The G20 Energy Transitions Working Group: A Wasted Opportunity For Progress

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The G20 Energy Transitions Working Group: A Wasted Opportunity For Progress

Photo Sanjiv Shukla / Shutterstock.com

The G20 ETWG became the latest conference that failed to produce meaningful fossil fuel phaseout progress. Now all eyes are on COP28.

07 August 2023 – by Viktor Tachev   Comments (0)

The G20 energy ministers went into the Energy Transitions Working Group (ETWG) meeting with a single task – to iron out disagreements and unite behind the Bali agreement on accelerating the unabated coal power phase-down. Instead of strengthening the case for the energy transition and setting the stage for meaningful progress at COP28 UAE, the conference resulted in new division lines and further foot-dragging on the climate crisis’ most pressing aspects.

The ETWG G20 Outcome in a Nutshell

“Europe and North Africa are burning, Asia is ravaged with floods, yet G20 climate ministers have failed to agree on a shared direction to halt the climate crisis which is escalating day by day” – the words of Alex Scott from E3G, a climate change think tank, best describes the meeting’s outcome.

After four days of discussions in Goa, India, the participants didn’t find common ground on crucial points. Among them were the intended tripling of renewable energy capacities by 2030 and the unabated fossil fuel phase-out, mainly due to producer countries’ objections

Due to the disagreements, officials couldn’t produce a joint communique but issued an outcome statement and a chair summary.

The final document is inconclusive and excludes notable and specific goals or pledges. Instead, it highlights the importance of managing the fossil fuel sector emissions, increasing the share of renewables in the global energy mix, prioritising global green finance capital flows and pursuing a just and affordable energy transition. 

The language used is vague and ambiguous, leaving room for various interpretations. For example, the tripling of renewable energy capacity was decreased notably from initial discussions. The final version replaces it with a call for tripling “deployment of zero and low-emission technologies”.

The parties also didn’t address the issue of fossil fuel subsidies. Some nations advocated for increased use of carbon capture instead of a phase-down of fossil fuels.

The meeting’s outcome marks a major step back from last year’s Bali Leaders Declaration and the Bali Energy Transition Roadmap.

What Is at Stake?

According to the statement, the G20 ETWG meeting aimed to accelerate “the clean, sustainable, just, affordable and inclusive energy transitions” as means of enabling “a secure, sustainable, equitable, shared and inclusive growth.”

The final document is filled with phrases like “recognise the importance,” “reiterate the need,” and “aim to support.” The language is strikingly similar to that of previous G20 or climate conferences. Understandably, so is the outcome, which Ben Backwell, CEO of the Global Wind Energy Council, described as an “affirmation of business-as-usual.”

The lack of progress is a cold shower for global decarbonisation ambitions, surfacing significant economic and climate risks. 

Climate Risks

The ETWG G20 is yet another backstep in the battle against climate change. It comes at a time when the UN’s Secretary-General warned that we are now talking about “global boiling, not global warming. July has seen the hottest three-week period and the three hottest days on record. Ocean temperatures reached their highest-ever recorded levels for this time of year.

hottest months on record
Source: the UN

Slowing climate change down and mitigating its devastating impacts requires urgent decarbonisation actions. 

Yet, G20 countries, responsible for 80% of global emissions, left the door open for using “zero- and low-emission” fuels, including hydrogen from coal and gas with CCUS. 

According to Siddharth Goel, Senior Policy Advisor at the International Institute for Sustainable Development, such solutions distract from the much-needed fossil fuel phase-down – the most effective way to limit global warming.

Aarti Khosla, Director of Climate Trends, warns about Paris targets becoming increasingly fraught with national interests. As a result, countries with strong fossil fuel biases have pushed to maximise false solutions, including abatement technologies, ammonia and CCUS.

Economic Consequences

Since global gas and LNG prices are expected to remain elevated in the upcoming years, fossil fuel reliance risks deepening the economic crises many developing nations find themselves in.

Furthermore, as demand for fossil fuels has already started peaking or decreasing, the existing and currently constructed infrastructure will become redundant. This risks exposing countries to massive proportions of stranded asset risk.

Last but not least, the reluctance to phase out fossil fuels will continue strangling economies through ever-increasing subsidies. For reference, in 2022, they topped USD 1 trillion globally – the highest amount in history. IEA warns fossil fuel subsidies are inefficient in helping consumers, and governments should invest in clean energy infrastructure instead. Furthermore, analysts argue that just a small portion of the fossil fuel subsidies can cover the energy transition’s costs. Moreover, countries like Indonesia and India, for example, already successfully apply subsidy swaps, where some of the savings from fossil fuel subsidy reforms help fund the clean energy transition.

Towards G20 and COP28 2023: What to Expect?

UN Climate Change Executive Secretary Simon Stiell and COP28 President-Designate Dr Sultan Al Jaber jointly criticised the outcome of the meeting. They warned that every opportunity must be used between now and COP28 to keep 1.5⁰C within reach. They urged G20 countries to lead by taking decisive action on climate finance, mitigation and adaptation efforts, accelerated renewable energy adoption and pursuing a fair and just energy transition.

All eyes are now on the G20 meeting in September, where Prime Minister Narendra Modi will have to take charge of the climate talks and ensure that pleas for phasing down fossil fuels and increasing clean energy capacity be no longer disregarded. 

All the points missing from the G20 ETWG agenda should now become the focus of the G20 meeting in September and COP28 in December.

COP28 parties will work to define a clear global goal on adaptation and launch a loss and damage fund – crucial steps for easing the climate crisis’ impacts. However, the conference should also become a stage of clear and strong rhetoric where pledges become more ambitious, timely, and, most importantly – mandatory.

Amid an ever-worsening climate emergency, when extreme weather events multiply, and communities worldwide suffer, every meeting or conference should bring us closer to the Paris Agreement goals. The talk at COP28 should no longer be about fossil fuel phase-down but complete phase-out – urgent, global and with no exclusions.

by Viktor Tachev

Viktor has years of experience in financial markets and energy finance, working as a marketing consultant and content creator for leading institutions, NGOs, and tech startups. He is a regular contributor to knowledge hubs and magazines, tackling the latest trends in sustainability and green energy.

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