In September, the G20 Summit will convene in New Delhi, India. The world is now facing the simultaneous crises of climate change and biodiversity loss, as well as tackling the consequences of Russia's invasion of Ukraine over one year ago. To deal with this serious global situation the G7 nations have urged all countries to devise strategic responses. Strengthening cooperation with the diverse and complex members of the G20 is seen as crucial.
This special webpage feature delves into the outcomes of the G20 Environment and Climate Ministers’ meeting held on 28 July, examining key trends and focal points related to climate, energy and environmental issues.
Biodiversity: more of the same?
The G20 Summit in 2023 is due to be held on 9-10 September in New Delhi, India under the Indian Presidency. The G20 stands for “Group of Twenty”, and includes, in addition to all G7 Members and the EU, member countries of Argentina, Australia, Brazil, the People’s Republic of China, India, Indonesia, Republic of Korea, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, and Turkey.
The G20 Environment and Climate Summary
Biodiversity: more of the same?
The G20 Environment and Climate Ministers’ Meeting Outcome Document and Chair’s Summary included a lengthy section on “Preventing, reducing and reversing land degradation, accelerating ecosystem restoration and halting biodiversity loss”. This section reflects the land degradation focus of the United Nations Convention on Combating Desertification (UNCCD), the biodiversity focus of its sister, the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), and their many areas of overlap.
The ministers dutifully and comprehensively echoed recent decisions and developments in these fields and referenced many of their buzzwords, but without adding much to the global discussion. They recognized their commitments to achieve the recently adopted “Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework” and “Treaty of the High Seas” and took note of the G20 Global Land Initiative and the task force on nature-related financial disclosures (TNFD). They referenced “nature-based solutions” and “land degradation neutrality”, and reiterated the importance of indigenous peoples and indigenous knowledge, and of sharing the benefits of biodiversity. They emphasized the amplified challenges of developing countries and their need for resources and capacity development. And they echoed recent topical environmental media narratives on issues like wildfire and other biodiversity risk.
What their message lacked was a clear recognition of the inevitable trade-offs between the conservation of biodiversity and land, with other development goals like mitigating climate change and ending poverty. Instead of calling for a prioritization of actions to achieve development goals, it simply restated the popular call to align these goals. One small exception was a word of caution against the restriction of international trade – perhaps a sign of some willingness to address trade-offs. But this plea was brief, bereft of suggested mechanisms, and somewhat in contrast with the communique’s list of unconditional pleas to preserve the environment.
The private sector was brought up, but mostly in the form of appeals for action and resources, rather than mechanisms for collaboration.
All in all, plenty of “what to do”, but not much “what’s the best way to do it”.
It is entirely understandable that G20 countries acknowledge what’s been done and said and signify support for the framework policies and strategies that they have already agreed on in forums like the CBD and UNCCD. However, this can feel a bit like ticking boxes, rather than stating intent. A more impactful message might have consisted of just a paragraph on global treaties and concepts and then focusing on, or trying to finetune and prioritize, the more concrete objectives and plans within them.
The clash of agendas between developed and developing countries was once again palpable in the Ministers’ biodiversity message and is arguably a permanent barrier to progress. On the other hand, the repetition of commitments and of buzzwords is at least some indicator of public and government sentiment. Perhaps it’s a stage that we must get through before we can start having more consequential discussions about trade-offs, tough decisions, and true intergovernmental collaboration.
The path to COP28: Efforts are required to bridge differences in views among countries
The Global Stocktake (GST) has been increasingly mentioned in conferences held outside the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) such as the G7 and G20, indicating a growing awareness of the GST among ministers from various countries. At the G20 Environment and Climate Ministers’ meeting held in Chennai, India on 28 July, the Outcome Document and Chair’s Summary, issued in place of a joint statement that was not adopted, emphasised the importance of the GST and highlighted the need to contribute to a successful conclusion of the first GST at COP28.
