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Germany must lead the G20 on climate and energy policy

by Dennis Taenzler | adelphi
Tuesday, 6 December 2016 14:07 GMT

* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

With Donald Trump threatening to back away from climate action, Germany needs to save the Paris momentum

On 1 December, Germany assumed the G20 presidency. This group of states encompasses climate and energy policy heavyweights.

The G20 countries are responsible for 80 percent of global energy-related CO2 emissions. As these same countries are responsible for the same share of build-up in renewable energies, they are simultaneously engines for transformation. They thus hold the key to throwing open the doors to global decarbonisation.

In order to reach this overarching goal of the Paris Agreement, which has just entered into effect, a clear perspective is needed: A roadmap must be developed for turning away from fossil fuels and creating an equivalent renewable energy substitute. 

Can the G20 provide this impetus? The balance up to this point is mixed.

China, within the course of its G20 presidency, which is now coming to its end, has emphasised new energy policies to drive the expansion of renewable energies and green investment. The G20 has also attempted to increase energy efficiency and address fossil fuel subsidies for some time now.

In terms of climate policy, these activities have thus far essentially been limited to the area of financing. This field is important for pushing the necessary investments in the least developed countries. However, this engagement has failed to suffice to act as a lever for a comprehensive transformation. What’s more, climate and energy are discussed in separate forums within the G20, which is not conducive to agreement on a concrete fossil fuel exit scenario.

At the same time, many country-specific contributions to climate action include energy policy incentives that harmonise climate and energy policy goals. In addition, multiple countries are pursuing approaches that put a price on carbon and establish a discussion on the actual costs of climate change. This should provide the starting point for Germany’s G20 presidency, with the goal of bringing together these activities within a common plan, to be submitted to the G20 heads of state in July 2017, including a concrete roadmap for an exit from fossil fuels.

The “Climate Vulnerable Forum”, a group of highly vulnerable states, can provide the example for such a vision. Those countries announced at the UN climate talks in Marrakech their intention to completely transition to renewable energies. This coalition has now grown to nearly 50 states.

Their energy-related emissions taken together may only equal those of France, yet their vision can serve as a valuable example for the economically far better positioned G20 countries. It is now up to the German government to send a strong signal right at the beginning of its presidency – the Paris Agreement is binding.

Dennis Tänzler is the director for international climate policy at the Berlin think-tank adelphi. He conducts research on climate and energy policy questions and on peace and conflict issues. His contributing authors are Lina Li and Julia Melnikova, both of adelphi.