, G20 leaders started giving a larger portion of their overall commitments to climate change: Osaka in 2019 gave 9%, Riyadh in 2020 anomalously gave 3%, Rome in 2021 gave 9% and Bali in 2022 gave 8%.
The G20 Research Group has assessed 51 of these 133 climate commitments for compliance. Compliance averages just 67%, below the 71% average across all subjects. Compliance from summit to summit has been highly inconsistent. However, it rose – slightly – after the landmark Paris Agreement was signed in 2015: compliance between 2008 and 2014 averaged 66%, and between 2015 and 2022 it averaged 76%. This includes compliance with the 2022 Bali Summit, which by April 2023 was 85%.
Causes and corrections
What affects compliance?
One factor is holding pre-summit G20 environment ministers’ meetings. Since these meetings became regular in 2019, compliance averaged 79%. Between 2008 and 2017, when no ministerial was held, compliance was 10% lower, at 69%.
A second factor is support for the United Nations. Commitments explicitly supporting the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change or its agreements averaged 72%, compared to 65% with the ones that did not. Compliance was also highest in the years when an international legal treaty on climate was established – 2009 Pittsburgh with 93% (Copenhagen Accord), 2015 Antalya with 85% (Paris Agreement) and 2020 Riyadh with 84% (Glasgow Pact).
A third factor is issue linkage. Climate commitments on sustainable development averaged the highest compliance at 82%, compared to those without at 66%.
A fourth factor is short timelines. The commitment with a multi-year timetable had 43% compliance, while the one with a one-year timetable had 50% and the four with a timetable of six months or less averaged 85%.
G20 leaders will meet in New Delhi in September after their environment and climate change ministers’ meeting in July. The leaders should endorse their ministers’ communiqué and provide additional ambitious leadership. Their commitments should demonstrate strong support for the UN climate and environmental agreements and the Sustainable Development Goals. And leaders should act now, prioritising short-term, fast, ambitious targets.
Critically, the G20 must combat the egregious spread of climate disinformation, greenwashing and lobbying by the fossil fuel and industrial agricultural industries and their financial backers. It needs to ramp up climate finance and renewables investments, and scale back financial support for all fossil fuels and stop new oil, gas and coal exploration permits. It needs to halt and reverse biodiversity loss by ensuring local and Indigenous land rights. And it needs to prepare the world’s infrastructure and communities for the climate and environmental disasters its policies have already created.