On the other hand, on examining the paragraph on the GST in the Chair’s Summary, it is clear that the language was extracted from existing agreements such as the Paris Agreement and decisions of the CMA (Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Paris Agreement). While I have previously stressed the importance of generating political momentum through platforms like the G7 and G20 to ensure the success of the GST, this outcome document does not reveal much about the direction or commitment of India (this year’s G20 Presidency) or of the G20 as a whole.
A divergence of opinion between countries over the GST has surfaced. The GST assesses not only mitigation, but also adaptation, finance, technology transfer, and capacity-building. At COP28, Parties must agree on a document that summarises the progress made so far and the opportunities for accelerating future action on all of these topics. During the GST negotiations held in Bonn, Germany in June, the structure of this document was discussed, but no agreement was reached on language regarding finance, and the text was treated as simply a reference, with comments from each country included. At COP28, Parties will discuss the content rather than structure. Negotiations over finance and language on GHG emission reduction targets, which have been difficult to discuss in previous climate negotiations, are expected to be very tough.
The first GST is often described as “an opportunity for course correction”. Action must be taken to correct the trajectory and move toward the goals agreed upon in the Paris Agreement, and the first step is to bridge the gap in perspectives between countries. The next events to watch out for are the ministerial consultations convened by ministers of South Africa and Denmark from July to September, as requested by the COP 28 Presidency, UAE. The outcome of the discussions will be reported in time for the United Nations General Assembly in September. I hope that the issues that may arise during GST negotiation will be recognised at the ministerial level and concrete solutions will be considered.
Urgent Challenges: G20's Actions Against Plastic Pollution and Marine Litter
The Group of Twenty (G20) nations have recognised the growing urgency of addressing plastic pollution and marine litter, but further comprehensive and integrated actions are needed to tackle these challenges effectively. This recognition coincides with the alarming rise in global plastic production, consumption, and waste generation. At the fifth session of the UN Environment Assembly (UNEA-5.2) in 2022, a significant resolution was passed to develop an internationally binding legal instrument aimed at curbing plastic pollution, particularly in marine environments.
The G20 countries play a pivotal role in this crisis, given their substantial contributions to plastic pollution and marine litter. In 2015, the world's plastic production soared to 407 million tonnes, with over 70% originating from G20 countries1. These nations also lead in plastic consumption, generating two-thirds of global plastic waste2. Alarmingly, the same study found G20 nations responsible for nearly half of the mismanaged plastic waste entering oceans, leading to ecological problems3.
Despite the daunting challenges, G20 members have taken some noteworthy steps to combat plastic pollution and marine litter4. In 2017, they adopted the G20 Action Plan on Marine Litter, and the G20 Implementation Framework for Actions on Marine Plastic Litter in 2019, focusing on implementing the G20 Action Plan through voluntary national actions. The Osaka Blue Ocean Vision was introduced, an ambitious goal aiming to eliminate additional pollution from marine plastic litter by 2050 through a comprehensive life-cycle approach.
To monitor progress, G20 countries have been releasing voluntary annual report on Actions against Marine Plastic Litter since 2019. The most recent report5, published in July 2023 under India's G20 Presidency, encapsulates key findings from 17 G20 member countries as of 30 June 2023:
- National Strategies: All reporting G20 countries have introduced national plastic waste management and marine litter strategies and action plans, with some incorporating marine litter issues into environmental legislation and waste management laws.
- Reduction Initiatives: Many countries have implemented measures to reduce plastic production, consumption, and waste generation. For instance, 71% have imposed charges or taxes on single-use plastic products, while 65% have enacted complete bans on such items. Additionally, 94% have encouraged sustainable and circular product designs, and 83% have promoted the use of alternative materials for plastic products in partnership with businesses.
- Sound Waste Management: Most reporting G20 countries (94%) have implemented sound waste management systems to minimise plastic waste leakage and hotspots, and 83% focused on preventing littering, illegal dumping, and unintentional leakage into oceans.
