A new report finds that despite post-pandemic recovery pledges, emissions across G20 countries are rebounding as economies reopen and governments continue to funnel money into fossil fuels.
Emissions across G20 countries are on the rise again, a new report found, making the Paris Agreement goal to keep global warming below 1.5°C a distant dream.
The yearly report by Climate Transparency, a global partnership of 16 climate think tanks and NGOs, is the world’s most comprehensive survey of G20 climate action and comes just over two weeks ahead of the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) in Glasgow, where global leaders will attempt to forge a common strategy to face the climate emergency.
The report finds that after a period of decline during Covid-19 lockdowns, emissions are now rebounding across the world’s largest economies and, in some cases, rising above pre-pandemic levels. Argentina, China, India and Indonesia are all projected to exceed their 2019 emissions levels.
Energy-related emissions had decreased by 6 percent across G20 countries in 2020, but are projected to rebound by 4 percent in 2021. The group, which includes industrialised and emerging nations as well as the European Union, is collectively responsible for 75 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.
A not-so-green recovery
Despite promises of a “green recovery” dominating public debate across much of the G20, governments have continued to provide unconditional fossil fuel subsidies, with a total of $298 billion committed from January 2020 to August 2021. This is almost equal to the G20’s total green recovery allocation of $300 billion, which amounts to merely 2 percent of the $1.42 trillion governments have injected into their economies to keep businesses, workers and healthcare systems afloat.
“In spite of the huge green recovery rhetoric, generally recovery spend[ing] has been highly skewed towards fossil fuel-intensive sectors,” Angela Picciariello, a senior research officer at the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) and one of the report’s authors, told reporters ahead of the launch.
There are some silver linings, the report points out. Notably, the rise in the use of renewable energy, whose share in the energy mix has increased by 20 percent between 2015 and 2020. In the last five years, most G20 countries have also put in place some form of carbon pricing – a cost imposed on polluters to encourage them to reduce their emissions.
However, the G20 is still failing to decrease its dependence on fossil fuels. Coal consumption is projected to rise by nearly 5 percent in 2021, with China – which burns half of the world’s coal – accounting for 61 percent of that growth, followed by the USA and India at 18 and 17 percent respectively.
Gas consumption has also increased by 12 percent across the G20 from 2015-2020, with oil and gas benefiting from the highest proportion of the subsidies. China, South Korea, India, Canada, Germany, the USA and the EU are driving the increase, as countries that are phasing out coal have been switching to natural gas – a fossil fuel touted by government and fossil fuel lobbyist as an indispensable element of the transition, but seen by environmentalists as a "false solution".
“One of the key objectives in the Paris Agreement is to align all finance flows with a low-carbon, climate-compatible pathway,” Picciariello explained.
“The bottom line of what we've seen doing the research for this year's report is that while there have been a number of good developments in a number of financial areas, for some countries more than others … [these have not been] good enough, not in line with the Paris Agreement goals. And certainly, the pace of these developments has been falling short of the urgency of the issues at hand,” she added.
Targets falling short
Ahead of the upcoming climate negotiations in Glasgow, governments have been submitting their national targets on emissions reductions, known as Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). The last submitted targets in Paris in 2015 would result in catastrophic warming of over 3°C. They are meant to be updated every five years, making this COP particularly important.
Earlier this year, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the UN agency responsible for assessing climate change science, issued its starkest warning yet and said that some of the changes the planet is undergoing due to human activity are now irreversible.
But despite increasing awareness of the consequences of climate change across the developed world due to major weather disasters hitting countries from Germany to China in unprecedented ways in recent years, the NDC commitments submitted so far are still falling short of the 1.5°C target scientists say the world needs to stick to in order to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.
“Combined G20 2030 targets presented in NDCs would lead to 2.4°C warming by the end of century,” said Dr Peter Eigen, Co-Chair of Climate Transparency. “It is a clear signal that G20 governments must do more and urgently submit more ambitious near-term targets.”