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Bali and Sharm El Sheikh: The G20-UN Relationship on Climate Change

Brittaney Warren,
Lead Researcher on Climate and Director of Compliance Studies, G20 Research Group,
December 14, 2022

On November 15-16, the 17th G20 summit, in Bali included the energy transition as one of its three priorities — a key component of the urgent need to stop runaway climate change. At the same time, the 27th Conference of the Parties (COP27) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was meeting in Sharm El Sheikh to focus on coping with climate change as a whole. These two events raise a key question in stark form: what is the relationship between a global governance group led by the most powerful leaders in the most powerful countries in the world and their ministers for the environment and climate change from the full multilateral family of the formal UN system?

Some have argued that the multilateral organizational failure of UN institutions such as the UNFCCC is a key cause of G20 summit success on climate change and all else. But even before the results from Bali and Sharm El Sheikh were known, the relationship between the two was clearly more complicated, especially for the members of G20.

G20 Climate Governance

G20 members have not been successful at controlling their emissions. This matters as the G20 members account for about three quarters of all global emissions. Further, the G20's compliance with its climate change commitments is higher in years when there is a leaders-level UN climate summit. The G20's climate compliance averaged 93% from its 2009 Pittsburgh Summit boosted by the UN's Copenhagen climate summit, and 85% from the 2015 Antalya Summit boosted by the UN's Paris Agreement that year. These were two of the highest complying G20 summits for climate change.

Although the G20 was created to respond to the 2008 global financial crisis, it has governed climate change throughout its existence. It has even contributed innovative commitments that, if fully complied with, would have a sizeable impact on global emissions, namely the commitment to phase out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies first made at Pittsburgh. Since 2008, G20 leaders have dedicated an average of 5% of their public, collective communiqués to climate change. Within these public conclusions, the G20 has agreed to 115 climate change commitments. Overall compliance with the 47 commitments assessed by the G20 Research Group averaged 67%.

Highlights of Bali

On climate change, the Bali Summit focused on clean energy technology. Its wide definition of clean energy included solar, wind and geothermal, and considered gas a relatively cleaner fuel than coal.

Coal is a sticky item on the G20 agenda. Instead of including the term "phase out" in their declaration, at the behest of India the leaders changed the language to a "phase down" of unabated coal. This could be interpreted as weakening the language from the 2021 Rome Summit communiqué, where the leaders committed to "phasing out" international financing for unabated coal power plants by the end of 2021. They complied with that commitment at a rate of just 30%. Although phasing down is weaker than phasing out, if in practice this 2022 leaders' statement is implemented and goes beyond international financing to include the domestic front, this could mean progress, even if incremental.

Indonesia, as a Pacific archipelago and middle income country, put disaster resiliency and climate financing for adaptation high on its climate agenda. This agenda included agreements on oceans and climate-resilient infrastructure, with the latter within a repackaged G7 infrastructure partnership and a focus on public-private partnerships. At a press conference during the Bali Summit, the US and Indonesia announced the launch of a Just Energy Transition Partnership (JETP). Mangroves, identified as critical green infrastructure that reduces flood and water-disaster risk, were highlighted when President Joko Widodo invited his G20 colleagues to plant some at a conservation area.

Support for the UN's COP27 came too, although no major breakthroughs occurred. G20 leaders also expressed support for the UN's COP15 biodiversity summit, scheduled to begin in December, and nature-based solutions for climate change and disaster-risk resilience, with some members continuing to support the target to protect 30% of land and oceans by 2030.

On climate finance, G20 members pledged no new money. The leaders reiterated their commitment to mobilize $100 billion per year by 2025. They stated they would continue deliberating on a new collective quantified goal of climate finance, with $100 billion as the floor.

Highlights of Sharm El Sheikh

At COP27 in Sharm El Sheikh, in the first week the top themes were addressing carbon markets, balancing mitigation and adaptation finance, and increasing climate financing to support developing countries' implementation of their national adaptation plans, raising the ambition of countries' nationally determined contributions (climate targets) to align with science-based recommendations and with a 2030 deadline, and loss and damage. Negotiations were challenging, due to differing national and regional perspectives and priorities, as well as the distractions from the war in Ukraine and subsequent food and energy crises, and inflation. Despite this, the major achievement at COP27 was the creation of a loss and damage fund. Many details of the fund linger, including who will be the donors and recipients and how this fund will differentiate itself from the existing funds out there, such as the Adaptation Fund or the Green Climate Fund. There are also concerns that while adaptation and loss and damage need greater and even equal attention to mitigation, it should not come at the expense of including language on fossil fuels, a glaring omission in COP27's final outcome document.

