As the leaders of the G20 prepare to reaffirm their commitment to the Paris climate agreement in China this weekend, a report has found that their promised carbon cuts must be six times deeper to keep the world from warming more than 2C.
The group of the world’s richest governments will meet on Sunday in Hangzhou. It is expected that the hosts and the US will set the tone by ratifying the climate treaty before other leaders fly in
The Paris agreement sets the upper limit for warming at “well below 2C”. But even 2C will be out of reach unless all G20 countries’ cuts are vastly larger than they promise, said a report from the Climate Transparency consortium of think tanks.
Current commitments to the Paris agreement have the group shaving 15% from their projected carbon emissions by 2030. The report calls this ambition “far from sufficient”. A 2C limit necessitates a cut six times greater by the same point.
Despite some positive signs, the arc of history is taking too long to bend. When it comes to climate change, there is no more important group of nations than the G20. They are responsible for three quarters of the world’s greenhouse pollution. The growth of those emissions is stalling, but not yet falling.
“While global emissions growth may be coming to an end, there is not yet the necessary dynamic to transform the brown fossil-fuel based economy into the green,” said Alvaro Umaña, co-chair of Climate Transparency, and former minister of environment and energy in the renewable energy-rich country of Costa Rica.
The slowdown is being driven, in part, by the renewable revolution. Green energy has grown 18% across the G20 since 2008. The most attractive countries for renewable energy investment are the giant carbon producers China and India.
“[This] is a good signal,” said Jan Burck of Germanwatch, a contributor to the report. “These are the economies where the transition will have the biggest impact on the global climate.”
But the encouragement for investors was not ubiquitous, he said. “France’s reliance on nuclear is stifling the emergence of wind and solar, and Germany’s proposed cap on renewable energy is worrying.”
In addition, the UK government’s premature cuts to subsidies have caused the solar industry to lose more than half its employees. The Australian government is trying to push through legislation to cut $1bn from its renewable innovation fund.
In more encouraging signs, carbon trading, once thought to need a global policy framework in which to succeed, has instead taken off at national and even provincial levels (although the price they set for carbon is generally too low).
In general, the energy intensity and carbon intensity of G20 economies was falling. But not enough to offset economic growth – meaning carbon pollution was still on the rise.
As has been noted before, thousands of coal plants that are in various stages of planning or construction across the G20 are simply incompatible with the Paris Agreement.
According to Carbon Brief, the G20 accounts for a staggering 93% of coal use. Niklas Höhne, of NewClimate Institute and a co-author of the report said: “If G20 countries were to rid themselves of their reliance on coal, this would significantly impact their ability to both increase their climate pledges, and get their emissions trajectories on a below 2C pathway.”
Yet, instead of applying pressure to coal, oil and gas, G20 countries continue to pour public money into supporting them. Fossil fuel subsidies were roughly $70bn billion between 2013 and 2014, the report found.
Many countries put significantly more into these industries than they do climate finance. This is despite a G20 pledge to phase out such support. It is hoped, although not expected, that this meeting will result in a clear timeline for the end to subsidies.