Leaders squander chance to cut fossil fuel support

G20 leaders took only preliminary steps towards cutting perverse subsidies promoting fossil fuel in Toronto in late June. Meanwhile, ministerial discussions at a Major Economies Forum in Rome considered the most contentious issues in UN climate negotiations.

Climate change campaigners have condemned the failure of G20 leaders, meeting in Toronto on 26-27 June, to reduce perverse fossil fuel subsidies that are blamed for continuing to promote high-carbon economic growth.

The summit was inevitably dominated by discussions over the global economic crisis, fragile recovery and restructuring of financial institutions, with Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper rumoured to be keen to keep detailed discussions on fossil fuels off the agenda. He made no reference to the issue or to climate change discussion in his closing statement.

Despite this, there had been hopes that the summit would agree to cut fossil fuel support. But in the end, the declaration confined itself to welcoming the work of finance and energy ministers in “delivering implementation strategies and timeframes, based on national circumstances, for the rationalisation and phase-out over the medium term of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies that encourage wasteful consumption, taking into account vulnerable groups and their development needs”.

It continued: “We also encourage continued and full implementation of country-specific strategies and will continue to review progress towards this commitment at upcoming summits.”

The leaders also reaffirmed their commitment to sustainable growth and a green recovery, and support for UN climate nego­ti­a­­tions. But the statement reflected the differing position of nations that supported emissions cuts pledges and actions under the Copenhagen Accord (ENDS Report 421, pp 53-55), and other states that stressed commitments under the UN framework convention.

“Those of us who have associated with the Copenhagen Accord reaffirm our support for it and its implementation and call on others to associate with it,” it said. But the statement added parties were “determined to ensure a successful outcome through an inclusive process at the [UN] Cancun Conferences [on climate change]” in Mexico in December 2010.

The leaders added: “We look forward to the outcome of the UN Secretary-General’s high-level advisory group on climate change financing [ENDS Report 423, pp 53-54] which is, inter alia, exploring innovative financing.” The finance issue is widely considered a major precursor for a global climate agreement.

Meanwhile, there were more substantive discussions in the informal setting of the seventh Major Economies Forum in Rome on 30 June to 1 July 2010, involving 17 major economies and six smaller developing and developed countries. The talks covered monitoring, reporting and verification (MRV) of pledges and developing country actions, following tense negotiations at the UN mid-year climate talks in Bonn in June (ENDS Report  425, pp 50-51). 

The MEF talks saw a clash between developed and developing nations over how MRV should apply to commitments. This was a stumbling block at Copenhagen in December 2009, with China seeing MRV as an intrusion and the US insisting it was a necessity. Italy as host sees the issue as crucial to success of the UN draft negotiating text for a new climate treaty at Cancun later this year, though most now agree a treaty is unlikely before 2011.

Developed countries have focused on the need for effective monitoring of national actions through domestic agencies in developing countries, and insist that an international MRV regime should apply to mitigation measures that receive international subsidies or other support. But Indian environment minister Jairam Ramesh complained that the debate since Copenhagen had been one-sided, and that developed countries too should be prepared for scrutiny:

“It bears repetition that the regime for MRV for [developing] countries cannot be more onerous than that for the [developed countries] either in form or content or the consideration of their actions,” said the minister.

There were suggestions that current national emissions reporting schemes could form the basis for MRV, but accord is a long way off. The meeting, which aims to promote discussion to help the UN negotiations rather than make decisions, also considered whether there should be one or more treaties, if they should be legally binding, and consequences of non-compliance. It also discussed finance for low-carbon projects and adaptation measures.

A follow-up Clean Energy Ministerial Meeting in Washington DC on 19-20 July launched new initiatives on energy efficiency, supply and access. UN climate talks host Mexico will also co-host other ministerial meetings ahead of the event, with a technology meeting on 8-9 November.  

But in August the focus switches back to the formal UN track and draft text, with an extra inter-sessional meeting of the Kyoto and non-Kyoto negotiating streams on 2-6 August in Bonn.

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