Transitioning to clean energy is not only central to achieving the Paris Agreement, but can also accelerate socio-economic growth and spur job creation – making it a key theme for the G20 to tackle
On 23 July 2021, the G20 ministers responsible for energy and climate convened in Naples and, for the first time, issued a joint communiqué in which they clearly acknowledged the climate–energy connection. The ministers recognised their role in ensuring a clean energy transition for reducing global emissions and achieving the goals set out in the Paris Agreement.
The ministers further stressed the opportunity brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic for building “an inclusive and sustainable, prosperous climate and nature-positive future”. In their view, a clean energy transition represented a “tool for accelerated inclusive socio-economic growth, job-creation and technological innovation”. A clean energy transition thus developed as a key theme as Italy prepared to host its first G20 summit in Rome.
Energy issues have appeared on the G20 agenda since the first leaders-level summit in Washington in 2008, albeit to varying degrees.
At Pittsburgh in 2009, 14% of the G20’s communiqué was dedicated to energy. Hamburg 2017 followed, at 9%, with 7% each at Seoul 2010, Cannes 2011 and St Petersburg 2013. The lowest portions came at Washington 2008 and Toronto 2010 at 1% each, and none at all at London 2009. The most recent G20 in Riyadh 2020 dedicated 11% to energy – the second-highest ever. Stand-alone documents on energy were produced at the 2014 Brisbane and 2017 Hamburg summits.
Since 2008, the G20 has generated 185 energy commitments, placing energy fourth among all subjects. Pittsburgh in 2009 made 16 (13%) energy commitments; Toronto in 2010 dropped to one (2%); Seoul later in 2010 rose to 14 (9%); and Cannes in 2011 rose again to 18 (5%). The number fell to 10 (6%) at Los Cabos 2012, rose to 19 (7%) at St Petersburg 2013 and slipped slightly to 16 (8%) at Brisbane 2014. Antalya in 2015 made only three (3%) and Hangzhou in 2016 made eight (4%). Hamburg in 2017 generated the highest number of commitments on energy at 42 (8%). Then came a plunge to eight (7%) at Buenos Aires in 2018 and only two (1%) at Osaka in 2019. Riyadh in 2020 revived to 10 (11%).
Compliance with the 22 energy commitments assessed by the G20 Research Group averaged 70%, close to the G20’s overall compliance average of 71%.
Compliance varied over time. Highs came from Buenos Aires 2018 with 89%, Seoul 2010 with 82% and Cannes 2011 with 81%. Lows came from Hangzhou 2016 at 49% and Antalya 2015 at 33%. The interim energy compliance score halfway between the 2020 Riyadh and 2021 Rome summits was a low 55% with the commitment to phase out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies.
The highest compliers from 2008 to 2019 are France and Korea each with 84%, followed by the United Kingdom and Brazil each with 80%.
Causes and corrections
A few causes of compliance with energy commitments and corrections stand out.
First, the degree of politically binding language correlates positively with compliance. Commitments with highly binding language, such as ‘we commit’ or ‘we will take steps to create’, averaged 81%. Those with reiterations of past commitments, or low binding language, such as ‘we welcome the work of’, averaged 62%.
Second, a lower number of energy commitments made at a summit slightly boosts compliance with them. The six summits averaging the lowest compliance, of 57%, had a total of 86 commitments, while the five summits that averaged the highest compliance, of 82%, had 69 commitments.
Third, fewer energy conclusions similarly boost compliance. The six lowest complying summits averaged 57% with 6,484 words, and the five highest complying summits averaged 82% with 4,927 words.
Additional causes include convening meetings of energy ministers that recognise the shock-activated vulnerabilities brought on by the energy–climate–health nexus, multilateral organisational failure, given the lack of a world energy organisation to forge those links, and the shifting predominant equalising capabilities to those countries now replacing the traditional production output of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, primarily the United States, Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom and Brazil.
To improve their energy compliance and governance, G20 leaders at Rome should generate fewer commitments with fewer but stronger politically binding words and consider additional accountability measures under their direct control, such as recognising climate shocks in their energy ministerial and leaders’ communiqués.
As the human and economic devastation from COVID-19 continues, the G20 Rome Summit will have little choice but to forge the critical connections among the economy, energy, climate change and global health.