Russia unlikely to deliver on climate change at G20

Syria crisis and economic growth likely to dominate St Petersberg summit as climate change drops off agenda

Leaders will gather this weekend in Russia for the annual meeting of the world’s top 20 economies (Pic: Flickr/Prime Minister’s Office)


By Sophie Yeo

There is unlikely to be much movement on climate change action at this year’s G20 Summit, which starts today in St Petersburg.

Experts expect the Syrian civil war to take up a substantial amount, while leaders are also expected to sign off proposals to fight tax avoidance by multi-national companies.

In an interview with the AP news agency yesterday, President Putin confirmed that “unemployment and corruption, tax offences and administration” would be his focus for the meeting.

While the agenda nods towards issues of energy efficiency and sustainability, NGOs have expressed concerns that this will merely translate into talks on how to ensure the vitality of Russia’s oil and gas interests going into the future.

This concern is perhaps validated by Russia’s recent announcement of tax breaks for the oil industry of up to $21 per barrel.

Russia’s economy is heavily bound up in oil and gas, accounting for 30% of its GDP and responsible for the wealth of much of its elite.

The country is currently producing about 10 million barrels of oil a day, and is expanding its operations into offshore drilling, looking to exploit the increasing accessibility if the North Sea Route due to the melting of the Arctic sea ice.

Russia has announced that its priorities for the summit are jobs and investment, trust and transparency, and effective regulation. These priorities will provide a lens through which the whole of the G20 agenda is viewed, including sustainability.

The focus on jobs and infrastructure has caused some concerns from NGOs that this could translate into the extension of Arctic offshore exploration or new nuclear plants, rather than the diversion if funds towards renewable energy investments.

“There is no climate on the agenda. It’s a serious issue. The priority for the Russian president is investment, jobs, corruption,” Vladimir Chuprov from Greenpeace Russia, who was involved in the earlier Civil 20 discussions, told RTCC.

“The German leader tried to raise the climate issue, but we understand they failed due to different reasons.”

EU pressure

In July European Commission President Juan Manuel Barroso and European Council chief Herman Van Rompuy wrote a joint letter to EU heads of state arguing that cutting fossil subsidies should be a priority for St Petereberg. They also called for progress on climate finance commitments.

Other sources say that the absence of climate change on the agenda merely reflects a sense of realism on the part of the G20 leaders – even though the discussions have been a forum for climate negotiations in the past, and in particular with regard to ending subsidies for big oil companies, albeit with limited success.

Barry Carin, a Senior Fellow at the Centre for International Governance Innovation told RTCC that climate change is “not on the G20 agenda, because there are no prospects for a successful outcome – so G20 organizers are rational in not setting themselves up for failure.”

But he added that G20 negotiations could become a viable alternative to the sometimes laborious UNFCCC process in the future.

“The route to saving the climate is not through transferring funds to developing countries. One route could eventually be through G20 countries,” he said.

“The risks are so great that we should not depend on altruism. The issue of how to raise the money will remain dead in the water with no appetite for pursuit from anybody unless self interested powerful lobbies endorse a plan for how to spend the money.”

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