Some countries made announcements on the sidelines. Among these were several new announcements from US president Joe Biden. The US doubled its pledge to the Adaptation Fund to $100 million; pledged a new $150 million for the US-initiated Emergency Plan for Adaptation and Resilience (PREPARE) for Africa; launched an initiative with Egypt to deploy 10 GW of new wind and solar energy and to decommission five GW of "inefficient" natural gas; committed to reduce US methane from covered sources by 87% below 2005 levels and to advance the Global Methane Pledge; committed to require suppliers to set Paris-aligned emissions reduction targets, leveraging $630 billion in US annual purchasing power, and becoming the first national government to implement such steps; promoted the Climate Finance+ Initiative to unlock private green investment, especially in American-made clean technology; launching a Climate Gender Equity Fund; and launching an Indigenous Peoples Finance Access Facility.

A resounding theme from observers, experts and scientists coming out of the summit was a major pushback on greenwashing. The UN Secretary-General's High-Level Expert Group of the Net-Zero Emissions Commitments of Non-State Entities released a report with recommended standards for the net-zero targets of private actors and investors, as well as cities and regions. Among the recommended standards are multinational corporations must publicly disclose and report on progress, targets must account for all emissions across the full value chain and activities, and non-state actors cannot lobby to undermine climate policies either directly or through trade associations or other bodies. Secretary-General António Guterres said: "We must have zero tolerance for net-zero greenwashing." Indigenous activists at the conference also emphasized the urgent need to hold extractive companies to account for the impacts of their operations on the climate, pollution levels and event human rights.

The G20-COP Links

There are few synergies among G20 members on climate change at COP27, where countries group themselves into like-minded negotiating blocs. G20 members are split into several different blocs.

China is a member of the G77 bloc — the main group representing middle- to low-income countries, which also includes G20 host Indonesia, along with Argentina, Brazil, India, Korea, Saudi Arabia and South Africa. At COP27 the G77 opposed a new mandate on implementation of food systems approaches to align food systems with the Paris Agreement, a process started at COP23 in 2017.

South Africa is a member of the Africa Group, which advocates for developed countries to comply with the commitment they first made in 2009 to mobilize $100 billion per year by 2020 (now extended to 2025). The Africa Group recognizes the domestic difficulties in several developed countries, as well as the impact of the conflict in Ukraine, but stresses that developing countries cannot get off fossil fuel energy without financial support from wealthy countries. Further, the fossil fuel lobby was well represented at COP27, with a strong interest in keeping all countries dependent on fossil fuels.

Financing issues on loss and damage and adaptation financing remained sticky as Umbrella Group members, which includes Australia, Canada, Japan and the United States, along with European Union members France and Germany, were highly reluctant to call for a loss and damage fund over fears of assuming too much legal liability for climate damages. Nonetheless, progress came, with a few European governments committing a few million for loss and damage finances — although hundreds of billions, if not trillions, are required. Of the G20 members, Germany pledged €170 million to the Global Shield, a joint G7 and Climate Vulnerable Forum initiative, to strengthen climate insurance and disaster protection finance. Canada announced no new money, but redirected $7 million from an existing federal fund for loss and damage, via Global Shield. And, in order to make the loss and damage fund a material reality at COP27, a compromise was made whereby wealthy countries included a footnote that released them from any liabilities in relation to damages caused by climate change.


The separation of G20 members in COP27 blocs indicates the G20's differing priorities. The G20 has never acted cohesively on climate change and did not start at Bali. It instead relies on finding common ground through less ambitious and less controversial joint commitments — which can still have a positive climate impact if fully complied with (such as protecting 30% of oceans, phasing out, what it refers to as "inefficient," fossil fuel subsidies, and promoting agroforestry). One area of cooperation that both the G7 and G20 are increasingly moving toward is the creation of smaller partnerships, such as the G7-initiated JETPs, and that promise to generate billions in green investments via bilateral and trilateral partnerships between developed and developing countries. Problematically, however, G20 compliance with its climate commitments is only around 60%. Thus expectations about what G20 will achieve together going forward should be mitigated Yet pressure to meet climate targets should continue to be relentlessly applied both internationally and domestically.

Bali's biggest climate achievement, under host Indonesia as a middle income island nation, was to help raise the profile of just transitions with the tangible outcome of its JETP with France and Japan. But for the G20 to truly achieve success it needs to use its economic clout do at least two big things — stop funding the climate crisis by ending all fossil fuel subsidies while shifting those subsidies to the renewable energy sector, and stop deforestation and the degradation of nature. Two tall orders, but, then again, humanity is at stake.

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Brittaney WarrenBrittaney Warren, MES is the lead researcher on climate and director of compliance studies for the G20 Research Group, the G7 Research Group and the BRICS Research Group at the University of Toronto. She is co-author of Reconfiguring the Global Governance of Climate Change, with John Kirton and Ella Kokotsis (Routledge, 2022). 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.