G20 performance on energy
G20 Issue

G20 performance on energy

Various measures can improve the G20’s compliance with its energy commitments and, as the human and economic devastation from COVID-19 continues, the leaders have little choice but to forge the critical connections among energy, the economy and global health

The G20’s informal format provides a unique opportunity for the world’s dominant energy players to meet on an equal footing and share national views. Although domestic energy management within the G20 ranges from market-driven to state-owned approaches, the G20 enables this highly influential group to overcome divergent perspectives and reach broad-based consensus on energy issues.

The COVID-19 pandemic created massive uncertainty in energy markets. Saudi Arabia’s energy minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman Al-Saud recognised that “reliable, affordable and accessible energy is critical to powering essential services, including health care, to ensure we can quickly advance recovery efforts”. Energy supply and security will feature on the Riyadh agenda as Saudi Arabia hosts its first G20 summit.


Energy has attracted G20 leaders’ attention since their first summit in Washington in 2008, although to varying degrees.

The most attention came at Pittsburgh in September 2009, where the G20 dedicated 14% of its communiqué to energy. The next highest was 9% at Hamburg 2017, followed by 7% each at Seoul in 2010, Cannes in 2011 and St Petersburg in 2013. The lowest was at Washington in 2008 and Toronto in 2010 with 1% each, and Buenos Aires in 2018 with 2%. Osaka in 2019 had 6%. Stand-alone energy documents were produced at the 2014 Brisbane and 2017 Hamburg summits.

In late 2018, following a series of unprecedented global natural disasters and record-breaking temperatures, G20 leaders at Buenos Aires launched their first Energy Transitions steering committee, involving several G20 engagement groups, on sustainable consumption, flexibility, transparency and the digitalisation of energy grids. This enabled inclusive collaboration on energy principles, including on access, renewables, transparency, clean energy and the phase-out of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies.


G20 leaders generated 157 energy commitments, placing energy fifth among all subjects. There were 16 (13%) energy commitments at Pittsburgh in 2009, dropping to one (2%) at Toronto in 2010, rising to 14 (9%) at Seoul in 2010 and again to 18 (5%) at Cannes in 2011. They fell to 10 (6%) at Los Cabos in 2012, rose to 19 (7%) at St Petersburg in 2013 and lowered slightly to 16 (8%) at Brisbane in 2014. Only three (3%) came at Antalya in 2015 and eight (4%) at Hangzhou in 2016. Hamburg in 2017 generated the highest number of energy commitments at 42 (8%). But this was followed by a steep drop to eight (7%) at Buenos Aires in 2018 and only two (1%) at Osaka in 2019.


The G20 Research Group has assessed 22 energy commitments for compliance. It found energy compliance averaged 70%, on par with the G20’s overall average of 71%. Energy compliance is higher than compliance on gender, climate change, development and trade, but lower than on macroeconomic policy, health, food and agriculture, financial regulation and international financial institutional reform.

Compliance varied over time. High compliance came on energy commitments from Buenos Aires in 2018 with 89%, Seoul in 2010 with 82% and Cannes in 2011 with 81%. Lows came on commitments from Hangzhou in 2016 at 49% and Antalya in 2015 at 33%. The interim energy compliance score following Osaka in 2019 was 75%. The highest G20 energy compliers were France and Korea, each with 84%, followed by the United Kingdom and Brazil with 80% each.

Causes and corrections

The six summits that averaged the lowest energy compliance (57%) had a total of 86 commitments, compared to the five summits that averaged the highest compliance (82%), which had 69 commitments. This suggests that the G20 should made fewer commitments for focus, to improve its energy compliance.

The six lowest complying summits averaging 57% generated a total of 6,484 words, while the five highest complying summits averaging 82% had 4,927 words. This again suggests a ‘fewer for focus’ approach to G20 energy governance.

The degree of politically binding language also seems to correlate with compliance. The commitments with less binding language, such as reiterations of past commitments, averaged 62% compliance. The commitments with more binding language, such as ‘we commit’, averaged much higher 81% compliance.

Measures to improve compliance include holding a same-subject energy ministerial meeting, including meetings to recognise shock-activated vulnerabilities, as the energy ministers did in April 2020 to address the COVID-19 pandemic. This is especially important, as there is no world energy organisation to make the health-energy links. Another measure is to shift leadership from the traditional Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries to embrace the United States, Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom and Brazil, whose formidable hydrocarbon and clean energy capabilities are now replacing production and exports from OPEC-centred Venezuela, Iran, Iraq and Syria.

As the human and economic devastation from COVID-19 continues, the G20 Riyadh Summit will have little choice but to forge the critical connections among energy, the economy and global health.