Rhein on Energy and Climate

At the Pittsburgh G 20 meeting in September 2009 the heads of government had agreed to phase out subsidies on fossil fuels by 2020. At that time, the global volume of these climate-damaging consumption subsidies amounted to $ 300 annually, mostly in developing and emerging countries. Today, their volume has risen to $500 billion, and only few countries have lived up to their commitments to phase them out.

In Brisbane, November 15-16, 2014, the heads of government have repeated their commitment, using almost the same wording, but without fixing a date by which subsidies should be phased out.

This is regrettable, for for oil and gas prices constitute an incentive for higher consumption, which should be avoided in view of reducing green house gas emissions.

Whatever the G 20 agrees upon, whether fiscal behaviour by governments, investment packages, extra economic growth, is only of limited value as it does not bind any of the 20 countries and lacks a credible follow-up.

Unfortunately, the G 20 has failed in its role as a sort of global economic governance. Consensus remains the guiding principle. It is therefore one of the “loosest governing bodies” on earth. That raises increasing doubts about its utility considering the ever rising costs of security, travel and time spent for preparation and organisation.

The Brisbane summit will above all be remembered for Putin coming under heavy fire from the host and other prime ministers for shooting down a plane over Ukraine killing nearly 400 Dutch and Australian citizens. If this were to change his mind on Ukraine the meeting will have been very much worth the costs. Unfortunately that seems quite unlikely.

For the time being there is no better alternative for G 20 “diplomacy”. But summit meetings should take place only every three years!

Eberhard Rhein, Brussels, 18/11/2014

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