OPINION: G20 must follow vulnerable countries' lead on climate action

Renato Redentor Constantino

Posted at Feb 22 2017 03:54 AM

(Note: An earlier version of this commentary was published in the website of think-tank Germanwatch and climate website Klimaretter. )

The global climate crisis can only be solved by global cooperation. As Chinese President Xi Jinping highlighted at the World Economic Forum in Davos, the Paris treaty is a hard-won agreement that should be honored by all. That spirit was clear at the latest UN climate negotiations in Marrakech, emanating from announcements and initiatives by non-state actors, individual nations, and groups such as the Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF).

The CVF unites 48 of the countries most vulnerable to climate change. After leading the successful campaign to include an aspirational target to limit warming to 1.5°C in the Paris Agreement in 2015, the Forum came out with a Marrakesh Communique last year announcing their resolve to lead the transition to a sustainably-powered global economy as soon as possible.

Vulnerable nations see the 1.5°C temperature threshold as a development opportunity rather than a threat. The Forum recently co-published a report with the UNDP which clearly shows how striving to stay within 1.5°C actually triggers economic growth, creates jobs, improves energy access and public health and helps minimize critical climate risks. The CVF officially launched the Vulnerable 20 Group of Finance Ministers (V20) a month before the Paris talks to look at how to mobilize more investments in climate resilience and low-carbon development. To establish strong cooperation with the G20, the global group comprised of countries with the largest economies, is one of the means for the V20 to reach that goal.

Germany is to be lauded for championing climate action within the G20 during its presidency, including in the foreign inisters’ meeting it hosted over the weekend. Its initiative to jointly discuss the energy and climate agenda is timely. Germany has made clear these are development issues as much as they are environmental ones. Many important measures to increase resilience are part of the German G20 agenda, such as climate risk insurance, the Compact with Africa, green investment criteria and addressing climate-related financial risk.

However, Germany can and must do more for the most advanced and most vulnerable countries to respond to climate change together. As the global champion of Energiewende (the energy transition), Germany needs to initiate a formal G20-V20 dialogue.

Through G20-V20 cooperation, industrialized countries can better support the efforts of countries on the front lines of climate change to make their economies more resilient, sustainable and inclusive. In the Marrakech climate talks, China declared itself “a strong partner” of vulnerable countries during the CVF ministerial meeting. It pointed to the 20 billion yuan (3 billion USD) it pledged to support cooperation amongst developing countries concerning climate change adaptation and low carbon development. 

Germany likewise voiced its support of the Forum in the same Marrakech meeting, highlighting CVF activities it supported last year. Yet the country and other G20 economies must take further steps. They should jointly develop a roadmap towards reaching the 100-billion USD additional climate finance agreed upon in Paris. 

The G20 actually stands to benefit immensely from V20 countries’ expertise in climate resilience and low carbon development. Last May, the V20 launched a Global Preparedness Partnership and decided to strengthen participatory local risk governance among their members. The group also committed to put in place carbon pricing mechanisms across member economies by 2025, eliminate inefficient fossil fuel subsidies and high carbon investments, and develop their Nationally Determined Contributions to the Paris Agreement well before 2020.

Individual member countries and related regional groupings are also pulling their own weight. Ethiopia, the current CVF chair, has already gone through the painful process of phasing out fossil fuel consumer subsidies. Costa Rica, a former CVF chair, already runs on 99% renewable energy and has pledged to achieve carbon neutrality by 2021. And the Philippines, which was the CVF president before Ethiopia, is prioritizing disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation during its current chairmanship of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). President Rodrigo Duterte has called for a stronger, resilient ASEAN as a priority. And if Department of Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi rolls out, as he has committed, competition policy that genuinely levels the power sector playing field, the Philippines may just see an early transition to a more affordable, reliable and sustainably powered economy.

Germany and the rest of the world’s leading economies must save themselves the embarrassment of falling behind the action agenda of some of the most vulnerable countries on the planet. It’s time for the G20 to reach out to the V20 not simply out of moral obligation but to build a partnership that enables both sides to promote and swiftly attain climate resilience and low carbon development.


Renato Redentor Constantino is executive director of the Institute for Climate and Sustainable Cities.


Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.