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Improving G20 Integration and Implementation for SDG Support

John Kirton, Director, G20 Research Group
January 13, 2023

Opening Presentation for Plenary Session 3
"Finding Consensus on Global Wellbeing, LiFE, Energy Transitions and the SDGs,"
T20 Inception Conference, January 13, 2023, Delhi

The Key Question

A key question for the G20's summit in New Delhi, India, in September 2023 is this: How can LiFE, green transitions and accelerating the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) address the common aspiration of promoting sustainability, while focusing on humanity's aspirations for economic growth and development?

This key question properly puts ecological sustainability first. You cannot have a sustainable economy or sustainable development without a sustainable ecology. And without a sustainable ecology, the poor suffer first and most.

The 17 Sustainable Development Goals correctly recognized that SDG 8 on economic growth and SDG 1 on poverty reduction depend on securing all the other 15 goals. At least five of those 15 goals focus on the natural environment. Yet progress toward them has recently gone into reverse and is rapidly getting worse. And the United Nations has clearly failed to restore the progress badly needed now.

The G20's Role

Among the alternative global governance bodies, only the G20 has the power to do the job.

Its members possess a predominant share of the world's ecological capabilities, its sources of greenhouse gas emissions, and the natural sinks that suck them up.

In greenhouse gas emissions, they have 80% of the global total, led by China, then the United States, India and Russia.

In forests, they have 66%, led by Russia, Brazil, Canada, the United States and China.

In peatlands – a much more potent carbon sink – the leaders are Russia and Canada, then Indonesia and the United States.

With these predominant resource and thus primary responsibilities, G20 summits have increasingly committed to act on climate change, the environment and energy.

At the most recent G20 summit in Bali in November 2022, among all the many subjects on their agenda, leaders finally put the environment first. But these G20 commitments contain few explicit synergies that advance several of these subjects, and the other SDGs, at the same time. Moreover, members' compliance with them is only 68%.

So, at Delhi in September, G20 leaders should:

Improving Integration and Implementation

How can G20 leaders improve their integration and implementation?

First, by emphasizing the economic costs and health harms of ecological destruction.

Second, by emphasizing the broad co-benefits of complying with past G20 commitments and delivering more synergistic ones.  

For example, on the G20's repeated commitment since 2009 to phase out fossil fuel subsidies, compliance has been only 56%. At 100% compliance, G20 members would cut greenhouse gas emissions by 20%, save trillions of dollars, improve people's health and well-being, and reduce crime and corruption too.

And by improving the G20's recent, weak commitment to collectively plant 1 trillion trees, it would increase carbon sinks, natural cooling, biodiversity, clean water, food, fuel, and mental and physical health.

Finally, two easy improvements to the G20 process would help get this done.

First, invite G20 environment ministers to the ministerial meetings of their colleagues for energy, finance, agriculture and health.

And second, for the first time in G20 history, invite to the summit as participants the executive heads of the world's major multilateral environmental organizations – UN Environment, UN Climate or UN Biodiversity, and, above all, the UN Development Programme as the custodian of all the Sustainable Development Goals.

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This page was last updated January 15, 2023 .

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