Toronto G20 Summit Marked by Inaction on Climate Change

A protestor at the Toronto G20 summit calling for an end to oil subsidies Despite the disappointing outcome at the Toronto 2010 Summit, the G20 remains our best hope of managing climate change. The G20 accounts for about 85 percent of the global economy and its members are responsible for the vast majority of climate change causing emissions.

A healthy global economy is an essential precondition to an international effort to combat climate change.  The G20 has the ability to make decisions that can foster economic stability and help pre-empt global economic crises.

Prior to the G20 summit, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon asked G20 leaders to focus on environment-friendly measures to promote global economic recovery. In an open letter to the G20 leaders, Mr Ban said, “Based on our collective experience, the best way to enhance the framework for strong, sustainable and balanced economic growth is to put development front and center, and to invest in a green economic recovery for all.”

At the G20, world leaders were expected to discuss sustainable growth, but the summit ended with only a general agreement on bank capitalization and recycled statements about the green economy and fossil fuel subsidies.

Phasing out fossil fuel subsidies is one of the most important things the G20 can do in support of the planet and the green economy. According to estimates, the fossil fuel industry currently receives subsidies of up to $500 billion a year, mostly in the form of preferential tax treatment and investment incentives for exploration and drilling. Fossil fuels are a destructive source of pollution and subsidies make cleaner sources of energy less competitive. Eliminating fossil fuel subsidies will level the playing field and allow the market to drive renewable energy.

Frank O’Donnell, president of Clean Air Watch, said there is “no greater cause of climate change than fossil fuels. There’s no greater cause of that than artificial subsidies. It’s a great idea to eliminate those subsidies and let the marketplace work.” ??In 2009, G20 leaders issued a statement recognizing that fossil-fuel subsidies “encourage wasteful consumption, distort markets, impede investment in clean energy sources and undermine efforts to deal with climate change.”??According to Greenpeace, a leaked copy of the Toronto 2010 draft G20 declaration called for “voluntary, member-specific approaches,” to ending fossil-fuel subsidies, a major softening of last year’s commitment “to phase out and rationalize over the medium term inefficient fossil-fuel subsidies while providing targeted support for the poorest.” At the G20 Summit in Toronto there was a disappointing lack of follow-through on the already vague promises of previous proclamations.

The green economy is not a luxury, but a 21st century imperative on a planet of six billion, rising to 9 billion in just 40 years,” Steiner and Pavan Sukhdev, head of UNEP’s Green Economy initiative, wrote in a pre-G20 comment.

The G20 has a pivotal role to play protecting the recovery and promoting the growth of the green economy. Decisions made by the world’s economic leaders will not only determine the future of the economy, they will decide the future of our environment. However, the Toronto G20 Summit is another missed opportunity to advance the fight against climate change.

In the past, the G20 aimed too high and promised too much, at the Toronto 2010 summit, they aimed too low and promised too little.

Richard Matthews is a consultant, eco-entrepreneur, green investor and author of numerous articles on sustainable positioning, eco-economics and enviro-politics. He is the owner of The Green Market Oracle, a leading sustainable business site and one of the Web’s most comprehensive resources on the business of the environment. Find The Green Market on Facebook and follow The Green Market’s twitter feed.

Image credit: squirrel brand, courtesy Flickr

Richard Matthews
Richard Matthews
Richard Matthews is a consultant, eco-entrepreneur, sustainable investor, and writer. He is the owner of THE GREEN MARKET, one of the Web’s most comprehensive resources on the business of the environment. He is also the author of numerous articles on sustainable positioning, green investing, enviro-politics, and eco-economics.

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