- Awareness and Education: To enhance awareness, all reporting G20 countries have reinforced their education systems and curricula to inform the public about plastic pollution and marine litter. Moreover, 88% have taken actions to develop comprehensive data repositories, foster global collaboration for research on marine plastic litter and other partnerships, and engage in scientific research activities on ocean-bound plastics.
However, G20 countries still face challenges in combating marine pollution, including a lack of reliable data and the need to improve recycling systems and waste management. Thus, to make substantial progress in protecting our oceans from plastic pollution, it is necessary to focus on reducing plastic use in short-lived products, enhancing waste management, and developing domestic plastic recycling systems. To enable this, encouraging evidence-based decision-making and capacity-building through sharing practices and research among G20 members is also essential. The G20 can also make further progress through international cooperation, by offering or receiving official development assistance for effective waste collection, sorting, and recycling infrastructure, as well as fostering south-to-south cooperation. This can involve incentives for source separation, environmental standards, sustainable alternatives, financing mechanisms, including extended producer responsibility (EPR) and innovative design.
In summary, while the G20 countries have made strides in addressing plastic pollution, there is still much work to be done, encompassing discouraging plastic use, improving waste management including domestic recycling systems, promoting evidence-based decision-making, and fostering international cooperation. These multifaceted efforts are crucial for safeguarding our oceans from the perils of plastic pollution, paving the way for a strong legally-binding treaty on plastics by 2024 at the next UNEA.
1 VDMA (2016), Plastics resin production and consumption in 59 countries, http://www.bpf.co.uk
2 OECD (2019): Improving Resource Efficiency to Combat Marine Plastic Litter. OECD-G20-Paper-Resource-Efficiency-and-Marine-Plastics.pdf
3 OECD (2019): Improving Resource Efficiency to Combat Marine Plastic Litter. OECD-G20-Paper-Resource-Efficiency-and-Marine-Plastics.pdf
4 For more information: About this portal site ｜ Towards Osaka Blue Ocean Vision (g20mpl.org)
5 MoEFCC (2023). G20 Report on Actions Against Marine Plastic Litter. Fifth Information Sharing Based on the G20 Implementation Framework. Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, New Delhi, India. 1st Edition. 575 pp. MPL-report-_2023.pdf (g20mpl.org)
Key Updates from the G20 Environment and Climate Ministers’ Meeting
Strengthening international collaboration to realise sustainable and integrated water resources management and Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6
The issue to which I paid the most attention in the Outcome Document and Chair’s Summary of the G20 Environment and Climate Ministers’ meeting was how the outcome document addressed the promotion of sustainable and integrated water resources management to reduce water stress that is attributable to climate change and socio-economic activities. UN General Assembly resolution 76/153, ‘the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation’ was mentioned, affirming that water, sanitation and hygiene are fundamental to sustainable development. It was also reiterated that, despite increasing global efforts to sustainably manage water resources, further action is needed to achieve the drinking water, sanitation and hygiene targets of SDG 6 by 2030.
The UN has launched the SDG 6 Global Acceleration Framework in 2020 to develop initiatives toward the achievement of SDG 6. The Water Action Agenda was also adopted at the UN 2023 Water Conference, demonstrating the determination of the international community to address the challenges surrounding water through concerted action by UN Member States, intergovernmental banks, the private sector and NGOs. The G20 meeting also highlighted the importance of accelerating the resolution of water issues through UN processes, such as through the convening of regular UN water conferences going forward. It also communicated the need for strengthening cooperation and collaboration with diverse stakeholders, and inclusive engagement with indigenous peoples and local communities, including sharing good practices and innovations to enhance resilient and integrated water resources management at the river basin scale. G20 members committed to taking action to improve water quality and reduce risks related to water-related disasters and climate change through measures such as nature-based solutions and ecosystem-based approaches as well as the development of new sustainable technologies.
