The G20 failed to produce a climate change financing plan for developing nations at its Pittsburgh meeting this past week. It took a step forward on cutting greenhouse gas emissions by agreeing to phase out fossil fuel subsidies, but on both issues, the details were pushed aside until the next G20 finance ministers' meeting.
That meeting isn't until November, one month before world leaders gather for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change at Copenhagen.
European Commission President Jose Manuel Barraso and environmental groups were dismayed by the delay and warned that time is running out.
Speaking at the close of the Pittsburgh meeting, Barraso said the world's most powerful nations aren't moving fast enough on climate change financing and related issues to have an agreement that could replace the Kyoto Protocol ready by the start of the Copenhagen summit.
"Negotiations cannot be an open-ended process," Barraso said. "This is a test of credibility for the G20 — failure is not an option."
Environmental groups found little to praise from the meeting beyond welcoming the fossil fuel subsidy phase-out as "an acknowledgement from the G20 leaders that we are in a hole and need to stop digging."
"In all, this has been an unacceptable week for anyone worried about climate change and anxious to see real action to tackle it." said Patricia Lerner, senior political advisor for Greenpeace International. "In their UN speeches, leaders sounded the climate alarm, but they got to Pittsburgh and hit the snooze button."
The G20 leaders made a few vague statements promising action on climate change. They vowed to support clean and renewable energy and to help transfer clean energy technology to developing countries. They also listed addressing climate change among their "core values for sustainable economic activity."
Here are excerpts from what the leaders of the world's wealthiest nations – and largest greenhouse gas emitters – had to say about climate change in a statement released at the close of their two-day meeting.
The G20 leaders agreed to:
* reform the global architecture to meet the needs of the 21st century.
"After this crisis, critical players need to be at the table and fully vested in our institutions to allow us to cooperate to lay the foundation for strong, sustainable and balanced growth. We designated the G-20 to be the premier forum for our international economic cooperation."
"Today we have delivered on our promise to contribute over $500 billion to a renewed and expanded IMF New Arrangements to Borrow (NAB). ... We called on the World Bank to play a leading role in responding to problems whose nature requires globally coordinated action, such as climate change and food security, and agreed that the World Bank and the regional development banks should have sufficient resources to address these challenges and fulfill their mandates."
* take new steps to increase access to food, fuel and finance among the world's poorest while clamping down on illicit outflows.
"To start, we call on the World Bank to develop a new trust fund to support the new Food Security Initiative for low-income countries announced last summer. We will increase, on a voluntary basis, funding for programs to bring clean affordable energy to the poorest, such as the Scaling Up Renewable Energy Program."
* phase out and rationalize over the medium term inefficient fossil fuel subsidies while providing targeted support for the poorest.
"Inefficient fossil fuel subsidies encourage wasteful consumption, reduce our energy security, impede investment in clean energy sources and undermine efforts to deal with the threat of climate change. We call on our Energy and Finance Ministers to report to us their implementation strategies and timeline for acting to meet this critical commitment at our next meeting."
"We will spare no effort to reach agreement in Copenhagen through the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) negotiations."
On the issue of financial aid, they called for the World Bank and regional development banks to strengthen their support in several areas connected to the impacts of climate change:
* food security through enhancements in agricultural productivity and access to technology, and improving access to food.
* human development and security in the poorest and most challenging environments.
* support for private-sector led growth and infrastructure to enhance opportunities for the poorest, social and economic inclusion, and economic growth.
* contributions to financing the transition to a green economy through investment in sustainable clean energy generation and use, energy efficiency and climate resilience; this includes responding to countries needs to integrate climate change concerns into their core development strategies, improved domestic policies, and to access new sources of climate finance.
The G20 also called on all nations to phase out fossil fuel subsidies, a proposal submitted by the Obama administration. It noted OECD and IEA studies suggesting that if fossil fuel subsidies were eliminated by 2020, global greenhouse gas emissions would drop 10 percent by 2050. However, the group did not set a timetable, leaving that, too, to finance ministers to work out for the next meeting. The G20 wrote:
"Many countries are reducing fossil fuel subsidies while preventing adverse impact on the poorest. Building on these efforts and recognizing the challenges of populations suffering from energy poverty, we commit to rationalize and phase out over the medium term inefficient fossil fuel subsidies that encourage wasteful consumption. As we do that, we recognize the importance of providing those in need with essential energy services, including through the use of targeted cash transfers and other appropriate mechanisms."
The G20 leaders stressed that the fossil fuel subsidies phase-out "will not apply to our support for clean energy, renewables, and technologies that dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions."
In fact, they vowed to support clean and renewable energy — and to help transfer clean energy technology to developing countries:
"Increasing clean and renewable energy supplies, improving energy efficiency, and promoting conservation are critical steps to protect our environment, promote sustainable growth and address the threat of climate change. Accelerated adoption of economically sound clean and renewable energy technology and energy efficiency measures diversifies our energy supplies and strengthens our energy security."
"We commit to:
* Stimulate investment in clean energy, renewables, and energy efficiency and provide financial and technical support for such projects in developing countries.
* Take steps to facilitate the diffusion or transfer of clean energy technology including by conducting joint research and building capacity. The reduction or elimination of barriers to trade and investment in this area are being discussed and should be pursued on a voluntary basis and in appropriate fora."
In summary, they write:
"As leaders of the world's major economies, we are working for a resilient, sustainable, and green recovery. We underscore anew our resolve to take strong action to address the threat of dangerous climate change. We reaffirm the objective, provisions, and principles of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), including common but differentiated responsibilities.
"We will intensify our efforts, in cooperation with other parties, to reach agreement in Copenhagen through the UNFCCC negotiation. An agreement must include mitigation, adaptation, technology, and financing."
The G20 expressed the right sentiments but offered no solid plans of action, environmental groups pointed out. The Copenhagen summit is a little over 10 weeks away, and while the European Union suggested another G20 meeting in the interim, possibly by video conference, U.S. officials said there was no agreement to meet.
At this point, says Friends of the Earth President Erich Pica, "the lack of financial commitments jeopardizes an international agreement on global warming."
(Photo: Official White House photo by Pete Souza)