As citizens of the planet prepare for the seasons to change worldwide, those of us who worry about climate change risks are beginning to wonder what will emerge from the United Nations’ annual climate summit. The 28th Conference of the Parties (COP-28) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) will convene in Abu Dhabi on November 30 and adjourn on December 12th. For environmentalists and climate activists, mid-September is a time for pondering questions like: What will happen? More of the same promises? Or something more significant? And what should we do to prepare?
These are thought-provoking questions, and if we are looking for some new tea leaves to spirit a view of the potential outcomes from the COP. It turns out that it may be worthwhile to ponder the context and content of the “G20 New Delhi Leaders Declaration” of September 10th with care.
The evolving role and impact of the G20
The G20 was founded in 1999 after the Asian financial crisis when it became clear that many important countries were not included in global economic discussions about what to do, given some glaring gaps in the international governance of financial markets. Its goals are to coordinate policy for economic stability, promote financial regulations to reduce financial risk and build new international financial infrastructure. In light of the African Union’s recent official admission as a member, the G20 has expanded to encompass 21 participating nations, collectively representing 67% of the global population, 75% of worldwide trade, 85% of the global GDP, and 80% of total greenhouse gas emissions.
It is important to recognise that the G20 Leaders’ Declaration points repeatedly to humanity’s largest challenges, as reflected by the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Significantly, their scope has expanded beyond a primary focus on macroeconomic financial stability. In fact, a substantial portion of their documentation is dedicated to examining the micro-level factors that influence the long-term sustainability of this stability.
A balance of consensus and ambition
The Declaration is an important traditional diplomatic consensus document. That does not mean that all of the members voted in favour of its content in its entirety; instead, it means that none disagreed with anything that appears anywhere in the document. It includes, for example, the need to “phase-down (not “phase-out”) unabated coal power”. These words have been emphasised to show the implications of the very high threshold that must be achieved in building this type of international consensus. This threshold is often cited as an explanation of why such documents are so frequently judged to be hopelessly conservative and out of date even before their “ink is dry”.
The Declaration does include some bold statements, though. The Leaders assert that an annual investment of USD 4 trillion (US dollars) into “clean energy technologies by 2030, will be required to set the stage for reaching net zero emissions by 2050”. These investments could ultimately stop future increases in global mean surface temperatures, but they would limit warming to a level that the climate system will determine based on how long it will take to reach zero net emissions, leading to an urgent requirement to act.
The Declaration mentions climate change 20 times in highlighting the rising associated climate risks from persistent emissions as the source of widespread “biodiversity loss, drought, land degradation and desertification that threaten lives and livelihoods”. It is also upfront in stating that “global challenges like poverty and inequality, climate change, pandemics and conflicts disproportionately affect women and children, and the most vulnerable”.
The Declaration does not specify the exact methods for achieving its objectives, but this aligns with typical expectations. Doing so would have been outside its purview because it must be noted that the G20 has no implementation power. However, the Declaration does include a multitude of reasons why members of what they see as the “premier forum for international economic cooperation” are concerned about climate risks.
Navigating financial concerns and recent initiatives
A considerable portion of their concerns pertain to financial matters, and it is worth noting that they reference actions already in progress in other regions. Furthermore, one of the critical points they highlight addresses relatively recent initiatives. Specifically, the Leaders “welcome” the International Monetary Fund – Fiscal Stability Board (IMF-FSB) Synthesis Paper that describes a roadmap to creating a “coordinated and comprehensive policy and regulatory framework taking into account the full range of risks and risks specific to the emerging market and developing economies (EMDEs)” – emerging regulations that will mandate the inclusion of material risk from climate change and climate policy in the reporting requirements that publicly held corporations must submit to institutions like the US Security Exchange Commission.
So, what are the action items for concerned global citizens (especially for those who will be populating the halls of the negotiations, side-events, and off-line discussions) at COP-28? When considering everything, there are at least two. First, pay attention to what happens day by day. Delegations from the members of the G20 will all be in attendance representing both their national interests and the interests of the now 21-strong group. Track what they say and do so that you can hold them accountable to the words from the Leaders’s Declaration that have put their positions into the international record. They cannot be allowed to say one thing in India in September and another thing in the United Arab Emirates in December.
Challenges ahead: Combating climate denialism and disinformation at COP-28
Inside Climate News warned of a “denialism comeback” on September 8th of this year. One social media user called the record high temperatures reported a “heat wave scam” last month in Europe”. Another called efforts to reduce carbon emissions “climate communism”. Both were viewed more than 2 million times in just a few days, and they are the tip of an enormous iceberg.
Climate deniers will use the COP to couple big megaphones with enormous access to popular outlets in their campaign to spread deliberate disinformation around the world in seconds. Just as we must hold the negotiators to their earlier words. We must debunk the disinformation in real-time while having representatives to what they agreed to within the G20.
Yohe, G. W., Jacoby, H., Richels, R., & Santer, B. D. (2023). Responding to the Climate Threat: Essays on Humanity’s Greatest Challenge (p. 194). Cham: Springer. https://doi.org/10.1287/mksc.2020.1264