Blogpost | 30 August 2016

G20 should lead the way to a fossil-free future

Blog post by Gerrit Hansen and Lutz Weischer, August 2016

Representing two-thirds of global population, four-fifth of world GDP and more than three-quarters of total greenhouse gas emissions, the G20 – group of the leading industrialized countries and largest emerging economies is a central platform for the implementation of the Paris agreement. When G20 leaders meet at the Hangzhou summit from September 4th to 5th, climate change and decarbonisation have to rank high on the agenda.

For the Paris Agreement to enter into force, it has to be signed by at least 55 countries representing no less than 55% of global GHG emissions. China, who currently presides over the G20, announced to ratify the Paris Agreement before the Hangzhou summit, and has encouraged all other G20 countries to follow suit. Most likely, the US and China will jointly announce ratification right before the summit – with these two nations alone, the share of emissions covered will jump from currently % to 39%. As other important players such as Brasil have also indicated ratification before Hangzhou, chances are that the 55/55 condition will be fulfilled before the end of 2016, maybe even by 21st September, the date of the UN – hosted ratification ceremony in New York. In an unprecedented show of commitment, 175 of the 195 nations represented in Paris signed the agreement on the day of the signatory ceremony in April. A record-breaking within-one-year-ratification would send another strong signal to the world about just how determined governments are to make the Paris Agreement a reality. At the same time, early entry into force would provide a safety-net in case Donald Trump gets elected the next US president: Once the Paris agreement enters into force, parties are bound to it for a minimum period of four years – circumventing a potential deadlock.

However ratification is merely the first step of a long and steep road towards full implementation. The Paris agreement firmly states that temperatures must be held well below 2°C, if not 1.5°C to avoid dangerous climate change. To achieve this goal, global GHG emissions must be reduced to net-zero in the second half of the century. We know from IPCC Scenarios that this translates into the decarbonisation of the global energy system no later than 2050 – in particular within the G20 countries. The fundamental change to the global economy this entail is increasingly being noted by the business community worldwide. Just a few days ago, a group of investors with 130 billion USD under management called on the G20 to take decisive action on climate change in Hangzhou, including ratifying and implementing the Paris agreement as soon as possible. So the days of G20 dealing solely with economy and finance issues are over – or more precisely, in 2015 climate change has become part of that agenda.

One crucial area for immediate action is to develop roadmaps for decarbonisation – or “long-term low greenhouse gas development strategies” (long-term strategies), as stipulated by the UNFCCC. Such strategies provide guidance for long-term investment decisions and are a central prerequisite for a fair and just transition process.

The US, Mexico and Canada have announced to table their long-term strategies before the end of the year, and the German “Klimaschutzplan 2050” is scheduled for approval in 2016. At their 2016 summit, G7 leaders committed to formulate and communicate ambitious long-term strategies well ahead of the 2020 deadline set by the UNFCCC. At Hangzhou, this timeline needs to be tightened to 2018 and the scope broadened to include all G20 nations, thereby ensuring that the long-term strategies are available for the first round of the Paris’ agreement ambition mechanism. In 2018, the combined ambition will be compared with the latest scientific findings on necessary reduction pathways, based on the forthcoming IPCC Special Report on 1.5°C, in a “mitigation stocktake”. That way, national contributions could be ramped up before 2020 in order to reduce the current (and expected) mitigation gap.

Apart from clear targets for specified periods and sectors, the long-term strategies should also entail options for review and increasing their ambition. As neither technological innovations nor social and political developments can really be forecast for such a long period, the strategies will have to be designed as a living framework document. Still, clear milestones, such as a terminated phase out for coal mining and use or the envisaged end date for admission of vehicles with a combustion-engine, can provide much-needed orientation. Guardrails are needed especially for infrastructure development in the transport and building sector with their long planning horizons.

Long-term strategies should be part of the G20 agenda for the Hangzhou summit. At the latest at their 2017 Hamburg summit, the G20 should agree on 2018 as a common due date, and also create a platform for mutual review and exchange of experiences.  However, to gain the impetus and credibility needed to steer this important issue towards success on international level, chancellor Merkel would first have to perform an emergency operation on the domestic “Klimaschutzplan 2050”. Early 2015, Germany was a frontrunner in that domain, with an exemplary process based on detailed scenarios and extensive stakeholder consultation leading to clear targets and sector-specific measures. However after revision by both the Ministry for Economy and Energy, and the chancellory itself, the initially quite ambitious draft has been stripped to its very meagre bones. Let’s hope that Canada or the US emerge as new front-runners, showcasing how ambitious targets can be translated into long-term strategies  -  and that Chancellor Merkel remembers her own climate-legacy of Heiligendamm, Elmau and Paris. 

Financially supported by Stiftung Mercator. Responsibility for the contents rests with Germanwatch. -

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