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A Climate Agenda for the G20

What happens at this month’s G20 meetings will play a major role in determining whether November’s UN climate-change conference produces the ambitious emissions-reduction targets and climate-finance pledges the world needs. Unfortunately, the G20 has a long record of big talk and little action.

ROME – Late last year, at their summit in Riyadh, G20 leaders identified climate change as one of the most pressing challenges of the twenty-first century. “As we recover from the pandemic,” their communiqué read, “we are committed to safeguarding our planet and building a more environmentally sustainable and inclusive future for all people.” That commitment hasn’t quite materialized.

To be sure, the carbon intensity of the energy supply in G20 countries is declining. Coal use is falling, power-sector pollution is edging down, and a host of new clean-transport policies is being rolled out. G20-led initiatives to encourage businesses to disclose climate risks are starting to bear fruit.

But none of this is happening fast enough to make a real dent in emissions, not least because G20 countries are also quietly funneling cash toward carbon-intensive sectors. According to Vivid Economics, of the $4.6 trillion the world’s leading economies pumped into the agriculture, industry, waste, energy, and transport sectors as part of their pandemic-relief packages, less than $1.8 trillion was “green.”

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Correction Jul 23, 2021 09:19UTC

A previous version of this commentary noted Janet Yellen and Zhou Xiaochuan as the co-chairs of the G20 Sustainable Finance Working Group. It has been corrected to reflect the current co-chairs, Sharon Yang and Ma Jun.