The world is watching India closely to see how the New Delhi Summit responds to the current energy crisis as it seeks to propel the energy transition forward
With the G20 theme of One Earth, One Family, One Future, which affirms the value of all life forms and their interconnectedness with the Earth and beyond, India seeks to promote energy policies and strategies aimed at driving economic growth while ensuring environmental sustainability.
Accounting for almost 85% of global electricity demand and 93% of global coal generation and including all but one of the world’s top 10 carbon emitters, the G20 wields commanding weight and influence in international energy governance and thus plays a key strategic role in driving a cleaner energy future.
But the goal of keeping post-industrial warming to 1.5°C is daunting, as it requires the G20’s Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development members to generate 100% clean energy by 2035, and all other members to do so by 2040. Can India, under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s leadership, push for rapid electricity decarbonisation and the phase-down of coal pledged at Glasgow in 2021 – actions desperately needed to meet these goals?
G20 leaders have directly referred to energy since their first summit in Washington in 2008. Energy figured most prominently at the 2009 Pittsburgh Summit, with 14% of the communiqué. Riyadh in 2020 and Bali in 2022 rounded out the top three energy-focused summits at 11% each. These were followed by Hamburg in 2017 and Rome in 2021, at 9% each, and then Seoul in 2010, Cannes in 2011 and St Petersburg in 2013 at 7% each. Washington in 2008 and Toronto in 2010 were the lowest at 1% each, along with London in 2009 with none.
Since 2008 G20 summits have produced 180 energy commitments, placing energy fourth among all subjects. Sixteen (13%) energy commitments were made at Pittsburgh in 2009, dropping to one (2%) at Toronto in June 2010, rising to 14 (9%) at Seoul in November 2010 and again to 18 (5%) at Cannes in 2011. This fell to 10 (6%) at Los Cabos in 2012, rose to 19 (7%) at St Petersburg in 2013 and dipped 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 peaked at 42 (8%), followed by a steep drop to eight (7%) at Buenos Aires in 2018 and only two (1%) at Osaka in 2019. Riyadh in 2020 generated four energy commitments (4%), with eight (4%) in Rome in 2021. Bali in 2022 rose slightly to 11 (5%).
Since 2009, the 23 energy commitments assessed by the G20 Research Group averaged 70% compliance, close to the G20’s overall 71% compliance. Compliance on energy ranks above climate change, gender, trade and development, but below macroeconomic policy, health, food and agriculture, financial regulation, and international financial institutional reform.
Compliance has varied, with record highs following Buenos Aires in 2018 (89%), Seoul in 2010 (82%) and Cannes in 2011 (81%). Low compliance came from Hangzhou in 2016 (49%) and Antalya in 2015 (33%). By April 2023, compliance with the assessed energy commitment made at Bali was 76%.
By country, the highest energy compliers were Korea and France, with 85% and 83% respectively, followed by the United Kingdom at 81%, then Mexico and Brazil with 79% each.
Causes and corrections
In assessing the G20’s energy compliance, three causes and thus corrections stand out.
First, politically binding language matters. Energy commitments with language such as ‘we will take steps to create’ or ‘we commit to’ averaged 81% compliance; those with past iterations and low binding language, such as ‘we welcome the work of’, averaged only 62% compliance.
Second, fewer commitments bring more compliance. The five highest complying summits averaged 82% over 69 commitments, and the six lowest complying summits averaged only 57% for 86 commitments.
Third, fewer words bring more compliance. The five highest complying summits averaged 82% across 4,927 words, and the six lowest complying summits averaged 57% across 6,484 words.
These findings suggest that to improve its energy performance, the G20 should generate fewer commitments with strong politically binding language, surrounded by fewer conclusions on energy.
Given the deep divisions among G20 members in response to Russia’s war in Ukraine, the world will be watching closely how the New Delhi Summit responds to the current energy crisis. Such geopolitical tensions are making pathways to net zero ever more daunting. But hope remains that the G20 can follow the G7’s push for rapid electricity decarbonisation and a coal phase-down, as pledged at Glasgow. India’s demonstrated leadership in adding 92% of all new generation capacity from wind and solar in 2022 sets the stage for Prime Minister Modi to facilitate and lead a complex dialogue with his G20 partners on how to propel the energy transition forward.