G20 performance on climate change
G20 Summit

G20 performance on climate change

Although climate change is not one of the three top priorities of the 2018 G20 Buenos Aires Summit, it is key to achieving success in all three that are. The first priority, the future of work, while centred on technological change, is also driven by the shift to a low-carbon economy and the need for a rapid and just transition. The second, infrastructure for development, is a crucial component of building climate resilience against increasingly unpredictable disasters, against which current infrastructure is little match even in developed countries. The third, a sustainable food future, is central to climate change mitigation, as agriculture, land use and change account for 24% of global greenhouse gas emissions. This is in addition to agriculture’s large and leading contribution to deforestation, biodiversity loss, ocean dead zones, farmed animal welfare, and antimicrobial resistance and other public health threats.

Argentina’s newest cross-cutting theme, a carry over from Canada’s 2018 G7 Charlevoix Summit, is gender equality. As women are disproportionately affected by climate change, they are an important part of the solution.

The G20 is responsible for 80% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. Thus the climate commitments its members make and whether and how much they follow through with those commitments are critical for the well-being of the planet and all who live on it.


The G20 has given relatively little attention to climate change compared to all other issues. Indeed, since 2009 it has made 75 commitments on climate change, giving the issue an 11th-place ranking among the issues it has made commitments on.

The G20 made three commitments at each of the 2009 London, 2009 Pittsburgh and 2010 Toronto summits. At the 2010 Seoul Summit and the 2011 Cannes Summit, the total rose to eight climate change commitments each. At the 2012 Los Cabos Summit, this dropped to five commitments, before rising again to 11 at the 2013 St Petersburg Summit. After St Petersburg, however, there was a steady decline at each subsequent summit until only two climate commitments were made at the 2016 Hangzhou Summit.

The 2017 Hamburg Summit possibly signalled a new era in the G20’s global climate change governance. It made a historic high of 22 climate change commitments, demonstrating a display of unity among a ‘G19’ that left US president Donald Trump alone with his anti-environment views.


Of these 75 commitments, 25, or 33%, have been assessed for compliance by the G20 Research Group. Average compliance with these 25 commitments is 67%. This is slightly lower than the G20’s overall average compliance across all subjects of 70%.

Over time, this climate change compliance has varied. From the 2009 London Summit, compliance was just 45%. This spiked, however, from the following summit in Pittsburgh in 2009 to a high of 93%. Compliance dropped to 71% from the 2010 Toronto Summit and then further to 53% from the 2010 Seoul Summit, before levelling off again at 71% from the 2011 Cannes Summit. Los Cabos in 2012 saw compliance rise to 80% before dropping steeply to 42% after the 2013 St Petersburg Summit. Compliance was 73% from the 2014 Brisbane Summit and 79% from the 2016 Hangzhou Summit. Interim compliance with the priority commitment on climate adaptation, partway through the period between the 2017 Hamburg and 2018 Buenos Aires summits, was 83%.


With 75 commitments and 67% compliance, climate change has not historically been at the top of the G20’s decision-making agenda or its delivery. The G20 can, however, employ proven, low-cost accountability measures that are in the direct control of the leaders to improve their countries’ compliance. The G20 Research Group found that compliance was higher with the G20’s climate commitments when they referenced international law or a core international organisation, notably the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and its secretariat.

Compliance with the G20’s climate finance commitments, at just 50%, was the lowest compared with other climate-related subjects. Similarly, compliance with G20 commitments to divest from fossil fuels has steadily declined since the 2010 Toronto Summit, reaching a historic low of 20% after the 2016 Hangzhou Summit. These compliance scores suggest that the G20 is providing inadequate funding for the climate mitigation needed as a result of such investments and continuing to invest in fossil fuels.

To help remedy this discrepancy, in its climate investment and fossil divestment commitments at Buenos Aires the G20 can refer to a core financial international organisation, such as the International Monetary Fund or the Financial Stability Board, and can increase its ambitions under and invoke the legal framework of the Paris Agreement.