G20 talks on energy transition collapse over renewable targets

ByJayashree Nandi, Gerard de Souza, New Delhi/panaji
Jul 23, 2023 04:48 AM IST

The G20 failed to reach a consensus on critical climate issues such as renewable energy deployment and phasing out fossil fuels, according to a chair's summary

The G20 failed on Saturday to reach consensus on critical climate issues such as trebling of renewable energy deployment and phasing down of fossil fuels, a chair’s summary indicated, although India’s minister for renewable added talks were still “one of the most successful” for the bloc, and that it laid down important groundwork ahead of the COP28 climate talks later this year.

G20 energy ministers disagree on the language related to phasing down of fossil fuels. (G20 India Twitter)
G20 energy ministers disagree on the language related to phasing down of fossil fuels. (G20 India Twitter)

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G20 energy officials were due to issue a joint communique after their four-day meeting in Goa, but instead, a G20 Energy Transitions Ministers’ Outcome Document and Chair’s Summary was published on Saturday evening.

The language of the summary is not strong enough on most significant issues such as renewable energy, fossil fuels and finance, experts and people aware of the discussions said. Countries highly dependent on oil and gas also resisted any strong wording on phasing down fossil fuels, the people added.

India as G20 president chaired the meeting.

“We had a great conference. I think it is one of the most successful conferences in the history of G20. We had agreement on 22 paragraphs out of 29 and 7 paragraphs were the chair’s summary. By and large everybody — there was a common sort of objective, and everybody all countries were on the same page insofar as the need to state steps to combat climate change is concerned,” Union minister for power and renewable energy RK Singh said.

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“Different countries have their own natural set of circumstances which shape their perspectives on different questions. So, there you have reservations. The rule in G20 is that every issue is decided by consensus by unanimity. Even if one country has a different view, that doesn’t go into the main document,” he said, adding that “there was a consensus among all of us that this [G20 meeting] has formed the basis for COP 28 and if this had not been so successful, then the next COP would have been very difficult”.

“It was noted that accelerated deployment of zero and low-emission technologies including renewables play an important role in achieving energy transitions. It was also noted that the current rate of grid-based technologies deployment globally may be insufficient to achieve universal energy access,” the summary said.

“To that end, and in line with different national circumstances, including natural potential and where strong early efforts have already been delivered, there is a need to scale up the deployment of renewable energy at an accelerated pace, address challenges including power systems flexibility, remove the barriers hindering their deployment, and bring down costs while noting the significance of our voluntary contributions towards efforts to triple the aforementioned energy technologies capacity globally, through existing targets and policies in line with national circumstances, by 2030.”

It is clear from the summary that some G20 members did not support the language on phasing down of fossil fuels. “The energy sector’s contribution to global GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions is significant. Given that fossil fuels currently continue to play a significant role in the global energy mix, eradication of energy poverty, and in meeting the growing energy demand, the importance of making efforts towards phase down of unabated fossil fuels, in line with different national circumstances was emphasized by some members while others had different views on the matter that abatement and removal technologies will address such concerns,” the summary said.

Singh offered some of India’s perspective on the issue of fossil fuels. “As far as fossil fuels are concerned, everybody has agreed that renewable energy capacity has to increase rapidly and in the context of that whatever fossil fuel remain. For those emissions, the larger view is that fossil fuel should be phased down, other view is that instead of phasing down you use carbon capture and storage. Both pathways are fine. Our objective is zero emissions,” he said.

“The combination is zero emission and low carbon. Green hydrogen manufactured with renewable energy; low carbon hydrogen is hydrogen produced from natural gas. And emissions are sequestered. As long as emissions are taken care of, we have no issues,” he added.

Since Friday, several countries stalled the talks on raising finance for transition to higher renewable energy deployment. Some participants pushed for “zero-carbon” technology, which experts said could even mean use of coal with carbon capture and storage.

“Increasing solar and wind deployment is critical. But now we are hearing phrases like low carbon hydrogen, zero carbon technologies, etc.,” said a person who attended the meeting but declined being named.

The US resisted targets on trebling renewable energy while Saudi Arabia resisted wording on fossil fuel phase down, two of the attendees said. “There was Saudi resistance on fossil fuels and there is generally a lot of resistance on financing transition,” another attendee said, seeking anonymity.

A leaked draft communique of the energy transitions working group dated July 6 was shared among observers on Friday. The draft note stated that the current rate of renewable energy deployment globally may be insufficient to implement the goals of the Paris Agreement and achieve universal energy access.

Experts expressed dismay at the lack of consensus. “The outcome of the G20 Energy Ministerial today gets us no closer to a net zero world by 2050. Despite the efforts of host country India to support greater ambition on renewable energy deployment in this decade, the final statement is a watered-down affirmation of “business as usual”. Without calling for more robust policies and targets that can rapidly scale up the deployment of wind and solar energy and other renewables, the call for efforts to triple “zero and low emission” technologies rings hollow,” Ben Backwell, CEO, Global Wind Energy Council.

“Annual wind power installations around the world need to be hiked up 3-4 times by 2030 to keep 1.5C alive. Unfortunately, this critical point has been missed by today’s ministerial outcome. As we approach COP28 in Dubai later this year, we must ensure policymakers are clear-eyed about the climate emergency, and commit to a concrete ambition to triple global renewable installations by 2030.”

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