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The G20's Climate Change Performance and Prospects for the 2021 Rome Summit

Brittaney Warren,
Lead Researcher on Climate and Environment, and Director, Policy Analysis, G20 Research Group, October 22, 2021

Presentation for "G20 Summitry: Performance, Prospects, Proposals for Rome 2021," sponsored by the Bill Graham Centre for Contemporary International History and the G20 Research Group, University of Toronto, October 21, 2021.

In the city of Glasgow, where the upcoming United Nations climate negotiations will be held, there is a projection of a clock on a tower counting down to climate catastrophe.

A screenshot from early October of the ticking clock shows a deadline of only 6 years, 226 days, 3 hours, 17 minutes and 51 seconds before the world reaches 1.5°C of warming, should countries not increase their ambition.

This is based on the most recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which makes clear that the 1.5°C target is likely to be hit by 2030 on current trends.

Both the clock and the IPCC report do offer some hope. The clock also shows rising investments in renewable energy and the report says it's not too late to make the deep cuts we need – with the caveat that there is no time to waste, as every degree signals greater climate risk.

We need all countries to step up, but a lot does depend on the G20, since it produces almost 80% of all global emissions, headquarters many multinational corporations, including in the oil and gas and big agribusiness sectors, and has a large share of the nature that can store these emissions.

So, just what have G20 leaders done about this in the past and what will they do when they gather for their next summit in Rome, just nine days from now and then with their UN colleagues in Glasgow the day after that?


Looking at the G20, across the key dimensions of summit performance, we can see that the G20 has governed climate change since the leaders started meeting in 2008, with increased attention over time.  But they are still not at the level of ambition needed to show real leadership on preventing the ecological crisis we are now in.

In general, the G20 has given climate change much less attention than other subjects, namely economic growth, dedicating only an average of 5% of its communiqués to climate change per summit.

Attention to climate has increased in the last three years, starting with 5% of its communiqués to climate in 2018, rising to 10% in 2019 and to a high of 12% at Riyadh last year.

The amount of attention to climate change, however, does not always translate into a higher number of tangible commitments.

Despite Riyadh's higher attention to climate, it only managed to make three commitments, compared to the 13 made the previous year.

Overall, between 2008 and 2020, the G20 has made 94 climate commitments, compared to over 400 commitments on the economy.

But what matters more than this is how well the G20 complies with these climate commitments.

Overall, compliance averages 70%, or a B− grade.

Years with compliance lows usually came when there was no leaders-level UN climate meeting. For example, compliance was highest in 2009 at 93% and in 2015 at 85%, the two years that produced the UN's Copenhagen Accord and Paris Agreement. And compliance is 88% from Riyadh, with the UN Glasgow Summit happening soon.

Subjects complied with best include the climate commitments with an explicit link to sustainable development at 88% and those on the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) at 77%. At the other end of the spectrum, adaptation and forests only have 65% and climate finance has 61%.

On compliance by member, we see Germany and the United Kingdom lead with 92% each. France is second with 89%, and the European Union is third with 87%. Close behind are Canada with 85% and Australia with 80%. The world's two biggest absolute climate polluters are in the middle. China has 74% and the United States has 62%. Among the lowest compliers are Indonesia with 58%, Russia with 42% and Saudi Arabia with 34%. Italy, this year's host, has 72%.


Judging by this past performance, we can expect the G20 to perform well and make some progress at Rome compared to past summits, if not to the climate crisis itself.

Specifically, there are five key things to expect.

First, is raising ambition for mitigation. As of October 5, only half of the G20 members have submitted updated nationally determined contributions (NDCs), or national climate targets, that represent reduced total emissions. The other half, have either submitted an updated NDC that does not represent reduced emissions, such as Japan, Brazil and Indonesia, or have not submitted any official updated NDC at all, including China, India and Turkey.

So we can expect to see these countries pressured to raise their ambition, specifically in line with the 1.5°C rather than the 2°C goal.

Second, is raising ambition for adaptation. There are increasing calls for a greater balance between mitigation and adaptation efforts, because a degree of global heating is already locked in and many communities are currently going through what are anticipated to be permanent environmental changes that need to be prepared for, such as out of season and longer periods of flooding, heat waves, fires and hail storms, like the ones we have seen over the past year.

So, at Rome there will likely be a much greater emphasis on adaptation than there has been in the past. With Italy, an EU member, as host, the G20 will put a greater emphasis on nature-based solutions for adaptation, something the EU has been promoting for several years. The controversial carbon capture and storage will also be on the agenda.

Third, is raising climate finance. The G20 is committed to support reaching the target of $100 billion per year by the now extended deadline of 2025, for which there is a $20 billion annual funding gap, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. This target will be reinforced at Rome, and hopefully there will be some new funding announcements behind it.

Fourth, is ending fossil fuel subsidies. The G20 will also reinforce its commitment to phase out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies, especially in light of the recent International Monetary Fund report that predicts rising subsidies over the next few years.

Fifth, is more engagement with non-state actors and an emphasis on equity. The G20 environment and energy ministers, at their July meetings, committed to "tailoring national and international efforts to local conditions" and to advance a "just transition." This will likely be reiterated in the leaders' communiqué.

Italy was also one of the first G7 countries to add Indigenous peoples on the G7's agenda, when it hosted the 2009 L'Aquila Summit, so it could be expected to do so at Rome for the G20 too. Indigenous leadership on climate change is critical for implementing the Paris Agreement. Indigenous peoples protect 80% of the world's forests and hold immense traditional ecological knowledge for living with the land rather than against it. Indigenous resistance to fossil fuel extraction has prevented 25% of Canadian and US emissions from entering the atmosphere.


With all of this in mind, given the current climate crisis, the G20 has to take bolder action than this to reverse current trends. It should do at least six key things at Rome:

  1. Raise ambition on mitigation by agreeing to a collective target in line with the science of at least a 45% reduction in emissions by 2030, to stay on track for net zero by 2050;
  2. Raise ambition on adaptation and resilience, recognizing that parts of the world have already hit the 2°C mark. Here there should be an emphasis on protecting nature and stopping deforestation;
  3. Mobilize trillions, not just billions, to meet these mitigation and adaptation targets;
  4. Divest from all fossil fuels and create a roadmap for implementation;
  5. Endorse the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples; and
  6. Actively promote predominantly whole food plant-based diets and sustainable agriculture.

Lastly, to help raise the G20's 70% average compliance score, the G20 Research Group has found the G20 can use some low cost instruments under the leaders direct control. These include:


In all, at Rome the G20 will make some good progress, but its success should be contingent on bold and transformative action, because the clock is ticking, and, as the Glasgow clock shows, there is no time to waste.

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Brittaney WarrenBrittaney Warren is the lead researcher on climate change and environment for the G20 Research Group, the G7 Research Group and the BRICS Research Group at the University of Toronto. She is co-author of the forthcoming Reconfiguring the Global Governance of Climate Change, with John Kirton and Ella Kokotsis. She has published on accountability measures in summit commitments, the G20 and G7's compliance and governance of climate change, and the G20's governance of digitalisation. She holds a master's degree in environmental studies from York University. Follow her at @brittaneywarren.