Global cooperation to protect ecosystems and tackle the pollution crisis is forging ahead. However, the decisions do not do justice to the scale of the climate crisis.
The meeting of the G20 environment and climate ministers in Chennai, India, yielded mixed results. The G20 is clearly committed to the swift and full implementation of the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework and the new agreement to protect marine areas beyond national jurisdiction (BBNJ Treaty). For the first time, the G20 devoted special attention to forest conservation. The ministers agreed on better cooperation to protect water and combat global plastic pollution.
Despite many extreme weather events in numerous parts of the world, the G20 ministers were unable to reach clear agreements on climate action. The catastrophic consequences of continuing to burn fossil fuels for people and terrestrial and marine ecosystems are described, but, since some countries were opposed, no consensus could be reached on how to clearly formulate the political commitments needed to change course. The climate conference in the United Arab Emirates in autumn will now be crucial.
Steffi Lemke, Federal Environment Minister, remarked: "The fact that the environment and climate ministers of the twenty leading industrialised and emerging countries were able to agree on key resolutions to protect ecosystems and combat global plastic pollution, even in times of crisis, sends a strong message. For the first time, the G20 recognised the importance of the ocean as a carbon sink for climate change mitigation. We have a special responsibility as the G20: our countries are responsible for the vast majority of the world’s environmental and climate problems. At the same time, we have the means to develop solutions and change course. It is encouraging that the G20 countries are moving forward resolutely with the implementation of the adopted agreements to protect nature and are supporting a global plastics agreement. We must protect nature better for it to protect us. The G20 resolutions will help make us more resilient to drought, floods and forest fires."
Stefan Wenzel, Parliamentary State Secretary at the Federal Climate Action Ministry, said: "The G20 is still not providing the leadership needed for resolute and effective implementation of the Paris Agreement. What needs to be done now is very clear: we must triple the expansion of renewable energies. It must become much easier to finance these kinds of investment in the Global South. Everyone must have access to electricity. This will be achieved primarily through the global expansion of solar and wind power. We must put an end to the use of fossil raw materials as soon as possible. In the meantime, more than 80 percent of all global investments in new power plants are being channelled into renewable energies, but expansion is still far too slow. For this, we need more momentum for the global energy transition."
Jennifer Morgan, State Secretary and Special Envoy for International Climate Action at the Federal Foreign Office, commented: "While fires rage around the world and temperatures shatter records, the G20 as a group has unfortunately not been able to act with the necessary level of urgency and clarity. Action was blocked by a small group of countries. In view of the acute climate crisis, this kind of signal sent by the world’s largest polluters is unacceptable. Germany will continue to work with its partners to achieve an ambitious and equitable outcome at this year’s COP28, and to join forces with all countries to accelerate the pace and scale of action in this climate crisis."
The G20 countries play a major role in climate change mitigation and environmental protection because they account for around 85 percent of economic output, 80 percent of global emissions, three quarters of international trade and two thirds of the world’s population.
The G20 environment and climate ministers have agreed on clear targets to protect ecosystems. They have pledged to swiftly and fully implement the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework and have reaffirmed their commitment to the target of placing 30 percent of terrestrial and marine areas under protection by 2030. The environment and climate protection ministers have also called for the timely entry into force and effective implementation of the historic BBNJ Treaty, which was agreed by UN member states in March 2023. The G20 has also committed to taking measures to tackle plastic, chemical and waste pollution in the environment, paving the way for the Fifth International Conference on Chemicals Management in Bonn in September.
Federal Environment Minister Steffi Lemke had previously announced a new Indo-German partnership on forest conservation, with the German government providing 17.5 million euro in funding through the International Climate Initiative for an Indian project to restore forests in four states.
In terms of climate action, the results fell short of what is needed to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees: In addition to more clearly acknowledging the urgency of the climate crisis, commitments by the G20 to phase out fossil fuels, including coal-fired power generation, and to triple global renewable energy capacity to over 11 terrawatts and double energy efficiency by 2030 would have sent the necessary signal. The G20 was unable to affirm the 43 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and 60 percent reduction by 2035, both compared to 2019 levels, as deemed necessary by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The countries disagreed on whether this would require reaching the peak of global emissions by 2025.
On many other issues related to international climate action, such as adaptation to climate change, international climate finance or the global stocktake of emission reductions under the Paris Agreement, it was only possible to reach agreement on the basis of previous decisions. The COP28 President-Designate, Dr Sultan Al-Jaber, also urged that the G20 assume a leadership role in the necessary course correction towards climate-neutral and equitable development.
India is presiding over the G20 for the first time this year, under the theme "One Earth, One Family, One Future". The G20 environment and climate ministers’ meeting was held in Chennai, India, on 28 July 2023. It forms an important basis for the G20 summit of heads of state and government in New Delhi in September, where the most important outcome will be a Green Development Pact for a Sustainable Future.
In light of Russia’s ongoing war of aggression against Ukraine, a joint communique from all G20 environment and climate ministers – which includes the Russian environment minister – was not possible. The Indian Presidency therefore adopted the negotiated draft of the final declaration in the form of what is known as a Chair’s Summary, which failed to reach agreement on a number of issues.