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G20 Climate Governance:
From Toronto to Seoul

Caroline Bracht
Researcher, G20 Research Group
November 10, 2010

At the Toronto G20 Summit in June, the G20 leaders pledged to combat climate change. They reiterated their commitments to explore options for innovative financing, to continue their efforts to phase out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies and to share best practices to protect the marine environment (G20 2010). To date most countries have yet to deliver in full on any of these promises. The G20 meet again on November 11-12 in Seoul, Korea. It remains uncertain whether the leaders will address climate change in any substantial way. Most likely discussions will centre on international currencies, global account imbalances and reform of the International Monetary Fund (IMF). They will leave negotiations on climate change for when they meet in Mexico for the next United Nations conference on climate change from November 29 to December 10, 2010.

What Did the G20 Commit to?

Climate change is not new to the G20. The finance ministers and central bank governors first referred to the issue at their second meeting in Montreal, Canada, in 2000 (G20 2000). They promised to collectively tackle broad environmental concerns, which included climate change. When they met in Melbourne, Australia, in 2006, they explicitly noted the need to take collective action to tackle climate change. In particular they focused on the critical link between energy and climate change (G20 2006).

At the first G20 summit in Washington, the leaders noted the importance of climate change (G20 2008). This was restated in London, where they also called for a green and sustainable recovery (G20 2009b). However, it was not until the Pittsburgh Summit in September 2009 that the issue came onto the agenda in a more meaningful way. There, the leaders pledged to reach an agreement in Copenhagen on the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), to reduce inefficient fossil fuel subsidies, to stimulate investment for clean and renewable energy and to transfer clean energy technologies, particularly to developing countries. They also asked their finance ministers to report back on a range of climate financing options (G20 2009a).

Pittsburgh produced the most climate-intensive communiqué, with 17 of its total of 128 commitments (13.28%) on climate change and energy. The Toronto Summit in June 2010 concluded with only 4 out of 61 commitments (6.56%) touching broadly on the issue.

Climate change and energy were supposed to be high on the Seoul Summit agenda. Shortly after the Toronto Summit, Korea signalled that it would take up the issue of green growth at Seoul. In August, Young Soo-gil, chair of the Presidential Committee on Green Growth, said there was a hope that President Lee Myung-bak would be able to “bring the attention of the G20 Leaders to the value of the theme of green growth as a catalyst for global cooperation in many development dimensions” (Kim Jae-kyoung 2010). However, pressures to settle currency disputes and solidify regulatory and international financial institution reforms, along with other constraints, have pushed climate change far down the list of priorities.

Climate Change on the Broader International Stage

On the broader international stage, climate change has also fallen on the list of global priorities. Little was accomplished at the UNFCCC negotiations in Copenhagen in 2009. Moreover, even though the members of the Major Economies Forum (MEF) recognized the danger of global average temperatures rising more than 2 degrees Celsius in July 2009, and committed to finding a plan to “substantially reduce global emissions by 2050,” there has been little follow-up (MEF 2009).[1]

One of the most important steps to reduce and mitigate the deleterious effects of climate change is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Over the past few decades, countries have set individual targets for doing so. However, these have widely varied from nation to nation. Within the G20, Brazil and Japan have set sufficient targets that would prevent temperatures from rising about the scientific community’s recommended 2 degree Celsius rise.[2] The United States, Australia, the United Kingdom and Canada remain the largest per-person emitters.

G20 Climate Change Compliance

The G20 has taken some steps to address climate change. Yet few members have complied fully with their promises to date. At the Pittsburgh Summit, leaders pledged to develop a green and sustainable recovery, which embodied a common understanding that countries could not go back to “business as usual.” Almost all G20 countries have allocated at least a small portion of stimulus money to green initiatives. China and the U.S. dedicated the largest amount of money to green development, while Korea dedicated the largest percentage of its stimulus package (see Table 1).

Table 1: Green Fiscal Measures in the G20

Total Fund
2008 US$ billion
Green Fund
US$ billion
Green share
in total stimulus (%)
Saudi Arabia
South Africa
United Kingdom
United States
European Union

Sources: Ottmar Edenhofer and Lord Nicholas Stern (2009); HSBC (2010).
Note: Data were reported for all G20 members except Brazil, Russia, and Turkey.