G20 members also recognised the importance of water conservation in the context of global water scarcity and the need for specific measures such as rainwater harvesting, artificial recharge of groundwater, protection and sustainable management and restoration of water bodies, aquifer management, safe reuse of treated water and promotion of recycling. I hope that, through actions such as the sharing of case studies via the G20 Water Platform, further progress is made on strengthening collaborations among stakeholders and taking action on SDG 6.
Key Updates from the G20 Environment and Climate Ministers’ Meeting
Confirming global efforts on adaptation and loss and damage, and reference to adaptation measures relating to the oceans
Taking a look at the Outcome Statement and Chair’s Summary of the G20 Environment and Climate Ministers' Meeting, we can argue that no clear progress was made on adaptation and loss and damage. Regarding adaptation, given the gap between the adaptation actions required and current commitment, the Outcome Statement and Chair’s Summary referred to the Glasgow Climate Pact’s call on Parties in the Global North to at least double their collective adaptation finance to Parties in the Global South by 2025 from 2019 levels, as well as to the Glasgow–Sharm el-Sheikh work programme on the global goal on adaptation (GGA), which is expected to deliver some results at COP28. However, these references merely reaffirm decisions made in existing conventions. Similarly, on loss and damage, the main focus was on supporting past major developments, such as the decision to establish a new fund at COP27, and the UN Secretary-General’s initiative launched in 2022 for “early warnings for all” by the end of 2027. Adaptation and loss and damage tend to be controversial between the Global North and South, given their respective conflicting interests. While the G20 had hoped to play a bridging role, any kind of in-depth agreement proved to be difficult to reach. At the moment, I hope that the G20 Working Group on Disaster Risk Reduction, established under the initiative of the Indian Presidency, will produce tangible results, particularly in the area of loss and damage, and that the G20 in the future will play an important political role in this regard.
Meanwhile, when I looked beyond the climate part, I noticed other references to adaptation. Of particular note is the reference to the oceans. Principle 2 of the G20 High Level Principles for a Sustainable and Climate Resilient Blue Economy/Marine Economy, which was compiled as an annex to the Outcome Statement and Chair’s Summary, confirms that ocean-based actions should incorporate an adaptation perspective so that efforts in marine and coastal areas protect vulnerable people and communities from climate change impacts such as extreme weather events and sea-level rise. In my opinion, regarding the relationship between the oceans and climate, the focus has often been on the mitigation aspect, with blue carbon as a typical example. However, bearing in mind the reality that climate change impacts are becoming increasingly apparent and severe, I hope that G20 and other countries make comprehensive efforts, including adaptation, to realise sustainable oceans and coastal zones.
Key message from the T20 Policy Brief
Securing Critical Minerals Supply Chains for the Clean Energy Transition
Challenges surrounding critical minerals (CMs) have long been a policy concern for countries as they accelerate towards net-zero climate goals. The joint T7 Policy Brief written by IGES together with experts from UNU-IAS, IISD, UNESCWA, and Columbia University provides recommendations for the Group of Seven (G7) countries. The paper addresses the unequal distribution and supply chain vulnerabilities of CMs and offers practical solutions to boost domestic production, foster public-private partnerships, and enhance cooperation and knowledge-sharing among member countries. It also makes the case for building stronger trade agreements, addressing negative trade-offs and spillovers, and encouraging investment in research and development for more sustainable use of CMs. Finally, it recommends expanding collaboration on CMs to include G20 to strengthen mineral supply chain resilience and help all countries progress towards their net-zero goals.
The T20 Policy Brief, led by Columbia University, specifically targeting the Group of 20 (G20) audience, highlights the importance of collaboration within G20 countries and also recommends strengthening ties with G7, to address the challenges surrounding CM supply chains. With the demand for CMs projected to increase manifold in the coming years, it will be important to work towards ensuring a resilient and sustainable supply. The paper proposes the establishment of a Critical Minerals Supply Chains Working Group within the G20 to promote sustainable practices, facilitate investment, and enhance environmental, social, and governance (ESG) performance of involved actors. These and other recommendations aim to facilitate a just and successful renewable-energy transition.
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