Within the UNFCCC process, under the Copenhagen Accord, Annex I parties committed to submit economy-wide emission targets for 2020 and non–Annex I parties agreed to submit and implement “nationally appropriate mitigation actions” (NAMA) to reduce their carbon emissions by January 31, 2010.[3] Thirteen of the G20 countries have submitted their required documentation.[4]

The discussion on phasing out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies has also progressed. G20 finance ministers submitted country strategies and timelines at the Toronto Summit.


At the Seoul Summit, climate change will remain on the agenda. However, it will not be as robust as originally hoped for. Leaders will discuss how to coordinate and share best practices on phasing out inefficient fossil fuel subsides. They will reiterate their support for the upcoming UNFCCC conference in December in Mexico.

In December the Conference of the Parties (COP) will “call on the G20 leaders to join together to ensure the success of the [UNFCCC] negotiations” (Calderon 2010). French president Nicolas Sarkozy has suggested that under the 2011 French presidency the G20 should continue its efforts to reach a climate financing agreement, a topic that has remained stalled within the group (Sarkozy 2010). Mexico, which will host the G20 in 2012, has signalled that it will continue to focus on phasing out fossil fuel subsidies and to further discussions on protecting the global marine environment (Calderon 2010).

The G20 needs further consensus, clarity and compliance in the area of climate change. For example, leaders need to agree on and specify which producer and consumer fossil fuel subsidies to include. There has been little innovation in the area since Pittsburgh. Instead, most of the climate change commitments have been restated at each summit.

For climate change to be a success at Seoul, the G20 needs to include more clarity of its commitment to phase out fossil fuel subsidies. It needs to make progress on climate change financing and to adopt climate change as a permanent agenda item. Whether the members of the G20 have the will or desire to do so remains to be seen.


[1] The Major Economies Forum includes all the G20 countries except for Argentina, Turkey and Saudi Arabia.

[2] Argentina, Saudi Arabia and Turkey are not associated with the Copenhagen Accord.

[3] According to the UNFCCC, Annex I parties include the industrialized members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in 1992, plus countries with economies in transition (the EIT parties), including the Russian Federation, the Baltic States, and several Central and Eastern European States. Non-Annex I parties are mostly developing countries. Certain groups of developing countries are recognized as being especially vulnerable to the adverse impacts of climate change, including those with low-lying coastal areas and those prone to desertification and drought. The UNFCCC emphasizes activities that promise to answer the special needs and concerns of those vulnerable countries, such as investment, insurance and technology transfer. See UNFCCC, “Parties & Observers,” (November 2010).

[4] Saudi Arabia, Argentina and Turkey are not associated with the Copenhagen Accord and will therefore not submit documentation.


Calderon, Felipe (2010). “The G20 as a Lever for Global Development.” In John Kirton and Madeline Koch, eds., The G20 Seoul Summit 2010: Shared Growth Beyond Crisis (London: Newsdesk Publications). (November 2010).

Edenhofer, Ottmar and Lord Nicholas Stern (2009). “Towards a Global Green Recovery: Recommendations for Immediate G20 Action.” Report submitted to the London Summit, April 2. Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, Potsdam, and Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, London.,property=Daten.pdf (November 2010).

G20 (2000). “Communiqué.” Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors Meeting, Montreal, Canada, October 25. (November 2010).

G20 (2006). “Communiqué.” Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors Meeting, Melbourne, Australia, November 16. (November 2010).

G20 (2008). “Declaration of the Summit on Financial Markets and the World Economy.” G20 Summit, Washington DC, November 15. (November 2010).

G20 (2009a). “G20 Leaders Statement: The Pittsburgh Summit.” G20 Summit, Pittsburgh, September 25. (November 2010).

G20 (2009b). “Global Plan for Recovery and Reform.” G20 Summit, London, April 2. (November 2010).

G20 (2010). “The G20 Toronto Summit Declaration.” G20 Summit, Toronto, June 27. (November 2010).

HSBC (2010). “More Green Money on the Table.” Flashnote on Climate Change Global, March 31. (November 2010).

Kim Jae-kyoung (2010). “Seoul to Bring G20 Leaders’ Attention to ‘Green Growth.’” August 22. (November 2010).

Major Economies Forum on Climate Change (2009). “Declaration of the Leaders: The Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate.” L’Aquila Summit, July. (November 2010).

Sarkozy, Nicolas (2010). “Plans for France’s G20 Summit in 2011.” In John Kirton and Madeline Koch, eds., The G20 Seoul Summit 2010: Shared Growth Beyond Crisis (London: Newsdesk Publications). (November 2010).

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